Sunday, April 26, 2020

Remote Learning Teaching Tips

There is so much pressure on teachers as more and more schools close for the academic year as a result of COVID19.  With little to no training or preparation, they have stepped up to keep learning going.  It hasn’t been easy for them to say the least.  A recent eSchool News article highlighted that most teachers don’t feel fully prepared for remote learning.
ClassTag surveyed more than 1,200 U.S. teachers in mid-March to collect and share best practices, ideas, and common approaches to remote learning. More than half of those surveyed teach in public schools (66 percent) and more than half are elementary school teachers (60 percent). Perhaps the most concerning survey result is that more than half of teachers (57 percent) say they do not feel prepared to facilitate remote and online learning.
In some cases, immense challenges such as digital equity and limited parental support at home have had to be addressed and overcome.  It hasn’t been perfect or necessarily smooth in some cases, but it doesn’t have to be. In the end, there is no one right way to go about implementing any type of remote learning. Thus, the efforts of all teachers during this difficult time should be commended by all. We will get through this because of them.

Administrators have had their own fair share of challenges. They have had to do their best to support their staff in helping them navigate into the great unknown. Difficult decisions have had to be made regarding grading, making funds available to get technology in the hands of disadvantaged kids, getting school work to kids where the digital divide could not be overcome, and figuring out how to provide professional learning support virtually. Like teachers, they are working crazy hours to help keep learning going.  

All of us not in their shoes can only look through an empathetic lens and try to support these heroes as best we can. Below are some tips for teachers and administrators to assist with implementing remote learning. Please note that these are only suggestions. If digital access is a challenge, check out these practical ideas that can be implemented without any tech. Now, without further ado, here are some remote learning teaching tips.

  • Keep sound instructional design at the forefront.
  • Design experiences that align with the current scope and sequence for the marking period or semester. The goal is to try to eliminate any significant learning loss while allowing kids to progress to the next grade level.
  • Develop a balance between synchronous (live session) and asynchronous (tasks to be completed offline) teaching and learning.
  • Use the same amount of interactive activities that you would in class (every 15 - 20 min or so), but have students respond using a digital tool. Here you can find a listing or some great options.
  • Use a URL shortener to make links easily accessible in a slide presentation or push out using a Learning Management System (i.e., Google Classroom, Canvas, Schoology). My favorites at and tinyurl.
  • Utilize chat and screen share features inherent in video conference tools.
  • Leverage an adaptive learning tool if your school or district has purchased a license. If not, consider this PreK – 12 resource from Khan Academy or some tools highlighted HERE.
  • Incorporate movement (i.e., Go Noodle) and mindfulness
  • Create supplemental resources to go along with the lesson. These could be a digital handout in the form of a Google Doc, articles to read, anchor charts, skeleton outline for notes, etc.
  • Provide flexible timelines for students to complete work.
  • Set up video conference sessions for students who are confused to ask questions or get extra help.
  • Focus more on providing timely, actionable, and accurate feedback as opposed to grades. If grading is mandated, make sure it is realistic and fair. Consider giving students a series of assignments over a period of time where only one or two, not all, will be assessed for a grade.
  • Ensure SPED accommodations are being met.

The overall goal is to move to a more personalized approach that focuses on student agency through path, pace, place, voice, and choice. If technology resources are available, then the best comprehensive strategy to pursue is real blended learning. In a remote world, this will look a little different than in a classroom or school. However, the pedagogical tenets remain the same. Below you will see an image I created that highlights four focus areas to develop sound blended experiences in a remote learning environment followed by some context on each.

Synchronous instruction: Live lessons, extra help, remediation, or question and answer sessions hosted live and in real-time using a video conference tool (Google Hangouts/Meet, Zoom, Blue Jeans, etc.). It is recommended that these be recorded for students to refer back to when needed and as a support for asynchronous work.

Asynchronous work – Tasks and assignments that are completed over a specific time period using strategies such as playlists and choice boards. Other options include research papers or projects.

Collaborative experiences – Activities where students work together in a virtual space to complete a cooperative learning task using tools such as Padlet, Google Docs, Popplet, Flipgrid, etc.

Adaptive tools – Technology that modifies the presentation of material in response to an analysis of student performance. These can be used for self-facing, remediation, or extra practice. There is a slew of great options out there, both free and paid. HERE you can check out some free options. Some of the top paid tools include Edgenuity and IXL.

In my mind, a dynamic remote blended learning experience results from a convergence of the four focus areas identified above in conjunction with the teaching tips addressed at the beginning of the post.  What matters above all is to keep moving forward. Reflect on what is working and what isn’t. Make needed changes and pivot when necessary. Elicit feedback from colleagues, students, parents, or your Personal Learning Network (PLN). Finally, take needed breaks and embrace self-care.  Thank you all for your efforts and keep up the great work!

