Teachers and administrators earned an A for effort as they tried to implement remote learning plans last spring when the COVID-19 pandemic forced K–12 schools to close, but there’s widespread concern that the online programs were a poor substitute for in-person instruction. Nobody is faulting teachers, as the emergency situation forced them to abandon classroom instruction and immediately try to recreate school online — including for very young children.
While educators and parents both hoped that schools could reopen in September, the persistence of the pandemic makes this unlikely. Many of the largest school districts in the United States have already announced that schools will remain closed — at least for the opening months of the coming school year.
Administrators who have been working hard to reopen schools safely are now forced to shift their focus toward improving the quality of education they deliver online. To have any chance of success, educators must develop a carefully crafted remote learning plan.
Many aspects of preparing a remote learning plan will require input from teachers, school staff, parents, and students. You can customize Jotform online survey templates to collect and tabulate results, which can go a long way toward helping administrators build the consensus and buy-in needed for a successful remote learning plan.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re crafting yours.
Consider technology and access issues
The COVID-19 pandemic is hurting some people much more than others. When public health orders shut down schools and forced the switch to remote learning, the nation’s “digital divide” became an immediate problem. A laptop is simply beyond the budget of many low income families, and families who cannot afford a laptop aren’t going to have a high-speed internet connection. Plus, internet connections are often much slower — or simply unavailable — in remote rural areas of the nation.
Just as school districts have always provided buses to bring children to schools they cannot reasonably walk to, districts now must provide every student who needs a laptop with a suitable machine loaded with the necessary software and the latest updates. This, obviously, can be a substantial unexpected expense, so finding funding is essential. Just as obviously, no remote learning plan will succeed if students don’t have the technology and the internet connection necessary for viewing lessons and communicating with their teachers.
As the pandemic forced millions of people to work from home, many of them required tech help to get up and running. Teachers who have spent their careers honing one-on-one people skills are also likely to require help setting up their technology at home and improving their ability to use interactive software. Providing this assistance is the responsibility of school administrators. When developing your plan, be sure to consider how you will address these issues.
Ask the community for help
One way to help alleviate some of the challenges your students will face is to reach out to the organizations and services around you. Connect with community members — such as libraries and community centers — to find out who will be open during your closure, and ask if students can have access to devices and Wi-Fi at these locations.
You can also investigate where students can get meals they would normally get during the school day. When you compile a list of resources, be sure to share all relevant information regularly with families, both digitally and through community partners.
Plan how everyone will communicate
Schools have always had many ways for the entire community to stay in touch, from the public address system to the teacher’s lounge to PTA meetings. Re-creating these forms of communication remotely requires careful thought and planning to establish workable systems and protocols. Developing a clear plan for how everyone will communicate with one another is imperative to minimize any confusion or frustration for parents, students, and teachers.
Begin with the basics. A good place to start is by creating a single online space for families to ask questions, leave feedback, and receive responses. Design a prominent spot on the school website to post important updates where all parents and students know to look. It’s a good idea to create a frequently asked questions (FAQs) page and keep it current.
Consider how teachers will assign work to students and how students will return their completed assignments. Also, it’s important to make a plan for taking attendance, as it’s far too easy for students to simply disappear from a virtual classroom. What will qualify as an absence, and what is a suitable reason for being absent? Be sure to communicate the specifics to parents and students.
Remember that not all teaching and learning occurs in the classroom. Establish a system for teachers to have virtual office hours with students who require more attention. Remote learning demands extra effort to keep students engaged, and this is where a good communication plan will help everyone stay in touch when issues arise.
Teaching is a demanding profession, and teachers need and deserve extra support as they struggle with the demands of remote instruction. Ask for their input to create a virtual teachers’ lounge to facilitate communication, collaboration, and peer support among faculty. Make it easy for teachers to communicate with administrators when they have questions or need additional help.
Structure virtual school days
A well functioning school is a busy place with established routines that begin with the morning bell and don’t end until everyone departs for the day. Teachers and students know where to be and when to be there. Support staff, from librarians to cafeteria workers to crossing guards, have important roles to play from specific work locations.
A virtual school day will, by necessity, be different, but it must still include expectations and routines. Before classes start, involve faculty and parents in a conversation about what that day will look like and how it will flow.
Establish what it means for students and faculty to be “present” throughout the school day. Determine the workload for students in various grades, how they will receive that work from their teachers, and how they will return it. The switch from school as we have always known it to a hurried, improvised online format is a tremendous disruption. Don’t underestimate the importance of routine to young children, their parents, and your own staff.
Help families prepare
A child’s success in school is always the result of caring, professional teachers and the child’s parents. No teacher, regardless of their commitment to the success of their students, can compensate for a disengaged parent. That’s true when schools are operating normally and even more important when remote learning requires students to be home all the hours of the day.
Parents, many of whom are making a tough adjustment to working from home while their children are attending school from home, will play a larger role than ever in their kids’ education. Work with teachers to see that parents have a realistic idea what will be required of them for their kids to get as much value as possible from remote learning.
Naturally, the challenges will be different for a kindergartener than for a high school senior, but parents have an important role to play for students in every grade. Young children will depend on parents to actively participate in instruction, while older students will need at least some parental supervision to stay focused and take their schooling seriously.
Encourage families to set aside a dedicated space in their home, even if just a table and chair, where their child does school work. This will help the child feel like they are “in school” even though the television and refrigerator are nearby.
Make sure parents understand how they can communicate with teachers and when regular parent-teacher conferences will take place. Be patient with families that are under tremendous pressure, such as from job loss or illness, as the pandemic continues to have widespread impact on all of us. Never forget that while parents care deeply about their children’s education, they probably aren’t trained teachers. They likely have jobs vitally important to the financial well-being of their family, and they (like all of us) are worn down by the uncertainty and disruption resulting from the pandemic.
Embrace the larger role schools play in the community
For millions of children, school has been a safer and healthier place than their own homes. Sadly, teachers and school nurses are often the first to detect children suffering abuse or neglect. School lunches are the most nutritious and reliable meal of the day for millions of low-income children. Counselors and caring teachers often provide indispensable emotional support for troubled children. The pandemic has made all these school functions even more important, but it has also made meeting these needs more difficult.
Meet with faculty and staff to discuss the crucial functions, besides classroom instruction, the school provides and how to continue offering those services despite remote learning limitations. Encourage teachers to set aside time for chatting with students one-on-one to keep them connected. Students must be confident that no one will overlook them; they need reassurance that they won’t get lost in the shuffle.
Remote learning has been a powerful way to teach new skills to adults looking to expand their career options. And with the help of instructional videos, countless people have been able to unclog their drains and bake loaves of bread, but remote instruction for elementary and secondary school students wasn’t a standard method of teaching until the pandemic changed our daily lives. Administrators and their school communities must do the best they can to meet this unprecedented challenge.