In our previous article in this series, we addressed the fact that schools need to prepare plans A, B, & C as well as a hybrid of the three and the fact that teachers will need continued support.
Consider Accessibility for Both Students and Teachers
The last three months have exposed the gaps in accessibility in every community, and the problems are all over the board:
-desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones do not all function equally
-some students do not have any type of device
-some students have had technology rights restricted due to inappropriate activity or destruction of property
-while some families cannot afford internet, others live so remotely that there isn’t even a cell tower to which a hotspot could connect
-not to mention varying internet speed and signal strength
-paper packets are not truly comparable to digital learning (and some cannot get to the school to pick up or turn in a packet)
-some home environments simply are not conducive to learning
-and some of our students are off the grid or even homeless
School made the best of it this year, doing what they could in the spur of the moment, but this is not the time to take a sigh of relief that we got through this difficult experience. Now is the time to gather data from the teachers and use that information to prepare for next year.
If your school needs to invest in more devices or hotspots, you need to act immediately. Tech companies are inundated with orders as the whole world adjusts to people working and schooling from home. Schools are finding that items are already back-ordered through August.
And remember, new devices do not come out of the package ready to hand to students. They will have to be inventoried, set up with the appropriate programs and apps, and security programs and firewalls will have to be installed. There must also be an organized distribution, accountability, and repair plan since students may not all be reporting to campus when school starts.
We have stated before that a needs assessment must be done, but be wise in the communication. Resources are tight, and schools cannot afford to supply everyone with the internet, but some families may answer questions negatively just to take advantage of a freebie. And don’t leave your teachers out. Some of them do not have the technology or service to support teaching from home.
If you are able to make one-to-one happen by the time school starts, keep in mind that some students and families may not have any experience using the type of device or processing system you are providing.
If you’ve ordered Chromebooks, your early childhood students may never have even used a laptop before.
Some schools are considering hotspots on buses that can also be used as a mobile classroom to meet the needs of students for whom a hotspot is not an option. A primary concern here may be managing social distancing on a bus. Open windows and wearing masks and gloves may help alleviate those concerns, but keep in mind that a bus driver may not be equipped to manage the needs this may present. Consider providing a paraprofessional as well.
Ultimately, do not let this further the socio-economic gaps in your community. Please remember to take the limitations of your neediest families into consideration in all of your decisions.
Address Your Community’s PTSD with Coordinated Damage Control
Arguably, marketing is one of the most important components of creating and implementing a plan of this magnitude. You have to sell it to teachers first and foremost, but also to parents and students who only have their experience this spring to which to compare it.
Obviously, a plan must be in place, but if the community doesn’t know that a plan is in place, they will not feel comfortable sending their students back to school. They will only know if we tell them. And we have to remember that phone blasts don’t reach everyone. Nor do emails. Or letters. Not even smoke signals.
We must employ all this and more if we are going to reach everyone, whether urban or rural. Think outside the box. Put flyers up in stores about training opportunities. Utilize local radio stations. Make silly but informative posts on a variety of social media outlets.
First and foremost, communicate that remote/virtual learning is not the same as blended learning, and what happed this past semester is not a reflection of either. Explain that this was crisis learning.
Explain that you have learned from this experience and will use it to make the best plan for everyone for the next school year. Include that the plan will address accountability for grades and attendance, as well.
Be willing to listen to complaints and concerns, but be prepared to provide answers, too.
Assure them that the school will provide adequate training for students, teachers, and parents/family/guardians. Give them the dates and locations of the training. And make the training worth their time.
Don’t wait. Start your publicity campaign as soon as possible!