Educators on the Front Lines Share What’s Working
Beginning on April 2nd, the Learning Counsel’s EduJedi Leadership Society members have been gathering in virtual meetings as panelists for discussions about the national emergency and how they are all facing it. These discussions have had invaluable, rich content, a portion of which is represented here with these excerpts. Ideas about how to run special needs programs remotely, how to choose digital curriculum and much more are discussed, with questions fielded from many others dialing in. We’re posting the full recordings as fast as they are edited. You can see them here.
Beaver County SD, UT
“Our parents immediately became teachers in this. We were pleasantly surprised to find we were as ready for this as we are. There have even been overtures (by teachers) saying let’s a have a digital day once a week going forward in the future.
“However, I found our teachers were spending eight hours a day with students on screen, or video conferencing, so my immediate question was, how many hours a day are they spending engaged in this? Are they spending 12, 14 hours a day? Are they taking care of their own needs? Are they taking care of their family needs?
“And this one thing is required. We ask, did you make a daily contact with a colleague? Everybody has a team or a partner that they’re assigned to in our school district (buddy system).
“We first told the teachers that if they’re expecting to do everything they did during the day, to instead just cut that in half to start with and get down to their essential learning that they wanted to accomplish.” — David Long, Superintendent, Beaver County SD, UT
San Diego County Office of Education
“We didn’t realize in the first two weeks the depth of the emotional support that was needed. And that was huge.
“We immediately started doing, what I’m going to call, restorative circles with teachers and other school staff where we just let them talk; we let them talk about what’s going on personally, because they’re grieving how things were, and they’re missing their students deeply right now.” — Dr. Erin English, Executive Director of Innovation, San Diego County Office of Education”
Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative, River Valley Technical Center
“A sort of a perfection is being worked out right now nationally. What we did the first week we were out was to put together an online class that takes teachers from one to three hours to work through. We’ve had over 600 teachers sign up and go through it.
“One thing people should think about is how many different programs are your teachers using with their students? Because not only does the teacher have to learn to use it, but the student has to learn to use it. And what I’m hearing on webinars is lists ofprograms, and many of them are redundant.
“I’ve been teaching online for 11 years and I think that student self-direction is a big hurdle for teachers. With my online classes, I Zoom with them once a month and the rest of the time all our conversation in general is by email or comments. You can’t meet with them every day, all of them, they don’t have time and you don’t have time.” — Terry Vest, Dean of Students, Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative, River Valley Technical Center, VT
“Just like everybody else, we got caught in the middle of our Spring Break with this. The very first thing was to extend our Spring Break by a week. Meanwhile, our entire curriculum team was busy working on making a plan and we started just for that very first week, by providing online resources that students can access. At the same time, our technology department was working on logistics on how to distribute out the devices that we have to students that don’t have devices at home. There was a big, big action, a kind of rescue teamwork.
“Most of our teachers schedule Google meets with the students during the regular school hours, but high school teachers schedule one session in the morning and one in the evening, at six or seven o’clock.
“So many of those free resources are available, but I think that we need to be a little bit careful about what we put out because parents and students get overwhelmed with stuff. In my mind, busy work doesn’t necessarily mean quality work. I tell my teachers, be careful what you are expecting from your students. Keep in mind that they have other obligations at home. They also have other subjects to take care of. Right now, at this point, all our secondary students are required to do two assignments per week for each course.
“What works for one subject doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for a different subject. What works for math doesn’t necessarily mean it will totally work for Language Arts, so that’s why we have so many different resources. Obviously, teachers play a huge role in all of this. Having the single-sign-on or all the applications (in one site) is the key to this. (Garland ISD uses Enboard.)
