It seems like every day presents a new challenge or adventure, depending on how you view the current landscape. Educators are stressed, worn-out, and constantly wondering when the pandemic will end. There are no easy answers or solutions that will work for everyone. The fact remains that there was no professional learning to prepare for the reality that everyone is facing nor a plan for something like COVID19. Through it all, though, educators have risen to the occasion like never before. In the midst of adversity, we see daily empathy, selflessness, commitment, and innovation.
I always like to focus on the small wins when I am facilitating professional learning with schools and districts. We can’t discount even the smallest success during these trying times as it is imperative to build people up. Over time these small wins can morph into catalysts for more extensive change efforts. During workshops and coaching sessions, I am always asked what advice I have to help teachers and administrators make things as easy as possible while ensuring quality learning is taking place. In this case, the goal is trying to achieve more systematic change that all educators can embrace. The bottom line is that it has to make sense and not require a great deal of effort to implement.
Below are the three recommendations I have been providing to help districts and schools persevere during the pandemic. You will see they are relatively straightforward, but each in its own right requires a certain level of continuity and consistency. I tend to refer to these as norms that everyone can get behind.
- Embrace a learning management system (LMS) K-12
- Settle on a video conference platform with breakout rooms
- Use one digital tool for engagement and empowerment
The consistent use of an LMS such as Google Classroom, Schoology, or Canvas works to create a more equitable learning environment for all kids and families provided there is access in school and at home. It can become the hub for all lessons, videos, activities, assessments, and student work. A foundation can then be established for more personalized approaches such as pedagogically-sound blended learning or self-paced activities. Students and families win as they have on-demand access to resources. Building capacity now benefits all educators through vertical articulation and provides a foundation to build upon in subsequent years.
Whether remote or hybrid, many schools have relied on a video conference platform for synchronous instruction and learning. Like the LMS, consistent use across a district or school helps develop continuity, especially in upper-grade levels. For discourse and collaboration, selecting a video conference platform that has breakout room capability is a must, in my opinion. Thus, the options are Zoom, Webex, and Google Meets. No matter the platform selected, it is crucial to follow guidelines established by FERPA to protect student identity and information.
There are many digital tools available to educators these days, which often creates an overwhelming feeling. It’s not how many tools you use that matters, but instead the degree to which they are employed to facilitate engaging and empowering experiences. Hence, my advice is to master one tool and use it consistently to review prior learning and check for understanding and closure. The key here is establishing a comfort level amongst both the teacher and student. There are many great tools out there to use. My advice is to pick the one that allows for student responses to be used in different ways. My favorites are Mentimeter and Padlet.
The success of each suggestion above hinges upon providing professional learning support on using the tool or platform, as well as sound pedagogy. This represents a great starting point to help educators manage expectations during the pandemic. The recommendations can set the stage for more structured synchronous and asynchronous experiences that empower learners in different ways. They can also be a springboard for future change.