Back to School Planning: Instructional Delivery Methods

June 17, 2020
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At ClassLink, we developed a rubric for back to school planning, in partnership with CoSN and SETDA. Instructional Delivery Methods is one of the core elements included in the tool. In this post, we dive deeper into the factors districts should weigh when planning for instructional delivery scenarios during the upcoming school year.

Many district leaders I spoke with over the last months remarked, "This is the most challenging time of my career." Having been an educator and a leader in education, I recognize the magnitude of that statement. The work of education is difficult even in the best of times, without the present issues and uncertainty facing schools.

One of the hardest things about planning for the 2020-21 school year is not knowing. Not knowing the extent of the pandemic in fall 2020. Not knowing the extent of student learning loss. Not knowing the social-emotional state of all the students you serve or the degree of their trauma. The unknown means you can't just plan for one scenario; you have to plan for several.

Given the uncertainty, districts' plans for the upcoming year must include multiple strategies and structures. The prime example of this is the need for various methods of instructional delivery. Social distancing may necessitate a mix of in-classroom traditional learning and remote learning. Remote learning may be required for vulnerable populations going into the year and, at times, for all students based on virus spread.

First, set expectations for schools

When the sudden onset of Covid-19 confronted the world in early 2020, schools flipped a switch to full remote learning delivery methods. Some districts handled this with a sense of relative ease given their prior investments, while most others found themselves ill-equipped. Obviously, no one could have predicted a worldwide pandemic would necessitate the closure of all U.S. schools.

It is short-sighted to judge schools or the potential of remote learning based on this period. Districts work under tight budgetary constraints. Understandably, districts have been unable to remove all technological access barriers for their students at this point. The discussion could continue, but it's far too nuanced for this blog entry. For now, let's focus on expectations. I will proceed with an inclusive definition of remote learning that includes digital and analog components.

Under remote learning structures, there are ample considerations. Many of these relate to pedagogy. Several instructional focused organizations have tackled important shifts across methods. Here, I would like to address expectations for both modes of instructional delivery.

In a recent survey, teachers identified district guidance as the most beneficial when planning for student engagement. Summer provides a space for districts to work on updates to remote learning and in-classroom learning structures. With commitment and planning, districts can provide schools and teachers with clear expectations for instruction. Expectations that are concise but also provide flexibility for educators to adapt as necessary. Specifically, districts should consider setting expectations for:

  • Social distancing and safety measures during classroom instruction
  • Teacher training on remote learning
  • Time
  • Subject matter coverage
  • Curricular scope and pacing
  • Assessment, formal or informal
  • Asynchronous and synchronous interactions
  • Questioning strategies
  • Feedback for students and teachers

Next, establish accountability for students

The swiftness of closure and lack of preparedness for remote learning led most districts to enact policies that did not penalize students for failing to complete work during remote learning. An understandable response at the time, deemed "hold harmless" by many. These policies make it difficult to understand the variable usage data across districts. Was low usage and participation a reflection of low access or little/no accountability for students?

Candidly, using the term "hold harmless" to describe zero accountability policies is a misnomer. It is harmful to students to not set learning expectations. There needs to be accountability for showing up, completing work, and mastering standards. With more time to plan for the upcoming year, accountability for learning under all instructional delivery modes must be addressed and communicated.

A note on remote learning

Back in late 2013, I was working on the research team of a state department of education. The department had recently hired a position that oversaw virtual learning. Our team discussed what sort of research, if any, we wanted to conduct on virtual learning. I responded, "I am interested in the extent to which virtual learning encourages thinking." My response is the same today.

I am fortunate to have the chance to investigate this question by evaluating the effectiveness of instructional applications through my work at ClassLink. If learning occurs, in part, through critical thinking, problem-solving, and productive struggle, then any method of instruction should provoke the former. Keeping that in the back of your mind throughout the planning process should help as you develop strategies and expectations for instructional delivery for the upcoming school year.


Education Leaders
Remote Learning

About the Author

About the Authors

Mary Batiwalla

Sr. Director of Data & Analytics



For over a decade Mary has dedicated her career to education, serving as a practitioner, researcher, and executive leader. In her most recent role as Assistant Commissioner at the Tennessee Department of Education, she led assessments, accountability, and data governance.