Last week was a busy week for many school districts that were trying to prepare for a possible school closure or shirt to online learning. Teachers like Marian were not just trying to make it to Spring Break, but anxiously awaiting new of any sudden changes to operating procedures. My department was knee-deep in developing ideas, structures, and plans for continuing student learning in case we would be told to stay home. At 3:30am Friday morning, the call came and Spring Break came one day early.
“As of March 13, 2020, 10:54 p.m. ET, at least 46,000 schools are closed, are scheduled to close, or were closed and later reopened, affecting at least 21 million students.” Edweek.org
School districts across the country are working through options for providing instruction to students at home, providing technology for students without it, providing meals for those students who are without food unless they go to school, and much more. In our very large urban district, these plans are significantly difficult as any plan must include all learners if we aim to provide authentic learning while away from school. Our own three boys are off at college and have been told that they will be attending class online only after their extended Spring Break. Our oldest is 1,400 miles away and his school said the rest of the semester will be online and campus closed.
Working with students and interacting online was just a novel idea or viewed as a waste of time for many inside and outside of education, until now. There are some professionals sharing their feelings online about the dangers of online learning during a pandemic event. The team I work with has spent three years helping campuses and teachers learn positive and authentic ways to provide Blended and Personalized Learning through the design of mixed online and face-to-face activities, students empowered to demonstrate learning in a variety of mediums, teachers building communities of collaborative learners and more. Still, far too many professionals would resist research-proven methods for the traditional practices that often focused on state testing measurements. (Been there, understand that as well.)
I look forward to seeing what the teachers at our 1:1 student laptop campuses will do with their students if not allowed to return to school for a longer period of time. Will the teachers be able to provide some continuity of learning? Can the online interactions provide the needed support that could keep our students from feeling isolated at home? Will the variety of digital resources be used for more than digital worksheets and online testing?
Already, we’ve heard from some teachers who have been using a mixture of online discussions, collaborative projects and digital submissions. Teachers that provided the after school online test review sessions already have students who will be comfortable communicating learning needs while away from school. The idea that these examples can be easily translated to the teacher who has resisted the online learning management system is challenging. Despite all of the training over the years and summers, the resistance to blending traditional classroom with online supports is going to be much more visible and especially stressful for teachers without any experience, especially if temporary online learning becomes the mandate.
I end this prayerfully thinking of the students who truly need the connection to an empathetic adult while schools are closed. Thinking of the teachers who looked forward to a relaxed, de-stressing Spring Break and now live on rumor and anxiety, faced with a greatly shifted instructional environment when school resumes. Thinking of support teams who will bear the brunt of teacher frustration. And I pray for the health of the people in our nation and around the world, that we may heal quickly and not succumb to needless fear from wildly misinformed and sensationalized media.