In most places across the country, students are scheduled to start school one month from now (give or take a week) according to calendars that were adopted back when the world was “normal”. That means continuing teachers would be returning in a little less than three weeks, with new teachers having to report even sooner.
District and campus administrators are taking part in marathon planning meetings which involve a lot of shaking of heads, sighing, stress snacking, rising blood pressure, and probably a fair share of praying and/or expletives.
Some districts have tried to get ahead of the game and formulate clear and solid plans, only to have them superseded by updates from the scientific and medical community or by political mandates.
There are many different models that schools are considering. Here are just a few.
Some schools have announced that they will be starting the year completely virtual. The timelines vary from a month, to a 6 or 9 week grading period, or even the entire first semester. Even Harvard University has announced that all of its undergraduate classes will be online in the fall. As the preassigned deadline draws near, district officials will reevaluate the possibility of having students return to campus with the possibility of extending virtually learning if necessary.
Many schools that are starting virtually will still require teachers to report to campus daily and work from their classrooms (this does pose the problem of childcare, though, with the children of teachers not being able to attend school).
Teachers, students, and parents are having to wrap their minds around doing school differently. Schools are having to remind all stakeholders that planned and organized virtual learning will not look like the crisis learning experienced in the spring. That was hasty, survival-mode teaching, and while some will say that students didn’t learn very much during April and May, rest assured that teachers and administrators learned a lot about what does and doesn’t work when it comes to virtual learning.
Another very popular plan that many schools have adopted is to go ahead and open for face-to-face instruction 5 days a week, but to allow parents to have the option of sending their children or opting for virtual learning instead.
Most schools that are taking this route are having parents commit to either a grading term or a semester rather than having students constantly going in and out of virtual learning. This is not the same as placing a student who has tested positive for COVID-19 in virtual learning for a 14-day quarantine.
This plan can be organized in a couple of different ways.
Some teachers can be assigned to be strictly virtual teachers while others will work solely with students who are on campus for face-to-face instruction. This will work well for teachers who are immune-compromised or are caring for someone who is.
Another way of doing this would be to have teachers live streaming their classes and students at home would follow their regular schedule, even interacting through various media options. This would allow for the least interruptions to the regular demands of teachers, but it would require students at home to spend hours in front of a device. It would also pose a problem for families with several students at home but limited technology and/or internet access.
Another plan many schools are working towards is limiting the number of students in the building by only bringing in 50% of the students every other day which would allow for social distancing in classrooms and cafeterias.
Schools would simply adopt an A/B day schedule. In order for students to receive the required number of days/minutes of instructions, this model would require a blended learning approach in which students would be logging on and engaging in some type of virtual component on the days they are not on campus.
Regardless of which model your school is adopting, hopefully, they have provided adequate professional development to prepare you for having some form of virtual learning be a part of your regular instruction.
If not, there are so many resources available right now, many of which are free of charge. Many education conferences have gone virtual. Most online learning platforms offer detailed tutorials on how to use their system effectively. Your adopted curriculum or textbooks probably even have digital components that you may not have utilized in the past.
There are also online communities popping up all over social media in which teachers are brainstorming, collaborating, and sharing ideas (see our previous post “Building an International Community of Educators”)