“Also having for teachers’ support from the curriculum department, providing some kind of a guide or a learning plan so that they don’t have the stress about, ‘oh my gosh, what do I do and how do I deliver my instruction today?’ Somebody will help me with that so I can focus and help my students with tutorials or just providing Google Meets, GoToMeetings or Facetimes with small groups. Focus on educating kids because somebody else will find a way for me (the teacher) to do it online.” — Jasna Aliefendic, Coordinator of Technology, Integration & Staff Development, Garland ISD, TX
St. Vrain Valley Schools
“It’s hard to say, but don’t waste a good crisis. We saw this as an opportunity to further online presence and get everybody on the same page, though we were fairly organized ahead of this time. We also reorganized our human capital. We have learning leaders. They are curriculum coordinators, instructional technology coordinators, learning technology coaches and so forth. They’ve each been assigned to one specific school to provide real time online support for teachers and for principals. That has helped us tremendously as we’ve gone through this. We had already curated a lot of our apps, a lot of our digital curricular tools. One thing that we did to buy some time, is that at the central level, we created two weeks’ worth of online learning. We’ve also created eight hotspots across our city for students to go and our families to go. And so that two weeks time really bought us the opportunity to get everybody on board with this. Right now, the curriculum, it’s very parent-facing and student-facing, the materials that we created. Teachers are looking for levels of engagement and trying to get people used to that. One of the biggest things that we are working our way through is that a lot of our folks are trying to put school structures into an online environment; that’s a big paradigm shift for our principals.” — Kahle Charles, Asst. Superintendent, St. Vrain Valley Schools, CO
Buckeye Union High School District
“Making the transition from using technology as an enhancement tool to making that the main delivery mode is a huge lift for everyone. We’ve probably contacted by phone over 50 percent of our students. We have about 4,800 high school students in our district, so we’ve made several thousand phone calls. The collaboration of our teachers and the training has exponentially increased.
“One of the things that is starting to rise as a high school district is that parents and kids are worried about the social part of things. That’s one of our biggest challenges because our athletics and activities have been canceled. Our proms have been canceled. Our graduation ceremonies right now are in jeopardy of being canceled. Our senior award nights are being canceled. We’re starting to look for some creative ways to create some experiences for kids so that they can have those special moments still be special.” — Eric Godfrey, Superintendent, Buckeye Union High School District, AZ
Anne Arundel County Public Schools
“We offered low challenge work upfront, learning the tools and slowly ramping up to try and return to a more rigor, but we are also not making any effort whatsoever to keep the schedule that was in place before this. We have certain times of the day that teachers and students are expected to do new lessons. Other times, it’s more like office hours. Teachers have to respect one another’s office hours. We’ve kind of outlawed the idea of days from 9:00 AM to 10:00 PM that students need to be in here watching a live lesson. Teachers are allowed to do live lessons with the understanding that nobody is expected to attend them live, that everything will be recorded for when students can access that as they have the ability.
“We tend to not take the approach that, when a technology offering says schools or districts can act essentially as a parent surrogate and giving permission, our lawyers say, no, that’s not the case. YouTube a couple days ago said their terms of service changed, so if you’re not 13, you shouldn’t be using it. That’s thrown us for a whole new loop. We are scrambling to figure out how to get the YouTube videos that were in our curriculum out to students under 13 without them going to YouTube.” — Matthew Nickerson, Instructional Technology Specialist, Anne Arundel County Public Schools, MD
Pomona Unified School District
“The first thing was ensuring that all teachers and all students have technology as well as access to the Internet at home. And we’re still working on that. However, recently we had two employees test positive for coronavirus and so our drive-through pickup has been suspended until the detail cleaning can occur and then we’ll see what they allow us to do. I know my boss is on a call right now investigating using lockers so that you could have somebody go and drop off the power cord that the student needs and then the parent would be given the combination to go and pick up. We’re investigating alternate ways that we can have students and teachers pick up technology that they might need.
“The next thing that we are struggling with and figuring out is the ongoing support. How does a student or a teacher whose devices aren’t working, how do they get support? We established a help line about two weeks ago and got it up and running and sent an email about a digital tool that students were gaining access to. The helpline crashed because too many parents called in at the same time. Then (the team) figured that out. They relaunched on the 31st of March and they now have a help chain. When the calls come in, they get routed to different areas, so that that is working. Then lastly is a teacher support. We were similar to Eric’s or Matthew’s district in the fact that the first week teachers were often students.
“What’s awesome is we’re going to be able to provide this ongoing online conference for teachers to continue to grow their own knowledge and skills around digital learning for the remainder of the school year. We would never have this opportunity to go as wide and deep as we are. It’s rare that we were able to provide professional learning for large groups. For example, I was looking at our science from STEMScopes (Accelerate Learning) — we’ve been providing professional learning on that and last week alone we had 392 teachers and admin trained in STEMscopes and that would have never happened in our traditional setups so to me, I see this as a blessing in disguise.” — Ellen Palmer, Program Administrator, Educational Technology, Pomona Unified School District, CA