We only have three months to get ready for whatever school is going to look like in the fall. With so many unknowns, we are all having to plan for several different scenarios.
One of the big lessons learned from the experiences this spring is that we have to be ready to change how we teach at a moment’s notice, and from the predictions of many leading scientists and medical professionals, we should be prepared for this to happen again in waves.
We shouldn’t be caught unprepared next time.
Previously, we touched on Tools Districts Will Need to Support Blended and Remote Learning, such as providing training for teachers and parents, ensuring access to wifi and technology, and exploring remote learning curriculum and platforms.
We’d like to zoom in a little more sharply on what preparing for the fall may entail.
Be Prepared for Plans A, B, C, and Hybrids of Each
District and campus leadership teams across the country (and around the world) are busy developing plans for returning to a face-to-face instructional setting that fulfills the recommended safety guidelines in a practical and realistic approach.
Most are also preparing their teachers to be ready to switch to complete virtual/remote learning at any point should there be another outbreak in their region that requires stay-at-home orders.
Some are attempting to transition their entire system into a blended learning model.
The reality is that all of these plans are likely to be at play, possibly at the same time.
Every teacher is going to have to provide some type of remote instruction, and every student will likely have to participate in distance learning of some form moving forward.
Even if we can open up, there will be parents who will not feel safe sending their children to school, and schools will have to accommodate those needs. This is most likely to be the case with students who have pre-existing health conditions or those who have immune-compromised family members at home.
But as more information comes out about some of the possible long-term impacts COVID-19 may have on children, there is no telling how many parents will not feel safe sending their children to school.
Distance learning will have to be equitable with face-to-face instruction. The two may even have to occur simultaneously with teachers live-streaming their class for students who are not able to be present physically.
Until there is widespread immunity or a vaccine, if one student or teacher tests positive, everyone who has come into contact with that individual may have to be quarantined for two weeks. While this may affect a few classrooms in an elementary setting where classes generally stay together or pair up with one or two other classes, by contrast, in junior high and high school, one student could potentially come in contact with nearly all of the students and shut down the whole school.
So even tech-savvy teachers who are using the flipped classroom model will have to be ready to transition to going fully virtual.
In order for these transitions to be as smooth as possible, districts need to be consistent in the digital tools, devices, and platforms used across campuses and grade levels as much as possible. There will be some teachers who prefer one over the other, but students should not be expected to learn multiple platforms; not being in the classroom with the teacher will be enough of a challenge.
That’s not to mention a parent who may have children in several different grades. Consistency will better enable them to keep up with what their children are going. It will also allow districts to streamline training for parents and students during the summer (which also must be a priority and well planned).
Teachers Will Need Ongoing Support
For many teachers, this is going to be a major shift. They got through the spring on adrenaline and the hope that this would soon be over. The reality that norms are changing permanently will probably be quite a shock!
Don’t let your teachers spend all summer worrying. And don’t sit back while they spend three months planning to do things the way they have always done them.
Most schools plan anywhere from three to eight days of staff development at the beginning of the school year, but that is not going to be enough to adequately train and prepare teachers to be ready when school starts.
Provide training throughout the summer, but make them available in a variety of formats. Some teachers will not be able to participate in person, and you want to be able to share the information with any new hires, as well.
Consider streaming and recording all traning. Make the powerpoints and videos available to all participants as well as a convenient summary of the information. Let’s be honest, how much does any teacher retain just from sitting through a training for a few hours? Not to mention, it may be months before some of the training is being implemented.
They will need to have access to any information you share - especially since many of our teachers are experiencing personal grief and trauma, and/or secondary trauma. Brains in trauma have a very difficult time latching on to even the most important information and retaining it.
Teachers need to be taught how to do synchronous and asynchronous instruction (with both modeling of these techniques and personal coaching). In a blended or hybrid situation, a teacher may be managing students remotely concurrently with students physically present for the first time.
And for many, simply being on camera is unnerving.
One lesson learned from this experience is that teachers really need a quiet place to work. It is hard to teach with your kids interrupting to ask for something, dogs barking, cats photobombing, trains blaring, and spotty internet. Not to mention the fact that all your “stuff” is still in your classroom.
Schools need to consider allowing teachers to work in their classrooms when doing remote teaching if social distancing can still be maintained.
If teachers are not allowed on campus due to safety restrictions, consider letting them check out a document camera to use at home.
This is doable! We embraced the challenge in March and proved to the world how hard-working and essential teachers are. Let’s continue to honor our teachers by equipping them to be even more successful moving forward.
In part 2, we will address the issue of accessibility to technology for both students and teachers along with the importance of getting your plan out to the community.