CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.
The current edition of Education Week has the headline, “Millions Will Be Out of School for Weeks Due to Coronavirus. It May Not Be Long Enough.” A few hours ago New York City announced its school closure. This means that thousands of teachers will be scrambling to port teaching and learning online, and it will be struggle. So, what can you do? It’s a question we’re wrestling with as providers of professional learning. Here are some things that will help make this time more meaningful and less stressful for educators and kids.
Let’s think flexibly - remote learning does not have to be segmented into seven assignments a day because learners take seven classes a day.
Most schools compartmentalize learning into tight schedules. Even elementary schools have set times when math instruction happens, when it’s writing time, when it’s time for silent reading, etc. While schedules will probably be a saving grace as students navigate new remote learning experiences, we should try very hard not to lock them into the rigidity that students now experience, especially since many families will have multiple-aged students at home or even other students in their homes during school hours. Let’s think flexibly. Remote learning does not have to be segmented into seven assignments a day because learners take seven classes a day.
Asking teachers to check in with 75 or 150 students daily or even weekly is just not possible, but focused attention on ten to twenty students is highly achievable. These connections will be important as districts try to ensure food security, social connectivity, social emotional needs of learners and even check-ins with each family to identify what is working and what is not. These homeroom teachers can also organize small-group virtual activities like text based seminars, games, or just a chat to ensure kids are still connected to one another in a supportive way.
If you can focus on smaller groups of kids rather than a whole high school roster, offer virtual text-based seminars on high interest topics and tuning sessions for student work. Text-based seminars are opportunities for staff to share their interests in topics that may or not be related to the content they teach. Tuning sessions can be helpful if students want to share and get feedback on work from peers. These are also great ideas for professional discussions and getting feedback on adult work. Find links for these protocols here.
A lot of us will be spending time worrying about platforms, tools, or techniques in this new medium. But think about the classroom. What is the most important factor driving learning? It’s not tools and techniques. It is relationships—you know this. Face-to-face. Hand-to-hand. Eye contact. Food sharing. Peer collaborating. Teacher conferencing. Relationships. Online, relationships are just as important—they can’t not be important—but they will be radically different. It will feel strange and awkward. It’s still a good idea to prioritize the relationships over content or standards.
Focus on education and learning on a broader scale and not the nitty gritty skills and content. What do we want students to be able to do? Think critically about content, communicate, reflect, collaborate, create, and use self-direction skills. How can we focus these skills in a remote learning plan that does not box learners into specific content? What if we asked learners to organize their days into activities and then to reflect on what they learned or felt during that activity? For our younger learners, parents or older siblings can help organize the activities and guide the reflections. Reflections can be written or in video form. What activities are non-negotiable each day and which ones can students spend a whole day doing? I personally would not be upset if my fourteen year old practiced her ukulele for four hours one day as long as she took a walk, ate lunch, did some journaling and had a couple of conversations to break up the day.
As we said, this will be strange and awkward. Managing your discomfort will help kids manage their discomfort. Be transparent with the kids about the fact that you, too, are in new territory. Accept the fact that, for many kids, online school will not be their most urgent responsibility. Try to separate what you can’t control from what you can, and put your energy into the latter. Set aside the need you may feel—because this is a frightening situation fraught with anxiety—to control the learning and the kids. Working with the kids—inviting them into the planning process—will make this as meaningful as possible.
Header image courtesy of Don Harder with permission under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.