Learning Takeaways

7 Takeaways From Our Experiences With Distance Learning

Summer vacation has officially begun for the majority of us. Our academic year has come to a bizarre finish, with Covid’s customary blur of time bringing it all to a close as well. Many districts, including my own, are in the throes of developing a new, ideal model of learning in response to an ever-changing and evasive reality, and that blur is already extending into the 2020–21 school year.

As we prepare to reopen, it’s a good idea to take stock of the decisions we’ve previously taken that have worked out well during virtual learning.

The following are seven lessons we are taking away from distance learning: 1. Don’t go it alone: Schools that are months—and, more importantly, many mistakes—ahead of us in the process have been in frequent touch with my school’s administration and faculty members. What has worked and what hasn’t has been revealed to us through their experiences, and their guidance has aided us in our decision-making. We’re collaborating with Stanford’s d.school to assist with the planning of the school year 2020–21 configuration and schedule.

There are numerous resources accessible to school administrators who are interested in receiving this type of advice. Thanks to social media and blogs, administrators can quickly network with their peers in the United States as well as in other countries. Reputable sources of information, such as Edutopia, and online courses, such as those given by the Global Online Academy or the Institute for Social and Emotional Learning, are also excellent locations to begin your search for information.

2. Develop and articulate a plan: After consulting with other schools, our leadership team came up with a vision for what digital learning would look like for our school community, as well as what it would not look like. Creating clear expectations for all stakeholders, including teachers, kids, and parents, was an important part of this process. Staff was informed of and given time to prepare for this strategy well before we had any reason to believe the world would come to a grinding halt.

3. However, be sensitive and flexible in your approach: A plan is only as good as the implementation of it. There is no other way to determine this but to collect a large amount of data. Our school has formally accomplished this through surveys distributed to all stakeholders, as well as through staff meetings, parent nights, and student sessions. Anecdotal evidence is also regularly collected in our academic and mentorship classes, as well as during any informal encounters.

Through this feedback, we have made improvements to our digital learning strategy, including clarifying digital expectations and processes, providing more class time for juniors in the International Baccalaureate programme, and altering our original schedule plan to better suit our students’ needs.

4. Less is more in this case: The message from our leadership has been loud and clear: the school will not look the same going forward, and we must abandon the traditional curriculum in its entirety. It has been decided to significantly slow down the speed and content of our sessions. We had synchronous classes for blocks 1 through 4 on Mondays and synchronous sessions for blocks 5 through 8 on Wednesdays, according to our distance-learning timetable. Tuesdays and Thursdays were days when the clocks were not in sync. After a feeling of classroom experience and group, a connection was established, an asynchronous day was implemented, which provided students and faculty with the opportunity to connect independently and complete work.

To promote academic depth and student well-being, our team chose to exclude an entire unit on Romeo and Juliet from my English 9 course to reduce the amount of time spent on it. Knowing that Shakespeare would be taught at least twice more during their high school career made making that decision a little less difficult. Another thing that struck me was how much more in-depth work on literary analysis and effective writing techniques was possible, although the breadth of information was limited.

While it may appear that fewer opportunities are being provided to students, in reality, more opportunities are being provided to faculty and staff. We hold virtual meetings regularly in a variety of settings, ranging from departmental to district-level. Staff members at our school who believe themselves to be experts in a variety of online platforms have offered to train their fellow students. Staff members have continued to be surveyed by our social committee, which has responded by holding virtual get-togethers. Colleagues are sharing possibilities for professional development, and teams are signing up to take advantage of these opportunities. We have coaches on hand to assist you in making the shift to digital learning, in whatever form that may take place. Curbside checkouts are organised by our librarians as a way to encourage pupils to continue reading.

6. Maintain your perspective and express gratitude: When living in a period when individuals are dealing with fears relating to the coronavirus, it’s easy to fall into a state of hopelessness. This is made worse for educators since the lines between work and home are becoming increasingly blurred. The practice of gratitude makes a difference now, more than ever, and it can make a difference in your life.

This is something that our school has continued to emphasise. Our parents produced and delivered thank-you DVDs to the school’s faculty and staff. Our teachers arranged for thank-you letters to be written to the elders. Our mentoring programme provided our kids with a forum for them to express their gratitude to one another. We continued to celebrate the Hump Day Bump every week in our community.

Place people first: Education is really about people, and being online does not alter this fact I would argue that it has the opposite effect. During this difficult moment, we must put the well-being of all stakeholders first… To address this, we have structured the school day to include regular advisory meetings, opportunities for play such as talent showcases and dance parties, social and emotional teaching, check-ins with teachers, and access to counsellors and psychologists.

As our leadership team considers reopening in the fall, the number one priority of health and well-being guides the development of the strategy. My administration is continuously providing small symbols of support, such as baked goods, gift baskets, flowers, and cards, as well as regular emails, SMS check-ins, and encouraging comments to my employees. I appreciate their efforts.

It is critical to consider all seven of these approaches. That which is much more difficult to identify, but which is also far more important to experience and cultivate, is a persistent sense of gentleness, grace, and understanding. Rather than the what or how this attests to the why of a situation. All decisions and actions must be guided by the basic premise of care at this time of physical, emotional, financial, mental, social, and political turmoil.