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Leading in a Remote Learning World

It goes without saying that our teachers have done an incredible job when it comes to adapting to a remote learning world.  With little to no training, they are finding ways to make it work for their kids while overcoming a myriad of challenges in the process.  You could even say that they are the true leaders in a sense as their actions are leading to innovative change.  Administrators are also playing their part and rising to the occasion. Countless hours were spent planning once it was clear that schools would be shut down for an extended period of time.  Now more time is being spent refining plans as lessons are learned and, in some cases, are prepared for schools to be closed the remained of the year.

Flexibility and an Empathetic Lens

Everyone needs to understand that there is no one right way to implement remote learning. I can’t even say that mistakes are being made as this is uncharted territory for virtually everyone.  The best advice I can provide is to understand that making teachers go through the motions like it is a typical school day might not be the best course of action.  It is vital to take into consideration the pressure this is not only placing on them at home with their kids but also parents who are now working remotely. Adjustments are continually being made, and schedules are always in flux.

Additionally, teachers need to have the autonomy to make changes as needed while providing the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous instruction.  Try not to lock everyone into a one-size-fits-all plan. Regularly reflect on what is and isn’t working, adapt, listen to concerns, and most importantly, do what’s best for all the kids that you serve. In the end, flexibility will lead to success and is a hallmark of empathetic leadership.

Learn what others are doing

In times of crisis and disruptive change, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.  By embracing digital leadership, you can connect with others near and far to find out what has been successful in other districts or schools and also veer away from roadblocks that others have encountered. So many resources are being shared daily on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.  You can either lurk and learn or develop your own Personal Learning Network (PLN) to farm the best ideas and strategies that are actually working in similar demographics. 

Realistic and Fair Grading

I will admit that I am on the fence with this one.  In a previous post, I recommended that grading kids should be avoided as many have yet to complete one assignment since schools closed, and there are equity issues at a scale most have never seen before. However, I also recognize the need to help justify many of the remote learning plans in place and to support high school students, especially seniors, as they prepare for graduation.  The bottom line is there is no easy solution here. Work with teachers and other support staff to develop a responsible and equitable policy. Try to ensure that there is new content presented in a manageable fashion where students then have multiple opportunities to practice and then apply what has been learned.  Consider also eliciting feedback from parents and students themselves to create a policy that realistically and fairly depicts what has been learned.

Connect with families

You will not find an effective leader who is not an effective communicator.  In times of crisis, families need just as much support, empathy, and flexibility as teachers and students.  In Digital Leadership I recommend that all leaders consider using a multi-faceted approach that blends both digital and non-digital strategies to get the required information and updates to all stakeholders. This definitely applies now. When using social media, think about the platforms being used and mix it up by mashing together text, hyperlinks, images, and video.  Take a risk and make yourself vulnerable by delivering light-hearted messages using Snapchat and TikTok. Consider a daily or weekly YouTube video that can be embedded in a mass email to showcase how teachers are successfully implementing remote learning.  The bottom line is that you cannot overcommunicate.  

Provide professional learning support

A recent article highlighted how many teachers don't feel prepared for remote learning.  Just because schools are closed doesn’t mean professional learning should stop, especially now.  Funds have been allocated this year to provide this support for both teachers and administrators. As remote learning is a new venture for most, it is crucial to ensure that sound instructional techniques and pedagogy are embraced.  There is no better time than now to implement personalized and blended learning pathways, which really cater to a remote learning environment.  In cases where there is not equitable access, teachers need support developing and implementing non-digital strategies that challenge kids to think and apply their thinking in authentic ways.

Think about converting what would have been a face-to-face day to a virtual one.  I myself have facilitated several virtual presentations and coaching sessions with schools in lieu of being there on-site.  At Aspire Change EDU, we have modified all of our services for virtual delivery. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you want to get some more information on what can be done for your school or district. 

Make sure kids are safe

Many educators have embraced live video platforms such as Zoom and Google Hangouts/Meets. It is important that leaders make sure that requirements set for by COPPA and FERPA in the United States are being met (or the equivalent in other countries). What this means, in a nutshell, is no sharing of student information or identifiable features without permission.  In my opinion, teachers should be advised not to share video conferences or pictures from such sessions online regardless of whether or not waivers have been signed. Leaders should also update parents on the dangers of social media and online games since more and more kids are spending time in these spaces, thanks to social distancing.

Don't ignore self-care

These are stressful times for teachers. Leaders should be cognizant of this fact and encourage their staff to make time to take care of themselves.  In a previous post, I shared some ideas on how to build this in daily. It also goes without saying that leaders themselves should prioritize self-care to model for others.

