For the first time in history, over half of the world - four billion people - are under “stay at home” orders. According to UNESCO, 1.6 billion children are not attending school in person. Educators everywhere are scrambling to craft learning plans that embrace technology, prioritize independent work, and require a minimal amount of parent-facilitated instruction. While learning is at the very core of all schools, community and connection are also essential, and translating these non-instructional, relational elements of schooling to a remote format requires alignment to the learning plans. Here are three key focus areas for school leaders and strategies to address during this time:
1) Put safety and wellness first. Without people coming into a school building, think about different ways to check on the safety and wellness of students, families, and team members:
Ensure you have a working way to contact every child and staff member in your district, and make sure this information is easily accessible to the people who need it.
Have eyes on every child at least once a week. Be clear about which adults are responsible for which students, and have a way to track if that contact is made. Both will make sure nobody falls through the cracks during these especially vulnerable times.
Support communication of community resources to families, offering frequent open office hours to listen and address concerns. Include links to resources in your communications and on websites, clearly stating ways you can help beyond instructional support.
2) Stay connected. Now more than ever, we are in need of supportive communities and human connection. This takes work when everyone is in the same physical space together, but now that all connections are through a screen or phone, think about ways to build community virtually:
Keep systems and daily rituals in place as much as possible. Hold virtual morning meetings so students can see their teachers and classmates and communicate with each other.
Be clear about expectations. Responsiveness matters, so be sure everyone communicates when they are available, and how they are available - by video, phone, or email. Ask for feedback to gauge how well the approach fits your community’s needs.
Make sure there are opportunities for team members to connect with each other about work-related issues, and the space to talk through concerns beyond school.
3.) Keep it simple. The best thing you can do for your school community is keep your plan simple and focused on your vision of excellence with a minimal amount of additional work.
Focus on student engagement, acknowledging that many parents are unable to homeschool their children. Provide self-guided resources that are interesting and fun.
Clearly state immediate and long-term goals and expectations with the level of support you will provide. Wherever possible, attempt to drive learning forward, but recognize that this may be a time for preventing learning loss rather than introducing a lot of new content.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure it is accessible to everyone, simple to operationalize, and meets the needs of your community. Even if you are moving to online learning, everyone needs time to read, reflect, exercise, and spend time with loved ones.
Though remote learning plans are top of mind, we encourage leaders to plan for the return to in-person learning. Focus on summer plans and an accelerated launch plan for the fall, as there will be challenges ahead—but they are not insurmountable, even during these most uncertain of times.