Welcome to the Learning Continuity Guidebook, this post is the sixth in a nine-part series. Click here to learn more about the guidebook and its contributors.
As you look toward an uncertain new school year, one thing is clear; it’s critical to equip students and teachers with the skills, knowledge, and processes they need to succeed with online learning. Without this step, all your other plans fall flat.
However, we’ve learned you can’t turn it all on like a professional development and training fire hose, overwhelming everyone with new tools, processes, and information.
Instead, districts find success when they keep it simple and hone in on some core goals:
- Choose and communicate your learning priorities
- Build capacity for online learning
- Create common processes
- Focus on well-being
- Offer plenty of support
What follows is a combination of what we’ve learned through our own experiences and some of the innovative and carefully considered approaches other districts are taking to prepare teachers and students to thrive during online learning.
Choose and communicate your learning priorities
Even in a regular classroom setting, teachers can’t possibly teach every single standard. Districts can reduce the pressure and create clarity by prioritizing which standards students need to learn in the coming year.
Miami-Dade County’s instructional continuity plan takes this approach. Not only did they compress curriculum plans to cover critical standards, but they also provided teachers with three instructional methods for teaching those standards: teacher-directed, teacher-assigned, and hybrid.
How can you do this? The Commissioner of Education at the Kansas State Department of Education reached out to teachers on Facebook, asking for support with prioritizing standards for the new school year. Within 40 minutes, over 100 teachers raised their hands to do the work. That group is now prioritizing the critical standards for grade bands.
With plans like this in place, teachers are clear on what they need to teach and have support around how to teach those standards no matter what the new school year brings.
Build capacity for online learning
Strive to strengthen students’ and teachers’ online teaching and learning skills. While most teachers have some training around online learning, most haven’t had to use those skills until now. Meaning they need support and a refresh focused on both technology and instruction.
To do this, districts like Mobile County Public Schools are turning to virtual professional development, both live and recorded, where teachers have access anytime and can learn at their own pace. In Wisconsin, DeForest Area School District launched a virtual learning team that designed both professional development and virtual learning plans for teachers.
Still, others like Lindsay Unified School district have been teaching students for years how to be independent, self-guided learners through a personalized, self-paced approach to learning – giving them skills that are incredibly helpful in remote learning environments.
This is also a key time to look closely at your existing technology tools. Analytics are a necessity for this step, giving you insight into which tools are actually being used. With this data, you can decide where to make cuts (and save money) and where you need to invest in technology, training, and development.
Create common processes
With common tools in place, you can create processes around teaching and learning using these tools.
When the Kansas Online Learning Program launched their virtual school in 2010, they didn’t have any lessons for the first two weeks. Instead, everyone focused their time on a huge onboarding effort.
Teachers and students learned and practiced the processes and tools they were going to use. The district touched on everything from how to turn in papers and manage your time, to setting goals and showing students how to take ownership of their learning. These skills were taught, practiced, and reflected on during onboarding because leaders knew they would have more success if everyone was on the same page.
Focus on well-being
If students aren’t emotionally well, learning falls to the wayside. That’s why so many districts are focused on providing support to students and educating teachers on how to monitor students’ well being.
One approach is to have Social Emotional Wellness teachers share how to recognize issues and offer students support. Additionally, there is wealth of information to draw from, including the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence’s Social Emotional Learning playbook or a slew of teacher-created resource pages. Districts can also look to Charleston County School District, where SEL has been the norm for years and continues throughout remote learning.
Offer plenty of support
Even with practice, processes, and guidance, online learning – whether it’s blended or full-time – is still new to most teachers and students. They’re going to forget some of what they learned, run into technical issues, and need help.
With technical and support teams stretched thin, many districts are finding simple but effective ways to ensure everyone has support when they need it. For example, FAQs for common technical issues save support teams and teachers from responding to common questions. Some, like Flagler County School District in Florida, have even drawn on student-created tech support to carry some of the load.
Another way to build capacity is by developing support leaders in both your schools and the community. Here are some examples:
- Call on your PTA to create a support program where they identify and train community members to act as technical and instructional support.
- Train lead teachers to support their departments by answering questions and providing guidance on instruction.
- Train principals on how to sustain and build common learning goals for teachers, etc.
- Create a staff development team that consists of technology-skilled staff and teachers.
- Enlist community organizations to help by sharing their technical expertise and offering support.
Having these supports in place can ease the strain on support staff and ensure everyone has access to just-in-time PD and help.
Watch for our next post where education leaders discuss how districts can ‘Consider & Work With Families’. Follow us on social media to stay up-to-date with new entries in this series, or subscribe using the form below.
As we continue through the series, we’ll share resources and best practices from trailblazers and districts leading the way. Here are some that stand out for their vision, expertise, and usefulness.
Districts to follow
Leaders to learn from
Practical tools and news you can use