With 2020 in the rearview mirror, it is now time to focus on the present with an eye to the future. Many difficult lessons were learned during the pandemic, and a few more are sure to materialize over the next couple of months. Even though educators have been challenged like never before, they faced adversity and stepped up to the plate admirably for their learners. While a great deal can be written about the challenges experienced and those still prevalent, I want to focus on some of the good that has come out of the COVID-19 nightmare. Remote and hybrid learning at scale was never meant for K-12 education, but the fact remains that each has been a catalyst for some exciting changes that have long been overdue.
As I recently worked with leaders from Paterson Public Schools in New Jersey, during a coaching session, I asked them to take a few minutes, and each share something positive that came about as a result of the pandemic. Too often, we tend to dwell on overcoming hardships that we forget to celebrate both small and large wins. With morale at a breaking point now more than ever, teachers and administrators need validation for all they have done recently. These can become critical building blocks for sustainable change.
As each leader presented their views on positive shifts to practice, you could see their pride swell. They shared how teachers got better using technology, reached out more for feedback, collaborated more, and improved classroom management. They also shared that the facilitation of professional learning improved, a greater reach was achieved thanks to technology, previously unknown teacher strengths were unearthed, and there was the ability to get into more classrooms. All in all, these are all great examples of progress in difficult times. How has your practice or those in your school/district changed for the better?
As the new year begins, schools, for the most part, are still where they were in 2020. That is why it is imperative to celebrate success in any form and provide further support for teachers and administrators. Instead of dwelling on all that hasn't worked, energy should be spent on all that has during the pandemic. Consider these questions from your lens. What are your exemplars of effective remote or hybrid teaching and learning, and why? How are you sharing these with colleagues and staff or using them for professional learning and feedback? While these provide ample opportunities to reflect, further headway can be made by focusing on the following:
- Continuity and consistency – Keep it as simple as possible. Embrace a learning management system (LMS), settle on a video conference solution that has breakout rooms and integrate one digital tool that aligns with effective instructional strategies. Then be sure to use consistency and ensure there are continuities either across your school or K-12.
- Lesson structure – The key here is to ensure there is a balance between synchronous and asynchronous activities both with and without technology. Other considerations include chunking how content is presented, utilizing routine checks for understanding, providing brain breaks, and incorporating movement activities. Engagement issues arise when it is entirely direct instruction, or learners are expected to be on technology the entire time. HERE are some ideas on how to balance things out.
- Relevance – Learners need purpose. Without this, the willingness and desire to learn dwindles. An anticipatory set at the beginning of every lesson is a great start, but they're also should be at least one opportunity to apply thinking in a relevant way. Kids become intrinsically motivated when they know why they are learning something and how they will use what has been learned outside of school.
- Rigor – Any remote or hybrid experience should challenge students to think. Consider how questions are scaffolded and the way in which knowledge will be applied to solve complex problems. The ability to think, pandemic or not, is the best way to future-proof learning for all students while setting them up for success.
- Purposeful use – Technology has played a considerable role during the pandemic and will continue to well after. However, just using Zoom to "deliver" instruction should not be the goal and does not constitute effective use. Now is the time to focus on purposeful use aligned to sound instructional strategies (review of prior learning, checks for understanding, closure, assessment). From here, it is about empowering students to use technology to learn in ways that they couldn't without it.
- Blended learning – One of the best ways to incorporate all of the above is through blended pedagogies. Often, though, there is confusion as to what this really is. Blended instruction is what the teacher does with technology. Blended learning is where students use tech to have control over path, place, and pace while also having voice and choice. Consider practical strategies such as station rotation, choice boards, playlists, and flipped lessons.
- Leverage your superstars – There is no better way to make headway with remote and hybrid learning than to put the work of your trailblazers' front and center. Consider sharing what they are doing in email blasts and through social media. Not only can they serve as motivation for teachers who yearn for practical strategies, but their work can also be shared with stakeholders to showcase what is working. Your superstars can also lead professional learning.
What we have and continue to learn during the pandemic will pave the way for sustainable changes to practice that will positively impact kids. Don't sell yourselves short. In the midst of immense challenges and struggles, you have all stepped up in ways that illustrate how amazing educators are. Remote and hybrid learning can work because of your efforts. Continue to keep things manageable while also looking for opportunities to reflect and grow. You don't have to have all the answers or solutions. It is a sign of strength to admit that you don't know or need help in these cases. If this is your situation, please feel free to reach out as I am more than happy to help in any way that I can.