This blogpost was created by me with the editing assistance of Dr. Mark Carleton.
There has never been a more interesting time to assess and improve the way learning occurs in the hearts and minds of every child. Many schools already succeed in developing school-wide programs that imbue intrepid, independent learners with confidence and passion. The secret to these inventive opportunities rests in the hearts and minds of experienced teachers working to shape the wonder and creativity of eager students. Today, Online Learning programs have been designed by these teachers with these students in mind. Through its growth and evolution, we seek to tap into the wonder and creativity of our children, in different but no less lasting ways. Below you will find lessons learned from that experience as well as a glimpse of how we must commit to improve every child’s day-to-day experiences.
In full disclosure, much of this blog post is credited to the thinking and development of vision inspired by Jennifer Gonzalez’s most recent post, 9 Ways Online Teaching Should be Different from Face-to-Face. If you haven’t yet read or listened to this installment, stop reading my blog and move to that one first. The whole blog/podcast, and specifically this single post, is gold on paper.
A Trusting and Inspired Environment
Above all else, teachers value the relationship a child and family will cultivate with caring, charismatic educators. Especially in Online Learning, we must ensure that the teacher-student relationship remains at the heart of every interaction. This year, in the days before Online Learning begins, teachers will reach out and make contact with every child. Whether it’s a phone call or a drive-through-and-wave event at school, I expect that our teachers will invest in building a positive, constructive relationship with their students and families. They will begin to create moments that allow for sharing stories, interests, and dreams so that we can begin to know, love, and challenge each child to become more than ever before.
Direct instruction—things like brief video lessons and readings—will happen mostly in asynchronous (anytime) form, using checks for understanding like embedded questions or what educators call “exit slips.” These “flipped lessons” will lay the groundwork needed to build something that is truly inspiring. Further, this asynchronous approach allows us to use synchronous (real time) meetings for more interactive, engaging work that is focused on capturing the attention of the learner with practical activities to enrich their understanding. Working creatively with class material, categorizing it, organizing it, sharing further thoughts on it, having a discussion about it–all of these are great things to do live and even in small groups.
Teachers will continue to focus on the individual needs of each child. However, Online Learning doesn’t universally connect in consistent or even beneficial ways with each student. In that of that imbalance, we must build creative assessments that demonstrate applied and practical learning, we should explore new technologies so that children have improved access to their adult mentors; and we need to reflect and offer feedback as essential components of the learning environment so that teachers can analyze how a student has learned and what he or she can do to improve. We must retool our grading practices to focus on growth and grace as we acknowledge the demands on children who are trying to succeed in a socially constrained environment.
Consistent Communication and Active, Productive Dialogue
Whether a child is in Kindergarten, 4th grade, or somewhere in the Middle School, families should expect easy access to the following: (1) ready knowledge of the learning opportunities children will explore, (2) ease of access to these opportunities, and (3) an up-to-date understanding of each teacher’s vision for assessing growth through these opportunities along the way. We will devote the resources and time needed to educate families on how to use the learning management systems associated with our school so that children know where to find their online school community and parents know what to expect when they get there.
With regard to internal communication, the setting has changed the way we must execute our collaborative effort. In the years before the pandemic, teachers would have frequent structured and unstructured meetings throughout the day. These in-person conversations developed our curriculum, allowed for course corrections, and ultimately enhanced the teacher-student relationship. With Online Learning, those collaborative meetings can be challenging to schedule, so when we are in this platform, we will be intentional about carving out time for teachers to use their collective experiences in and out of their virtual classrooms to hone and develop authentic, high-quality learning opportunities.
Lastly, and with equal importance, is the extrinsic and essential value of including family feedback in as much of our program as possible. When it comes to setting goals for a school year, the opportunity to finish on target depends greatly on our ability to make course corrections along the way. By keeping a predictable line of communication open, students and their families can have a voice throughout the learning experience. We will encourage every person in the community to contribute when called upon to offer feedback as we bravely navigate this new path together. Strong partnerships are developed through transparency and trust.
In conclusion, faculty and leadership in my school have spent considerable time reflecting on the program we offered last spring. Throughout all our discussions, one expectation is clear: a school is a place of innovators that should offer a truly unique experience for the learner. In order to do this, we must work harder and build a united mindset. When we can achieve this effort, we will take control of this pandemic narrative, harness our collective intellectual capital and create a phenomenal learning experience for every student, parent, and teacher. We are determined to make tomorrow better than today, so we must continue to learn from our past decisions to make the coming year more meaningful, valuable, and joyful.
Featured image created by nurun