Students, families and staff must have access to the range of technologies (especially broadband/internet capability) to ensure that all learners have equitable access to virtual learning. Task force participants consistently emphasized that the COVID-19 crisis and related school closings have revealed and powerfully reinforced the major inequities inherent to school districts within the United States. Technology-related priority areas include:
This is an unprecedented time in our history as a country and as a profession. Our response to the COVID-19 crisis powerfully reinforces the necessity of education to bring consistency and support to the lives of our students. As educational leaders, we must make certain that our students and our staff members regain some semblance of normalcy in order to maintain engagement and connection, and to sustain meaningful education during this time of upheaval.
A major goal for reopening schools and transforming students’ education in the coming academic year is to reinforce and sustain positive relationships and connections among members of the learning community. These goals are especially important for helping learners feel safe and engaged in this new virtual world. As we search for ways to use distance learning as an educational delivery system, we must continue to acknowledge the importance of students’ relationships with their peers and their teachers. What is perhaps most important in leading virtual learning is helping our students and staff overcome isolation.
In spite of the distance we must maintain and the disruption to our normal patterns of interaction, we still can sustain relationships with our students, bring smiles to their faces, and reinforce the connections that may seem broken in the face of isolation. What makes this even more critical is that amid this national crisis, people around our students are becoming ill and experiencing unprecedented economic and personal challenges. Connections with teachers and peers can be a welcome relief and healing force in students’ lives.
As educators, we can continue to provide support, stability and normalcy to our students. We must focus our leadership to let our students know that we miss them and that we are there to support them.
How can educational leaders promote connectivity and engagement during this time of isolation and transition? There are several ways to reach out to and make personal contact with our students and staff on a consistent basis and ensure that distance learning is as engaging, interactive and experiential as possible. Here are few of the strategies—we invite you to share your own success stories with us about education in this new virtual world:
1. Address the Equity Priority: The first step toward equity is providing, as much as possible, the technology and connectivity to students and families.
2. