Sunday, September 20, 2020

Developing SEL Competencies Through Technology

The COVID-19 unleashed an array of challenges that resulted in schools being closed for in-person instruction for many months.  As I write this post, many have begun the year with remote learning, while others have opted for a hybrid model where a certain amount of kids are still learning at home. There are growing concerns about students' mental well-being as well as inter- and intra-personal skills, which have only been magnified by not only the pandemic but also advances in technology as a result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Over the past few months, many kids turned to digital tools such as social media or games to pass the time.  So much so that one has to wonder about the overall effect on a social and emotional level. The fact is that we don't know the extent of the impact on kids and might not get a firm grasp on this for years.

In a recent article Venola Mason and Tawana Grover emphasized the priority to address the SEL needs of students during and after Covid-19:

Schools must be prepared for the aftermath of the pandemic. We have to elevate our attention to emotional Intelligence and can no longer view this work as optional. Covid-19 has forced us to see that being primarily focused on developing students' IQ is not enough, and in order to help students to reach their full potential, we must also help them to develop their EQ or emotional Intelligence.  When we address social-emotional learning (SEL) we advance emotional Intelligence. Consider the model below as a guide to helping students navigate challenges through prescribed modalities in mind shifts. 

It is essential first to understand where issues can arise.  At the forefront are social isolation and a feeling of loneliness. Then there are other mitigating factors stemming from digital drama, selfies, digital footprints, privacy violations, cyberbullying, distraction, time management, and violent video games. The inherent challenge and opportunity are to build and foster SEL competencies, including self-control, communication, humility, integrity, compassion, perseverance, courage, empathy, curiosity, teamwork, and gratitude.



Some schools have been proactive in this area, as pointed out in an article by Jessica Berlinski:

Schools across the country use a digital program that provides kids a safe place to explore their challenges, learn and practice skills to navigate them, and build the confidence to ask for help. The 420 lessons in the program, called Ripple Effects, cover core SEL skills as well as personal topics ranging from anxiety, bullying and marijuana to managing fears around an undocumented parent.

Knowing what the issues are and how recent events have amplified them, the time is now to be proactive.  Here are what districts, schools, and educators can do:

  • Focus on the purposeful use of technology to support and enhance learning across the curriculum in both remote and face-to-face settings
  • Train parents and students on SEL competencies, digital citizenship, responsibility, and cyberbullying
  • Create anonymous tip lines for students and parents to report issues and concerns
  • Model appropriate use aligned to SEL competencies, especially with the tools kids currently use (TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube)
  • Communicate excessively with stakeholders using blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other pertinent tools highlighting SEL competencies
  • Provide professional learning support to teachers and administrators

As social media becomes even more prevalent in students' lives now and in the future, it is critical that educators and schools provide the necessary support while embracing digital leadership. Delegate when necessary, but also consider reaching out to teachers and students for ideas. You got this!

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series. 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Empathetic Remote and Hybrid Learning

As almost all schools across the globe are back in session in some form or another, many have decided to begin the year remotely with the hopes that COVID-19 cases will subside in the coming months. Others have started the year with some sort of hybrid model.  There is no easy decision when it comes to determining which pathway is the most appropriate at this time. Each, in its own right, presents particular challenges. Regardless of the route taken, all learners and adults' health and safety should be the driving force that determines whether to stay the course or move in another direction.

There is a great deal of stress on students, parents, and administrators, and even more on teachers. The next few weeks, or even months, will be ridden with anxiety, fear, and at times confusion no matter how prepared a district or school is. What we have learned about COVID-19 is that it can spiral out of control at a moment's notice if social distancing and health recommendations aren't followed. However, this is not all doom and gloom. Throughout the pandemic, educators have embraced new opportunities that have materialized and taken advantage of a clean slate. Innovative practices and technology that might have been on the back-burner months ago are now front and center. Rest assured, when this is all over the resilience of teachers and administrators will help usher in a new normal that better meets the needs of all learners.

Now more than ever, empathy is needed to help everyone get through remote or hybrid learning. The reality is that successes are and have been, overshadowed by fear, stress, and anxiety at levels never experienced.  Below I will address six specific areas that can help to create an empathetic teaching and learning culture.  



Time

As I work with more and more teachers across the country, this is the number one issue that consistently comes up.  Teaching both face-to-face and remote learners at the time is not easy, but I recently developed a pedagogical framework using a station rotation model that can help. Many hybrid learning models have either an entire day (typically Wednesday or Friday) for teachers to plan, grade, provide interventions, and conference with students.  Some set aside a half-day.  Administrators can even cut any non-instructional duties to free up teachers. Remote teachers also need time, which is why having them follow a traditional school day schedule doesn't make much sense, especially when asynchronous tasks can be employed, freeing up much needed minutes or even hours.  

Support

Teachers and administrators need professional learning that aligns with the challenges they currently face and the demands of education in a COVID-19 world.  Targeted presentations can now be facilitated virtually, both live and on-demand, in time-sensitive ways.  Job-embedded coaching, which most educators yearn for, can also be facilitated virtually or face-to-face.  Asynchronous models that address the time issue above can also be used to mirror the same conditions that learners will experience either remotely or in a hybrid model.  Support can also come in the form of budget allocations for needed technology, an administrator covering a teacher's class, feedback, granting mental health days, listening to and then acting on general concerns, allocating time each day to check in with remote learners, and providing daily encouragement through inspirational messages. Another suggestion is moving around personnel so that there are dedicated teachers just for the remote learners in a hybrid model. Even though balancing both face-to-face and remote kids can be done successfully, it is still a challenge.

Grace

Depending on your position, leading and teaching with grace is the epitome of an empathetic culture. This can mean many different things to people, but overall it can be characterized by being welcoming, patient, warm, and kind. It's about emphasizing relationships over discipline or correction. For a learner, it might be giving him or her multiple chances on an assessment or to complete a project.  Or it might be a focus on restorative practices that emphasize forgiveness and the building of relationships. Leading with grace is all about service to others with a focus on humility and respect. From an administrator perspective, it means treating teachers with dignity and exhibiting generosity in addition to the characteristics listed earlier in this paragraph. When it is all said and done, continuously ask these questions when someone might be having a difficult day:

  • Are you ok?
  • Is there anything I can do for you or that you need?
  • Is your current workload manageable?
Exemplars

Empathy is about putting yourself in the shoes of others. Modeling through exemplars is a great way to help ease potential concerns, fear, and anxiety on behalf of learners, teachers, and administrators. Showing examples of sound remote and hybrid pedagogy, as well as successful implementation plans, builds confidence in that you don't have to reinvent the wheel.  Recently I shared what some Corinth School District educators in Mississippi were doing and received some very positive feedback. In particular, teachers want to see what this looks like in alignment with their grade level and content focus. 

Flexibility

For remote or hybrid to work, a flexible approach has to be prioritized. Having teachers and students follow a rigid schedule that replicates what traditional schooling has looked like for years could dramatically impact morale, attentiveness, and motivation.  Video conference fatigue is a real issue, and it just doesn't make sense to have remote learners log in from home when they could just watch the recorded highlights and then complete the same tasks that they could in class asynchronously. Teachers also get fatigued if they are on a screen too long.  If the decision has been made for all students to be remote, then at the very least, each teacher should be given a choice as to whether or not they want to teach from their classroom or home. Other areas that can show flexibility include deadlines, attendance, and general with teachers and students.

Compassion

Some might think grace and compassion are the same things. Even though they are similar, there is a difference.  Compassionate teaching and leadership consider any type of suffering and move towards specific actions to relieve it.  The pandemic has resulted in so many misfortunes that are difficult to wrap our heads around.  This is why social-emotional learning (SEL) should be integrated into any learning model, but it also has to be adapted for adults as well.  Henri Nouwen said it best, "Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human."

There is hope as educators continue to embark into the great unknown. The virus will eventually be subdued. New learning models and innovative pedagogies will take hold. Parents and students will be more comfortable with and open to different ways to learn. Resilient educators who triumphed in the face of adversity will lead education in a better direction. Empathy will not only help us get through to better days but will also help to establish a thriving school culture grounded in relationships.

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series. 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

A Pedagogical Framework for Managing Face-to-Face and Remote Learners at the Same Time

It's has been great to be back in schools working shoulder to shoulder with teachers and administrators as I kicked off year two with the Corinth School District in Mississippi. Until this point, most of my interactions with educators have been through virtual presentations, workshops, and coaching.  Now don't get me wrong as this has been incredibly fulfilling and a great learning experience for me. However, you just can't replace face-to-face professional learning, in my opinion. Body language, eye contact, verbal discourse, collaboration, and relationship building are much more powerful when people are physically together.

Even though I have been on-site for workshops since the start of the pandemic, last week was my first time working with educators in small groups and visiting classrooms with students. Before I dive into this post topic, I must say how impressed I was with what the teachers and administrators have accomplished.  Their growth has been astounding as they have successfully implemented many of the pedagogical strategies emphasized last year, which has made the transition to a hybrid learning model more manageable. As I visited each school, I felt like a proud parent and can't say enough about their collective efforts to improve professional practice.

There are still challenges, though. Like many districts, Corinth has given parents the option to send their kids to school or learn remotely. In some cases, it hasn't been easy to effectively manage both face-to-face and remote learners during the same class period, which is the case for almost every school district.  It is important to remember that no one was trained for this, and pedagogically-sound models are just starting to appear. Teachers not only in Corinth but across the world, are exhausted. I learned from working with educators virtually and on-site the toll that hybrid learning is enacting on educators.  During a very candid conversation with a small group, I experienced firsthand that the single most impediment was time. The number of hours that some educators are working is just not sustainable.

The key is to either free up time or think about how it is being used. This was overcome by having a dedicated teacher assigned to all the remote learners at the kindergarten through the sixth-grade level. Unfortunately, having a dedicated remote teacher for the upper-grade levels isn't an option in smaller school districts.  After listening to some teacher concerns at the middle school, I began to map out a framework that could help teachers manage their time better while in school.  As I scribbled on a large whiteboard, I simultaneously bounced ideas off the principal Nathan Hall.  The end result was a simple rotational model preceded with direct instruction followed by a summary activity or closure. Since Corinth Middle School has fifty-minute periods, I suggested ten minutes for each rotation as well as the mini-lesson and closure activity.

Content still matters, but there has to be some prioritization of standards and, from there, a mini-lesson.  My advice is to keep it short and sweet. Depending on the block of time, this can be either ten or fifteen minutes. Teachers can record this as it is being streamed live using a video conference tool and then uploaded to a learning management system for all kids to refer to whenever they want. Another option is to use the flipped approach and record the mini-lesson for all kids to watch at home before class.  Within this first small chunk of time, it is critical that relevance is imparted, and the best way to do this is through a quick anticipatory set. The last segment of the class could consist of a formative assessment or a closure activity. 

Now let me discuss conceptually what the rotational model could look like in a school. The teacher has two options here. Either group all the remote students together or use data to regularly group and regroup kids as they work to approach, meet, or exceed standards.


  • Station 1 (Targeted instruction): After a general overview of the lesson during the opening minutes of class the teacher can then dive deeper through more extensive modeling and checks for understanding.  During this time, students can also have their questions answered.
  • Station 2 (Personalized or adaptive learning): In this station, students can work through the curriculum and concepts based on strengths, weaknesses, or personal interests. There are both free (CK-12, Khan Academy, Prodigy, Freckle) and paid (HMH intervention tools, Waggle, IXL) programs. Here is where data can be collected and analyzed for groupings if the right tool is used.
  • Station 3 (Independent or collaborative work): Initially, I would go with independent work as it takes less time to plan for than cooperative learning.  Activities could consist of scaffolded practice problem sets, independent reading, or the use of a self-paced personalized tool if you decide to make the other station purely adaptive.  

The entire premise of the model presented above is to make the best use of available time during a class period where a teacher is managing both face-to-face and remote learners. I suggest only three rotations to begin, but you can definitely add more if you are working with a more extended block of time.  Or you can even tweak it to meet your specific needs as this is what Nathan Hall did for his staff. Below you will see what two Corinth Middle School teachers developed and integrated with Canvas.



Once you are comfortable, consider utilizing choice boards, playlists, or flipped lessons if these won't turn into a time sap. Or you can plan for some sort of cooperative learning using virtual breakout rooms. To ensure success, it is also a good idea to commit to a learning management system such as Google Classroom, Canvas, or Schoology. It becomes more difficult managing remote learners if you are not using one of these solutions.  I loved visiting with Corinth High School science teacher Sally Beth McCullough recently and seeing firsthand what she has implemented successfully. Below you will see how she is effectively using Canvas and choice boards.



I still have 18 more days with the Corinth School District this year and can't wait to see what their teachers and administrators accomplish.

Managing face-to-face and remote learners at the same time can be a challenging task for teachers and schools as a whole.  My hope is that the framework and examples above can serve as a baseline to think about how to best use the time available without succumbing to burnout.  As teachers, always lean on your colleagues near and far. They are your best resource. If you are an administrator, be flexible with your staff and demonstrate empathy. They need your support more than ever. Finally, always be on the lookout for professional learning opportunities that can fill in the gaps and provide needed feedback for continuous improvement. You all will get through this as educators always rise to the challenge.

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series.