2. Face-to-face parent-teacher conferences are changing. A blend of virtual and face-to-face parent-teacher conferences accommodates working parents’ schedules and adds more flexibility. The option for virtual conferences also increases parent engagement, which can be challenging in a high-poverty district, Gorman said. Parent liaisons in each school make phone calls and go door-to-door to ensure parents are aware of events and are participating when possible. The district’s 8th graders usually select a high school to attend–choosing from a STEAM academy, a comprehensive high school, and a performing arts academy–in a traditional face-to-face presentation process. Last year, this process was held over Zoom with teachers in virtual rooms to answer questions and give information, and roughly 1,000 parents participated. In the past, maybe 50-100 parents attended, Gorman said. “This is 100 percent more effective.”
3. Find alternatives to suspension. “Suspend a kid, and do they get any learning? No. They get a day off,” Gorman said. The alternative have a student participating in class via Zoom, having access to the classroom but with other restrictions to enforce disciplinary processes. “That’s something we never would have done before,” he said.
4. Grow AVID’s tutoring program to connect students to learning opportunities. Twice a week, AVID students work with college tutors through a program called Tutorology. The district is exploring blending the college tutors to accommodate tutors who might be out of state or not able to drive into a classroom. Tutors facilitate an inquiry-based process where students figure out their problem and talk them through, primarily in math and science. “While it’s awesome to have the college kids in our schools working in role models, we often fall short in getting enough tutors because kids are in college navigating their schedules,” Gorman said. Adding new ways to reach tutors helps students in the AVID program reach their goals.
5. Focus on one-to-one. Up until last year, the district was not one-to-one. “Now, it’s like second nature. I could have gone another 10 years without the pandemic and I would not have been able to get a computer in every kid’s hand,” Gorman said. “But last year with funding and creativity we got every single kid a device and access to internet.” Through state and federal funding, the district also offers devices students can use to access the internet–and students can keep them for the year. “We’ve cut the digital divide by default with this pandemic. We can’t go back, no matter what,” Gorman said.
6. Continue using technologies and resources to take learning to another level. “All these technologies we brought in–interactive techbooks and resources that Discovery Education was a big part of, different software like Nearpod, Padlet, different software that promote content creation and sharing–we have to continue to use that in the classroom setting when kids are there. So when people talk about differentiation and small group instruction, we have a menu of so many possibilities, and I think that’s the real task for us: to have the conversations with teachers and help them find their patterns and find out what works for them,” Gorman said. “I think we have to have so many conversations with teachers about how can you use your new improved toolbox with all the other things to maximize learning and close the gap from what happened last year.”
7. Recognize that high-quality teachers are the backbone of technology in the classroom. “I guess my warning is: bad digital learning is worse than regular learning,” Gorman said. “Good teaching is still good teaching no matter what. All those curricular and instructional practices are still 100 percent in; we just now have an incredible way to use what we learned in the last 1.5 years, [combined with] face-to-face practices, and put it all together. and I think that’s a challenge and I think people will be confused, but you have to show the model to help people see the way.”
8. Find a way to make time for virtual extra help after school. There’s definitely a big achievement gap, or regress, that developed,” Gorman said. “Wouldn’t it be nice if, after school, we could find some type of compensation or some kind of incentive if a teacher was able to identify kids and hop on a Zoom to offer extra help after school?” The idea of making extra help virtual respects teachers’ time and allows them to go home, and it also makes it easier for parents to coordinate without having to pick up their child from a physical location after regular school hours.
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