I don’t know that anybody could say, “We were ready for this”, but when it comes to remote learning, to the extent that it could be possible, the staff in my school and my district was ready for this.
In New York, we have been following incremental versions of “shelter in place” for over two weeks. When it was becoming apparent that this was a prospect given the emerging reality of the COVID-19 outbreak, our superintendent started to lay plans for the staff to provide for remote learning. The directive to do so came from the New York State Education Department, but we began working on our plan weeks ahead of this. At our school, it did not take a great deal of preparation for our staff to tool up for online learning. For the past five years we have used a learning management system (LMS), Canvas, and every teacher, every day, posts assignments including links or attachments to any materials necessary for students to complete the assignments. Many teachers integrate Canvas with Google classroom and a robust system for online student learning was already in place when we closed school.
Nevertheless, this situation has demanded a high level of tech-savvy, adaptation, and innovation. Over time, our staff, through various means, has built their capacity to leverage technology to improve student learning and develop a dynamic learning community. We have implemented monthly Brunch and Learns for staff to share ideas and new approaches to learning. At the district level, under the leadership of our assistant superintendent, a broad range of tech-focused professional development led by our own staff is accessed by teachers. We have embraced the EdCamp model of participant-driven professional learning. Our teachers have attended EdCamp Long Island and other regional EdCamp’s to share their own innovative approaches and learn from their colleagues. At the building level, many of our staff meetings have been organized as EdCamp-style faculty meetings at which staff facilitate critical conversations regarding student learning. We’ve also Implemented 20% Time / Genius Hour Professional Development for staff to pursue their own learning as part of our professional development program for innovative, tech-driven pedagogy. Using the Pineapple Chart, teachers invite colleagues to visit their classes as they implement new approaches to student learning. As a result of all of this, when we implemented remote learning, our incredible teachers had already built the capacity to meet this challenge.
This is not to discount the incredible learning curve we’ve experienced as students adjust to this mode of learning. It’s extremely challenging to differentiate for students in an online space. Two weeks in, students are still finding it challenging to adapt to a routine, learning at home without a teacher present. Parents struggle to monitor and direct their kids’ in this new and unfamiliar “digital-school”. Staff also have had to rise to the challenge of working from home, providing online learning for students, while they balance the demands of their own families. Put simply, it’s a lot.
We are certainly not the only ones doing this kind of work. Anyone who is connected to other educators through Twitter, Facebook, and other powerful networks has witnessed the awesome work being done by colleagues in this country and indeed across the globe. I appreciate the opportunity to applaud my amazing teachers for all that they’ve done to give us a huge head start and I encourage all of us to see our present reality as part of a dynamic approach to learning that can continue even when we go back to a face-to-face environment (please tell me this will be soon!)