As many schools and districts are preparing for the spread of the COVID-19 across the United States, the focus is on communication with stakeholders and how learning can continue should schools need to close. The CDC has asked schools to prepare and have a plan.
Every district and site will have a different approach, so the following recommendations are designed to help school leaders and stakeholders create effective plans that are flexible, collaborative, and transparent.
We realize there are challenges that many districts face in the areas of resources, training, and Internet access to name a few. These 5 steps can help guide you with planning options and help you determine the best next steps.
1. Create a representative planning team that includes stakeholders
Quickly put together a team of district and school leaders, parents, community leaders, and students that can evaluate resources available for remote learning. Here are some questions to consider:
- What are the best options for remote learning in our community?
- What access do students and parents have in their homes to resources like the Internet and supplies?
- What skill sets do teachers have?
- What training do teachers need?
- What are the barriers to remote learning?
As you evaluate the resources and barriers, determine your first set of action steps. Be cautious about making large purchases at this time as there are a lot of unknowns. Right now, this is about evaluating the current situation.
Options to Consider:
- Have the team create a Pro & Con sheet so they can best evaluate all options.
- Be sure to look at non-tech solutions as resources, too. Sending home books, workbooks, and paper may be part of your blended solution at this time.
- Get creative as you think through everything available to you, and be sure to determine readiness by staff, parents, and students.
2. Teacher Training & Support
You will need to quickly evaluate your plan and determine what training is needed to set teachers up for success. If there are some teachers that need support to move instruction to a blended or online model, you need to quickly determine if this can happen now or remotely if necessary.
Options to Consider:
- Consider creating grade-level or subject-specific instructional teams so teachers can share the workload.
- Have your Tech Team or Instructional TOSA’s publish tips, webinars, and/or “staff” meetings to support teachers with technology
- Consider an ongoing chat forum as optional support. (i.e. Slack, Google Hangouts Chat, or anything mobile and free)
- Provide daily debriefing of what worked and didn’t so that everyone can have a safe space to process the impact of the day.
- Continue staff meetings remotely and be sure to focus on supporting teachers in an empathetic way.
- Design a comprehensive plan for teachers who get sick (i.e. subs)
3. Tech to Support Remote Learning
There are many free and low-cost tech tools that can support remote learning. However, it is important to evaluate cultural readiness for the teachers, students, and parents. If new, moving in this direction might be stressful, and to put a new tool on top of it would potentially be overwhelming. Step with caution and empathy. If your community is already tech-savvy, the following may be some solid options (see below for comments on LMSs):
- Open Educational Resources (OER) There are many great OER sites that offer high-quality free resources for students. The benefit is that they are already created and ready to go.
- Kahn Academy
- Video Conferencing is a great way to provide remote, real-time teaching. Some options for video conferencing are:
- Google Hangouts
4. Revaluate and set reasonable expectations
Research has shown that children don’t suffer much from minor academic misses, but test scores do suffer. More importantly, both children and adults will suffer from stress. It is important to approach the current situation with an empathetic attitude. Many families will be experiencing economic impacts. Students may feel fearful and experience stress. Teachers may be experiencing the same emotions.
Options to Consider:
- Communicate clearly and with empathy to all stakeholders about this situation
- Let the community know this is not just about missing out on learning but about the impact on everyone’s family.
- Help teachers understand that there will be some experimentation and everyone is going to try and do the best they can.
- Determine how and when learning will occur. Help everyone understand this will not look and feel like a traditional “school day.”
5. Create a place for hosting learning materials
To streamline the distribution of digital content across schools an districts, consider a landing page or blog for instructors to place learning materials in a collective. If you already use an LMS or Google Classroom, you can put everything in there. Parents and students can be told this is where materials will be placed every day. Teachers can create audio or video files for students to review for work.
Options to Consider:
- Consider using your landing page or LMS/Google Classroom as an asynchronous or blended solution for learning.
- Teachers can set up small groups or 1:1 conferences with students and/or parents throughout the week to check in on progress via video conference or phone.
Take a deep breath. We understand that there are a lot of details that need to be figured out and that for many schools & districts, this can be overwhelming.
You do not have to do this alone.
The most important message for your community is that you care. You are working to provide compassionate and empathetic communication to families, students, and teachers during this time. A plan can be worked out and learning will happen.
If you need support to strategize or training for your teachers to take instruction online quickly and effectively, reach out to us now.
About Jen & Cate at BUOY
With more than 25 years of experience in public policy, education, crisis communications, and publishing, Jen Gibson specializes in strategic counsel in the area of public relations for schools and districts. Jen provides the foundation for successful operational approaches with a future vision focused on evolving stakeholder strategies.
Cate Tolnai is a seasoned online and blended K-12 instructor and administrator with 18 years of instructional experience.. She currently works as Chief Learning Officer at BUOY, and as a Google Certified Trainer and Innovator, she is ready to assist in your strategic digital efforts.