Remember, one positive that can come out of this bleak and trying time is a fundamental shift in the structure of formal education across the board. Now is the time to move forward into what we all know is the right way to teach.
Here are a few more practical ways administrators can help with this transition.
Ask the Experts
We usually think of the experts as the teachers who have been there the longest, the senior administrator, content specialists, or members of the curriculum team. In the world of innovative teaching strategies and virtual learning, though, consider broadening your scope to also look for experts in unexpected places, like some of the newest members of the staff.
Many teachers are coming out of education training programs with fresh, innovative ideas. Many have bold ideas, and some have even been experimenting with a form of blended learning behind their classroom doors (even if their lesson plans don’t reflect it). Reach out to them and invite them to be part of the conversation.
Cultivate New Experts
This transition is going to be difficult for most teachers. Many have gotten through the last couple of months holding on to the hope that it is just temporary.
Simply suggesting that this will be the model and expectation moving forward will send some teachers into panic. Explain the difference between what they did at the end of this year (rushed, crisis teaching) and what they will be doing next year (planned out, blended learning).
Facilitate networks of professional learning communities, not just throughout the district, but around the globe. International social media groups in which teachers are collaborating across the globe are growing quickly.
Make it a priority to find the most relevant and practical training available for what you are asking your teachers to do.
Also consider reaching out to established virtual schools to see what systems they use. Many have learned what works and what doesn’t and would be more than happy to share their experience with you. They may even be willing to lead professional development for your staff.
Encourage teachers to seek out professional development in this area and provide them with a form of compensation or reward for teaching their teams what they learned.
Provide training that doesn’t take away from teaching time and doesn’t add to the stress of teaching
Don’t Forget the Parents
This is new for parents, too. These changes will require a shift in their expectations of what school means. Ease them into it and provide them with explanations, justifications, and resources.
Consider also teaching parents how to find information with their children. Teach them how to find credible sources online. Provide them with resources that are easy to use, but be careful not to overwhelm them with long lists. Categorize links and resources in an easy-to-navigate menu or spreadsheet.
You don’t want to be caught off guard when implementing your school’s new plan to transition to a blended learning model. There have likely been several issues that have arisen in the rushed attempts this year. Now is a good time to conduct a needs assessment with both teachers and students/families.
Collect data on how many students have participated at least 50%, 80%, and not at all. Survey students as to why they have or haven’t been successful. Include questions about access to technology (and whether it is a computer or a cell phone), wi-fi, and a quiet place to study as well as parental supervision and support.
This information will be very important in determining what you as a school will need to provide students in order to make your plan equitable.
Your school may need to invest in Chromebooks and wi-fi hotspots that can be checked out. You may even have to create a workspace on campus for students to gather with appropriate social distancing requirements in which to work on the “at home” days complete with a room monitor present.
Students with specific learning disabilities or physical impairments may also need extra help or support.
The bottom line is that our teachers were told with almost no learning that they were going from the world of education as they’d always known to fully-online instruction. They lost a full half-year with their students, they lost their physical space, their ability to easily interact and collaborate with colleagues, and for many, the way to end a career they found pleasantly predictable and comfortable.
They took all of that and kept going with every loss, every “hit”, and still largely worked to make the lives of their students better on a daily basis. We had teachers wearing costumes, doing parades, and meeting kids in parking lots so they could all honk their car horns as a class. I mean, that takes commitment!
We need to give them something firm on which to find their future footing. They need us to improve, give them a little time to rest and adjust, give them space to grieve their losses, and the chance to prepare for whatever is to come.
This past semester needs to be the worst one we’ve ever experienced AND the worst we WILL ever experience.
Let’s start the long climb upward without any further hesitation.