Last week I was working with teachers in a middle school and were were loosely discussing the potential for schools to close (maybe for a week) with the coronavirus heading into the US. I spent our 45 minute lunch break creating a crash course of strategies for these educators "just in case" they found themselves having to transition to distance learning in a hurry.... Three days later, no one is surprised by the increased discussion around planning for the use of distance learning as a continuity plan for most universities and schools. Distance learning is very different: you can’t just digitize yourself/lessons or mail a packet home and expect it to work.
So, if you find yourself suddenly in need of taking your classes to a fully virtual environment or distance learning situation and are not sure where to start, the team I work with, the Friday Institute’s Professional Learning and Leading Collaborative is here to help! We turned around that 45 minute crash course and it became these 7 strategies (based on research and the realities of the times we are currently facing). I hope it helps!
1 | Be proactive and realistic
How will your students connect with you? What if the internet is an issue? No computer in the home? Disrupted schedules? Accomodations and IEPs? Consider collecting information that will help you communicate and confirm contact information. If you already use communication tools with students and/or an LMS, keep using them. Otherwise, consider alternatives with your students that are both equitable and can enhance communication and collaboration.
2 | Consider your needs and the needs of your students
What physical materials would be beneficial to your students while you are apart? What will support learning and teaching? Resources such as textbooks, workbooks, manipulatives, content magazines, and additional reading materials apply. This should be a collaborative experience, so don’t forget to let the students choose some reading for enjoyment too. If you are looking for digital alternatives, now is a good time to start collecting and/or creating resource repositories.
NOTE: It is important to limit the number of new tools and methods being introduced, distance learning is a big enough lift itself. Be strategic in choosing and using digital tools that you may not have used before, and while tech tools are offering free services for now, it does not mean you have to use them.
3 | Keep fostering relationships and building empathy – even online
We make connections by seeing the faces of those we know, not just hearing their voice! Video is a powerful way to continue to build relationships and connections with and between your students in a distance learning situation. Research tells us your students want to see and hear you (and each other), not be taught by a clip you found online. Consider making your own videos and asking students to make their own too. And don’t forget to create office hours for yourself and/or open class hours so synchronous connections and conversations can still be made.
4 | Create communities of inquiry
Creating spaces for discussion to keep students connected is essential. If you are already using something with your students, such as a Learning Management System from your district – be consistent and keep using it. You also want to create robust discussions and require students to leave critical feedback on at least 2 to 3 peers in order to spark deeper learning and collaboration. Be transparent about your expectations for feedback. Model your expectations as often as possible. Remember, students need to be educated on how to give feedback to one another, especially in a virtual space.
5 | Avoid Isolation
“Reluctant” participants will be difficult to connect to in your new distance learning community. When asked about their greatest concerns about learning, some students shared they would be stuck watching videos and reading articles for every class — leaving them bored and isolated. Be creative in how you are sharing and teaching information to kids and build in synchronous activities as much as possible to increase engagement. Try to utilize the pedagogical strategies that work in your regular classroom in the virtual environment.They will still be impactful.
6 | Provide timely feedback and encouragement
When learning online, students are more likely to get discouraged when they can’t ask you or a peer for help as easily as in the regular classroom. Set reminders for yourself to send out encouraging messages both to the full group and to individual students. When students submit work or engage in activities, be responsive and supportive. Personalize the feedback as much as is realistic. If they feel you care about their involvement, and see you are involved yourself, they are more likely to continue to engage and absorb what you are sharing and learning.
Studies of effective teaching and learning have shown that learners want to know where they stand in regards to their work. Providing answers to the following questions to help provide quality student feedback.
7 | Check for understanding regularly
Students need to be held accountable more often in a distance learning situation than in the regular classroom, as you can’t see them actively learning as easily. Check for understanding regularly with short, small formative and summative assessments. For more complex tasks and problems, ask students to record or write out their thinking.
Additionally, prepare to schedule one-on-one conferences with your students to check-in and discuss the assessment(s) together to foster continued relationship building and to create goals and expectations collaboratively.
KEY THINGS TO REMEMBER
This is a lot -and we must remember to be flexible and adaptable. We base these recommendations on the iNACOL standards, in collaboration with blended/online learning strategies and research.
