Before the pandemic hit, our district was rocking right along and getting ready to go on spring break. Like many other districts around the country, we never went back to school after March 13.
We had just four days to transition to online learning, help our families through the transition, and also provide a sense of normalcy for our students. We immediately started food deliveries, getting devices to students who didn’t have them, and helping to connect the 2,000 (out of a total of 14,000) families that didn’t have Wi-Fi access.
In retrospect, I’d say we did a pretty good job during the transition period, which spilled over into April. We learned a lot during that period and then came back to school in the fall. At that point, 63 percent of the student body restarted face-to-face learning and 37 percent remained online. We gave parents the option between the two, and today about 72 percent of our students are back on campus.
5 success tips for districts
With about 27 percent of our student body learning online, we’ve had to make some adjustments to accommodate our more diverse learning styles. Here’s how we’re bridging the gap between online learning and in-class learning during the pandemic.
Schedule weekly check-ins. As soon as we moved online in the spring, our goal was to have weekly interactions with every single student in the district. For any students who were remote and without internet access, we delivered paper packets and had weekly conversations with them. For the rest of the students, we checked in with their families virtually every week for instructional purposes. Every Friday, we would check in to see how they were doing (both with life in general as well as socially and emotionally) and to find out if we could help them with anything. These check-ins happened on a regular basis when our students were away from the classroom.
Create a synchronous classroom. This fall, all of our secondary campuses are synchronous, and our remote learners are also synchronous. They meet during their seven- or eight-period days with all of their teachers and classmates. If there are six students working remotely, they’re up on the board, live, and with their mics off. When we’re having class discussions, those students can talk at the same time as the students who are in class are talking. This helps create a typical “give-and-take” collaboration in the classroom. We’re fortunate to have a network that’s robust enough to be able to handle this live and in real time.
Think beyond academics. In our elementary schools, the goal is for students to have at least one interaction with a teacher every day. This is primarily for instruction, but also for the idea of checking in to see how students are doing. We also use the Gaggle student safety platform to monitor students’ online activity. As a Google Reference District, we’ve handed out Chromebooks—for which we also use iboss and GoGuardian. These tools help us better understand what our kids are doing online, even if they’re not right here in the classroom. We can see what’s going on in their worlds and then interact with them about it as needed.
Make counselors available to both classroom and remote students. We have a helpline on our website that specifically says: Do you need counseling services, or would you like a counselor to contact you? We’ve had numerous families request counseling during the pandemic, including mothers who want to talk to the counselor about their child’s behavior. I think the volume increase is due to the fact that parents are now so hands-on with their children’s education. They’re at home with their child, teaching and facilitating learning. They’re getting a lot more interaction with teachers and, as a result, they feel more comfortable asking for help. Our counselors are “Johnny-on-the-spot” and ready to help out. We’re also doing more referrals to outside agencies.
Use data to monitor common behavioral issues. Our SEL counselors use discipline data to monitor and intervene on common behavior issues. Working with individual students, these counselors set up their groups based on discipline referrals that we have on campus. Using Gaggle, we’ve also been able to spot a lot of common themes (e.g., students who are struggling with divorce, fear, depression, hunger, etc.). We glean that information from their online posts, chats with friends, and from their written content. We’re also able to share that data with our local authorities, which unfortunately we’ve had to do several times. If students sound obviously scared and appear to be having issues at home, we can intervene and report it to local law enforcement when necessary.
Screen time breaks
Our secondary students are expected to be online (or at least available online) for about seven hours a day. For families that have chosen to stay at home and be remote, this has become their new reality. That’s a lot of screen time, so we have to make sure they also have breaks. When class starts, students log on, the teacher takes attendance, and does a lesson. Then, the students can have some off-camera time and are expected to be back within a certain time frame. We stay consistent with this, and it seems to be working out well as we all adjust to this “new normal” learning environment.
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