Success in a remote learning world will require bold and courageous leadership.  As you grapple with decisions that have to be made, realize that everyone else is in the same boat.  Constantly reflect on where you are, but also where you want to be when the crisis ends.  The lessons learned today can help to build a brighter future and culture once schools reopen.

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series

Sunday, April 12, 2020

For the Love of Kids

There is no better time than now to observe and then reflect. The actions of teachers, administrators, coaches, technology integrationists, and other support staff have provided us all with a lens to look more deeply at the profession of education and its vital role in the world. Questions are more important than answers if one wants to construct a new perspective on an issue.  Here are some for everyone to ponder.

Why do educators do what they do?

Why did they decide to go into a profession with low pay and a perceived stigma that pales in comparison to other career paths?

Why do they work countless hours after the school day and on weekends planning, grading, reflecting, and improving?

Why do they shun criticism from those who have never taught in a classroom or worked in a school?

For the love of kids, that’s why. These are just a few questions that have been answered in recent weeks.  Educators show up and do what it takes because of their love and passion for working with kids.  The calling is as simple as it is profound. It centers on the innate desire to make a difference in the lives of children by preparing them with the competencies to succeed in life.  They are showing us what real innovation looks like while simultaneously tackling relentless challenges that pop up continuously. It’s like they are living in a game of “Whack a Mole” every day.

To try to sum up what they are doing through this pandemic, I posted this on Twitter recently.

Commitment is a gross understatement. What we are seeing is dedication at unprecedented levels. In light of the fact that there is no one right way and a lack of any training in remote learning pedagogy, teachers and administrators are figuring it out the best they can. It’s not about perfection, as that is a fallacy in anything related to education.  What it is about is perseverance and empathy as families need learning in some form to continue so that their kids don’t fall behind. A powerful message has been sent. The eyes of the world are now open and finally seeing what those of us have known all along. Educators will always do what it takes for their students…period.

When it comes to education, business as usual is not the best course of action in a remote learning world. Here is my advice to educators in the trenches. Take a deep breath, gather resources, see what others are doing, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, and above all else do what’s best for kids. Continue to let your commitment, dedication, and, most importantly, your love for those who you serve, be a driving force to not only facilitate remote learning but also to overcome challenges as they arise. In closing, this quote attributed to numerous individuals sums up the point I am trying to make, “A good educator is like a candle that consumes itself while lighting the way for others.” A lot of candles are being consumed as of late, and that’s a good thing — all for the love of kids.

Be sure to check out all the posts in my #remotelearning series.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

10 Remote Learning Practices to Avoid

Educators, schools, and districts have earnestly rolled out remote learning plans to support students and fill in gaps as a result of extended closures.  We have seen fantastic progress in a short amount of time as teachers, with little to no training in this area, have valiantly risen to the occasion. Are the plans perfect? Not by any stretch, but that is because they don’t have to be. As I have been working with schools and districts to help get their remote learning off the ground, we have come to a consensus on essential elements. The key areas to focus on with any plan are equity, meeting the needs of special education students, sound pedagogy, and consistent communication with families.

The education community should be proud as they are building the plane and flying it at the same time. However, other educators and I have developed some concerns based on what we are seeing and hearing. Typically, I refrain from telling any educator what to do. That is not my place since I am not currently working full time in a school or district. 

My role is to provide support and advice while staying in my lane. Thus, please take what I am going to share below as just some suggestions to try to shy away from when it comes to remote learning.
  1. Piling on too much work
  2. Posting assignments with no plan for feedback
  3. Providing just digital options (HERE are some non-digital ideas)
  4. Traditional grading practices (avoid these altogether as learners are in inequitable situations)
  5. Relying solely on low-level worksheets, packets, or Teachers Pay Teachers materials (that are low-level)
  6. Thinking that you have to abide by a traditional school day schedule
  7. Forcing teachers to follow a traditional schedule while working remotely
  8. Using video tools in violation of FERPA
  9. Posting videos or pictures of kids learning online without proper consent (basically we shouldn't be sharing screenshots of kids during a Zoom or Google Hangout/Meets session)
  10. Covering the entire curriculum and every standard

Some of you might be thinking that common sense dictates that the practices above should be avoided. I wish that were the case. As more and more educators reach out to me to share their experiences and ask for advice, I thought it might be a good idea to put some of the issues out there front and center. Maybe I am wrong, or just perhaps you might be dealing with some of the unsound practices above. Either way, we are all in this together as educators, parents, and optimists in that we will rise from this challenge stronger, wiser, and more resilient than ever.

If there is anything that you feel should be added to the list, please post in the comments section below. For more ideas and resources be sure to check out the entire #remotelearning series