Due to the outcry for support, the team I work with is orchestrating regular check-ins and synchronous support during this trying time: We call it FI Connects – a community of educators supporting one another.
During these virtual discussions, we will share best practices and resources, but we will also spend time facilitating role-alike discussions for you to collaborate, share, and ask questions of your colleagues from around our nation in an effort for us to lift the load together.
For more information, go to go.ncsu.edu/ficonnects.
“When professionals share their talents and skills, they help the whole school develop a collective wisdom.” ~ Robert Marzano
And now that the devices are in the hands of students in all of their 32 schools, the Alamance-Burlington Schools district has turned to a researched practice that not only makes a tremendous impact on the culture of our public schools, but expounds upon collaboration, increases rigor, and propels the capacity of all stakeholders at twice the expected rate of return: they have begun implementing instructional rounds, or Learning Walks.
This collaborative practice is based on the medical model or rounds. The practice has been further developed for school administrators to observe and discuss best practices in the classroom, and modified to enable educators to conduct their own instructional rounds focused on self reflection and growth designed to begin discussions of instruction directly into the process of school improvement. In other words, this simple process creates a common language, common discipline, common focus, common purpose, and common problems.
You can talk about Learning Walks, but to truly understand this experience and it’s associated benefits, you have to experience it – you have to ‘walk the walk’. It is important that all involved understand the purpose of the walks and that they are introduced in a non-threatening way. Although schools and districts will initiate learning walks in various ways, several strategies are critical to gain buy-in: In this case, Alamance Burlington committed all it’s leadership to experience a full day of learning walks spanning schools across their district. Leaders had the opportunity to sign up for one of four days of instructional rounds, each with their own area of focus aligned with district expectations for digital learning and teaching – Management of a Digital Learning Classroom, Content & Instruction, Using Technology to Differentiate Learning, and The 4 C’s.
Along with these focus areas, each with criteria and questions, Leadership was also asked to observe student engagement, learning goals and progress tracking, student understanding of new knowledge practices and /or deepened, and how expectations are communicated to all students, etc..
During instructional rounds, small groups of three to five people make relatively brief observations of educators in action. These observations are longer than a typical “walkthrough” (i.e., longer than a few minutes), but usually shorter than an entire class period. When engaged in rounds, groups conduct as many substantive observations of classrooms as possible within part of a day or the entire day.
These rounds are a non-evaluative, structured approach to get educators into each other’s classrooms to see the teaching and learning that is taking place. Cultivating a meaningful professional learning process for improving teaching and learning, and promoting a truly collaborative learning community, requires ongoing effort from all stakeholders involved.
The primary purpose is for those making the observations to compare their practices with those observed in the classrooms they visit, and it is the discussion at the end of a set of instructional rounds and the subsequent self‐reflection by observers that is their chief benefit.
PROTOCOL | How it works
Remember, during an instructional round rotation you are only going to get a snapshot of teachers and students in action, the goal is focusing on what you observe during a specific interval of time. Consider the context of the environment, content, pedagogical practices, and the decision to use digital tools and resources to enhance student-centered learning.
Before Entering: Briefly check in as a group and redress the key focus of the Instructional round observation and purpose. Knock at the door and then quietly move to an area of the room that does not disrupt the flow of instruction.
In the Classroom: Observe. Participants actively observe both the educator(s) and students in action: noting not only the focus of the learning walks that day, but also engagement, progress tracking, collaboration, how expectations are communicated, etc. Participants are not just a fly on the wall, however, and are encouraged to ask students questions and clarify understanding.
Exiting Classroom: IMMEDIATELY take a moment in the hallway to synthesise your observation into learning notes.
Debrief: As a group we will convene to reflect, synthesize on our experiences through collaborative activities to answer the following: what did you see? What could this mean for your schools? How will you bring it back to your schools? What are key components you gained insights on based on the day’s specific focus area?
Below is a sampling of principals’ comments made during post-walk conversations:
With adequate professional capacity building in instructional rounds and proper implementation, this process can positively impact collaboration and team decision making concerning instructional design, classroom management, the implementation of digital tools and resources to support curriculum and instruction, as well as support data-driven decision making. The reaction and energy shared in Alamance-Burlington in these first few instructional round experiences was one of overwhelming success with plans to make learning walks an expectational norm in every school!
Kachur, D., Stout, J., & Edwards, C. (2013). Engaging teachers in classroom walkthroughs. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Feeney, E. (2014). Design Principles for Learning to Guide Teacher Walk Throughs. Clearing House, 87(1), 21-29.
Allen, A. S., & Topolka-Jorissen, K. (2014). Using teacher learning walks to build capacity in a rural elementary school: repurposing a supervisory tool. Professional Development In Education, 40(5), 822-837
The instructional technology coach strives to engage and support digital transitions in their school and district, to empower educators to take ownership of their technology and align its use to curriculum and instruction… but, though we try, at times all we as coaches seem to do is become the help desk for tech support. Why is that?
We know we must be available for those “tech emergencies”… those moments where we need to swoop in and save the day. Yet, we suffer the perception of our colleagues that this tech-support role is one we play on a daily basis – oh, but there is so much more! What does it take to effectively guide educators to use instructional technology to directly support and enhance student learning and content mastery? How can you share with others how your role impacts highly effective digital age learning and teaching? What strategies can be put in place to take your coaching to the next level?
It is up to the instructional technology coach to champion the school culture necessary for successful digital transitions. They are the guide and the expert, but more importantly, coaches must be the fount of trust. Building relationships with those you work with is the key, fostered naturally as you set clear and realistic expectations while sharing your competence in technology integration, lesson design, and becoming the agent to help build capacity – not dependents. Even something as simple as keeping your office door open and posting office hours for your colleagues can promote open communication and collaboration with your colleagues. It is also important that coaches not be part of the evaluative processes – to do so would blur the lines of the open and supportive relationships you seek to create.
Consider, too, those that are in your own support group. Foster your Personal Learning Network (PLN) with educators both locally and globally to build your own capacity, and create a dedicated team to support your work on the ground. Key members of your team should include individuals from your administration, educators, students, parents and community members. Engaging these stakeholders in the development of your school/districts’ digital initiative program, as well as the implementation will not only promote buy-in, but can also be aligned to existing initiatives going on at the district and school level. Work hand in hand – this is not a boutique initiative, after all – the more people you have invested, the more successful you will be.
Relevance and Rigor
Authentic and meaningful content and coaching is going to support building those strong relationships. If professional development and resources are not aligned to 21st Century Skills and the 4Cs, targeting real world applications, student ability and standards – what value is an educator going to see in giving up their time to learn? Model, use questioning strategies, create open ended questions and consider giving educators a chance in telling you what they want to learn. Voice and choice can be a powerful combination to ensure not only that you are meeting educators where they are, but that you are challenging them to push out of their comfort zones and removing the barriers that come with preconceived notions of your role or the digital initiative at large.
The best thing you can do as a coach is to listen. How do you capture feedback from your colleagues – and not just at the beginnings and ends of a given school year, but throughout? Survey often. Ask questions about current learning and teaching practices to have and begin crucial conversations with educators. Then, of course, put their feedback into action whether it be in the form of topics to cover in professional development, or one-on-one meetings with resources. This kind of active listening followed by deep reflection proves that you hear your colleagues and you value them: thus tying back into building those essential relationships and providing opportunities for innovation in a risk-free environment.
As coaches we know that digital initiatives transform professional learning through pedagogical shifts to meet the needs of all learners, and foster creativity and innovation. Creating this habit of mind around building strong connections, challenging your colleagues and assessing your progress regularly will define the digital culture you want to see in your school/district. And don’t forget to pull together your collaborative groups, partnerships and teams, both in your school/district and virtually through your PLN. We need to break beyond just playing the role of technology “fixer” and start showing our colleagues just how much we have to offer.
Jaclyn coaches and assists K-12 educators, ITFs, and Administrators to adapt, not adopt – fostering digital initiatives to transform professional learning through changes in pedagogical shifts and meeting the needs of all learners to champion creativity and innovation. @jaclynbstevens