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I was mowing the yard, listening to some education podcasts a couple of weeks ago, and listened to two different podcasters interview the authors of The Distance Learning Playbook: Teaching for Engagement & Impact in Any Setting. 

First, it was Justin Baeder of Principal Center Radio interviewing Douglas Fisher. Then I listened to Daniel Bauer with Better Leaders Better Schools interview Nancy Frey. I was so intrigued and inspired that I listened to them both a second time (John Hattie is the third author of the book). 

Frey stated, “What I want a Ruckus Maker to remember is that our job is to be a Ruckus Maker. As educators, I think that we sort of have a self-concept that we maintain the status quo. Now more than ever, we need to disrupt. We need to innovate. Schooling has needed to be innovated for a long time. This is our chance.” 

This newly published book was written in response to the pandemic and the switch to virtual learning that had to happen literally overnight all over the world. 

The authors were stating what we have said over and over here on this blog since March, that what we were doing in the spring was crisis teaching, not truly distance learning. What they were saying rang true to what we’ve been focusing on here. But even with months to hone our skills, it’s still a daunting task for most of us.

A week later, I walked into an in-service, unsure what it was about, only to be handed a copy of  The Distance Learning Playbook, and it’s as good as I thought it would be!

Dr. Charles Newman, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services at Perris Union High School District in California describes the goals and purposes of this book quite well: 

“We are in a place in history where we desperately need answers to questions that will determine the future of our nation's most precious possession – our children. The Distance Learning Playbook is an incredible resource with a wealth of practical support for teachers and administrators, and it will fill a huge information gap that many schools are experiencing in educating students in a virtual setting. Very practical, easy-to-use samples about how to start and end a class, the social-emotional support needed, and setting up norms to develop a safe culture for students to learn at high levels. This is a must-have for educators at all levels – district leaders, principals, coaches and teachers in the 21st century and beyond.  This resource is ideal for schools that are looking for answers to a whole-child approach to virtual education.”

This book is so incredible and timely that I am sharing it with anyone who will listen!

Just take a look at the module (chapter) titles:

  • Take Care of Yourself
  • The First Days of School
  • Teacher-Student Relationships From a Distance
  • Teacher Credibility at a Distance
  • Teacher Clarity at a Distance
  • Engaging Tasks
  • Planning Instructional Units for Distance Learning
  • Feedback, Assessment, and Grading
  • Learning, Distance or Otherwise

Written as a playbook, it is easy to follow and very user-friendly. There are video links throughout the book as well as spaces to write and reflect. The videos are from teachers in the field reflecting upon the topics from firsthand perspectives. These can all be found on the “Companion Website” offers videos and reproducible forms.

After walking readers through steps of self-care and reflections, they help with very practical ways to start virtual learning with your students. Even though most of us are already in the throws of virtual learning this school year, many of the tips they provide can still be implemented. They give practical ways to take the norms we have been using in our traditional classrooms and rethink them in appropriate ways for a virtual setting.

Successful teachers understand that relationships are the key to success, but most of us have been struggling with how to build those relationships when we are not face-to-face. Again, they provide some very helpful tips and suggestions to pull this off.

The book gets into more of the nuts and bolts of how to successfully transition to and sustain virtual learning. This book definitely makes virtual learning less intimidating and much more doable.

Fisher, Frey, and Hattie wrap up the book with this thought:

“Schools, no matter via what medium, can be a hub of response and recovery, a place to support emotional recovery and promote social togetherness-and this is as important as any achievement gains.  It would be wonderful to use this pandemic as an opportunity to learn about learning from afar, so share stories of success with teachers and students learning from this crisis, pay particular attention to below average students or students with special needs, discover how to develop collective efficacy among teachers and school leaders, and use this experience to learn how to best work with all students. “

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