06/15/2020 by Carney Sandoe Staff | Education News and Trends
The Summer Conversation: Schools, the Fall, and COVID-19
In the middle of education’s collective spring experiment in distance learning, just about everyone involved — from teachers and administrators to students and parents — hoped that school would get back to something close to normal in the fall. But now that medical experts are expecting a second wave of the coronavirus to hit, and with no vaccine on the immediate horizon, it’s looking like schools may have to engage in some form of distance learning come September. At the very least, they know they need to be prepared for the likelihood. As a result, the lead conversations within and among schools now are about (1) scheduling options and other logistics for fall that fit various scenarios and (2) summer professional development to help teachers improve their online and distance teaching.
What we find most impressive in these challenging times is how open school leaders are to sharing ideas — letting other schools know what has worked best for them this spring, what didn’t go well, and what they’re considering for the fall. All of these conversations are taking place with evident gratitude and appreciation for what teachers have done to keep schools going for millions of children this spring. But they also contain the expectation that schools can improve this distance-learning process as needed.
Among the options for fall is the possibility of school as normal, but it also includes face-to-face learning designed around social distancing; hybrid programs that involve some on-campus learning and some distance learning to limit the numbers of students on campus at any given time; and continued all-school distance learning, but with improved processes.
The online conversations about these options also focus on how to think wisely about them — since every choice comes with its challenges, shortcomings, and risks. For each, there are also financial and legal issues to consider.
“We’re being asked to do something incredibly difficult,” says Peter Gow of One Schoolhouse. “One way to think about this is that we’re a team being air-dropped into a disaster area where the situation is not clear and where resources are not entirely available to us. In order to take on the challenges in education at the moment, we have to prepare ourselves to act as that kind of team.”
As schools plan for the various possibilities, the trick, school leaders are realizing is not to over plan. Flexibility, quick changes, and adjustments are going to be needed.
The planning itself starts with the essential commitment to student health and safety and serving the needs of the curriculum. Beyond that, it involves extensive conversations on use of space and time, the possibilities in regard to use of technology, and the design of the schedule based on the various scenarios. School leaders are wresting with matters such as class length, passing time, and community gathering time. They are debating workload and homework and whether learning can and should be either synchronous and asynchronous. The question of how best to evaluate students in distance-learning scenarios is also a challenging one, although some schools have much greater clarity now than in March — and many have worked out rubrics to account for the realities of online learning.
As if this weren’t enough, schools are also wrestling with ways to support their teachers as they adjust to steep learning curves and adapt to programmatic changes that are often outside their comfort zones. Part of this involves scheduling time for teachers to collaborate on planning, troubleshooting, and sharing ideas.
Perhaps as important as anything this summer is a mindset of flexibility. Whatever schools may settle on before school starts in late August or early September, the odds of making change and adjusting to new challenges run high.
As for summer professional learning, here’s a list of options for teachers. Everything seems to be evolving these days, so it’s good to check with the below organizations, as well as state and regional schools associations, about other possibilities for summer learning.
Virtual Workshops, Camps, and Other Opportunities:
- Global Online Academy — is offering four workshops for educators in online teaching and learning, each with two dates this summer. All the workshops free for members. The “Design for Online Learning” is free for nonmembers as well.
- One Schoolhouse — is offering online workshops, “Academic Leadership for Hybrid Learning Design” and “Designing, Building, and Teaching for Hybrid Learning.” As of this writing, the programs are full. But the former program has a wait list, and One Schoolhouse is looking to open up more space or additional dates. One Schoolhouse also runs a series of weekly webinars related to distance learning, many of which are recorded for asynchronous viewing.
- The Conscious Teaching website — is offering an asynchronous, 90-minute training program for K-12 educators on “Distance Learning Done Better.”
- Fairy Dust Teaching — is offering a five-day boot-camp on “Teaching Young Children Virtually.” This is an asynchronous program covering everything from course design to tech training to student engagement and management.
- The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) — is offering a free virtual institute this summer, running from June 1 to mid-July. It also offers some recently recorded webinars related to distance learning.
- EdCamp Foundation — is offering a series of virtual EdCamps this summer. These events are free and open to all. Participants collaboratively determine the session topics. As with all EdCamp events, the goal is to find sessions that meet your needs to maximize learning.
- The World Leadership School — is offering a number of distance learning workshops this summer. As of this writing, some are sold out, but others still have space, including its “Foundational Course: Intermediate Strategies for Online Project-Based Learning.”
- ASCD — is offering numerous resources related to distance learning and the challenges of education during this pandemic. Offerings include a Distance Learning Video Series.
- New Tech High’s Center for Excellence — is offering an online project-based learning course, design for distance learning.
Useful Summer Reading:
- Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning offers a number of useful Distance Learning Resources, including its “Elementary EdTech Guide” and “Rethinking How We Think About Teaching and Learning with Technology.”
- One Schoolhouse’s Learning Innovation Blog — offers a thoughtful, ongoing conversation on all matters related to distance and online teaching and learning.
- The Better Lesson website offers a “Distance Learning” starter guide, built around eight key questions educators need to address.
- NAIS’s Independent Ideas Blog recently posted “Seeking Critical Connections: SEL Considerations in Remote Schooling” — an important issue in distance learning, especially with younger students. Parents surveyed by one school noted that the SEL dimension of learning was among their main concerns.
- Digital Promise’s blog offers a number of articles on distance learning, including “Authentic Distance Learning in Science” and “Engaging Students with Authentic Learning at Home.”
- Grant Lichtman, author of “Thrive: How Will Schools Win the Education Revolution,” has weighed in a number of times on teaching during this pandemic. They are all useful in helping educators clarify their own thinking about how to approach distance learning.
- Education Rickshaw, a blog by two international educators, includes an excellent piece on “The Unproductive Debate of Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning” and other related topics.
As schools close the books on the 2019-2020 school year, with all of its unexpected challenges, we also encourage teachers and administrators to reflect on all the amazing work they have done to keep their schools going and to serve their students as well as possible. From where we sit, it has been truly remarkable.