States and local districts across the United States are preparing to pivot away from crisis learning and toward something a little more stable and workable for the 2020-2021 school year. As educators and former educators ourselves, we can see the daunting tasks district and building administrators are facing that need to be complete and in motion yesterday, making it difficult to see the forest because of all the trees up close and in your way.
Luckily, one of us isn’t in education anymore and can spend lots of time researching.
Here are some of the things we’ve seen as needs, some of the things we’ve seen people implementing in other public school settings worldwide, and a couple of things we borrowed from non-traditional public schools that seem to be perfect for this time and our new bizarre reality.
Excellent Staff Development and Training
Crisis schooling met some needs, but very few. It was the best we could do in a short amount of time, and it isn’t sustainable long-term.
Before the pandemic, one thing lots of teachers complained about most often and that administrators were trying to find answers for was training and professional development. Teachers have needed both for some time on things like technology and dealing with diverse populations that used to be relegated to special ed but are now full gen ed populations.
However, that need has now moved from a level “yellow” on a three-colored system to indicate emergencies, to a “red”. The biggest need is more concentrated in technology and tech-related subjects for now, though.
This is the crisis now.
Teachers cannot continue without support. Full stop, end of story, do not pass go.
Whether it’s training with technology, how to engage students online, how to set up lighting so they don’t hate looking at their own faces (true story - lots of posts and comments about that on social media) - teachers need it, want it, and cannot continue to do their jobs without it.
Parent Support Classes/Camps
As teachers and staff members are trained, the next line of crisis will be parents (or perhaps it’s simultaneous crises - it sort of depends on who your people are and where you’re at).
We are asking parents to be involved in their children’s education far more now than we have before. We are talking about shifting schedules so fewer students share spaces, students working remotely and from homes, students relying on parents more for guidance and information.
Let’s be honest: most of us in the past had parents who filled out most of the necessary paperwork after we demanded over and over again, and that was the last we heard from them. Now we’re asking those same people to show up, help with homework, and contact the school.
Who are we trying to kid, here?
Parents are going to need much more hand-holding and assistance than they have in the past if we plan to expect more of them in the future.
That means we need to have educators ready and committed to focusing 100% on PARENTS and family communications.
Some large districts are creating “camps” with online or appropriately distanced in-person learning sessions so parents can get help with how to help their children learn and succeed, including everything from lessons in content to review what they learned (or didn’t) during their own time in school to how to log on to the various domains and websites schools are using for remote learning.
Spaces and Mobilizing Remote Learning
Another possibility for parents and students is to make remote learning more accessible by providing technology labs and wifi in various forms.
In some places, the community is getting involved by turning on and extending wifi for students to use in remote and blended learning. Wifi in parking lots of grocery stores, churches, and public buildings has been extended so students can “park and learn”, accessing the information they need or participating in classes from their vehicles.
Some districts have loaded wifi equipment up on buses and parked the busses in low socioeconomic areas each day so students in the area can access it from nearby.
Still other districts are either renting or borrowing retail spaces to create labs for parent and student access, providing computers, wifi, and printers so students can attend virtually from there.
All of these options are workable solutions for districts that plan to extend remote and blended learning, and school districts should be creative about finding and using solutions they may have never thought of to increase the opportunities students have to learn.
Districts with one-to-one technology pre-pandemic found themselves ahead of the curve in some areas due to their being already set-up for a remote learning structure as far as available devices were concerned. However, many districts are far behind on technology accessibility.
There are ways to do remote and blended learning technology-free, however, not many. Districts need to balance the purchase of new technology with the education of parents and staff development for teachers. Not all technology is useful, and unless it is specifically designed for the needs of your staff and students, it won’t get used.
Be sure you do needs assessments that include everyone - teachers, nurses, support staff, admin, students, and parents - before you make a big purchase or employ new software. The truth is that there are very few things that truly meet the specific needs you have, and you have to include everyone’s needs in making technology decisions. You may even find a variety of resources more beneficial than one standard thing only a few will be able to use effectively.
A few years before the pandemic, online charter schools were becoming increasingly popular. At the beginning of the pandemic, online charter schools became so popular that many were in a hiring frenzy, then finally just had to stop accepting new students. The fact that they had an already working model, mobile curriculum, and learning management systems specifically designed for online remote learning meant that they continued with their school year completely uninterrupted.
While everyone else in the world was taking an unexpected break from normal schooling, these students and teachers quietly continued plugging away as usual (two of our writers know this because they have children enrolled in such a school). They are ending the school year on time and with all their standards met.
We would greatly encourage school officials and districts to try to find a way to learn from these online schools, because they have a lot in the way of experience regarding what works when doing remote education, what is lacking, and ways to accomplish what suddenly everyone wants to accomplish.
Two of the things that public schools could learn from right now are 1) find an LMS made for both in-house and remote learning that lends itself to blended learning.
Buzz by Agilix is one such LMS used by many of these schools. Edgenuity is another company in the industry that has several options similar to Buzz, and Fuel Education is a third.
2) Another secret to online blended and remote learning is a complete curriculum piece that can go anywhere. Educators can teach their own lessons, or students can access lessons already made within the system (saving a lot of time and aggravation for teachers) at their own pace and independently. A third option gives educators the opportunity to use both types of learning, which lends very nicely to a staggered schedule.
Although there are curriculums available and being used with online components, this sort of curriculum is all-encompassing and requires nothing in addition so that learning can be done completely independently if necessary (although we’d really recommend using it as a blended learning base rather than either fully teacher-dependant or student-independent).
Many places have started developing these sorts of curriculum. You just have to know where to look to find them.
Here are a few links to some of these tools: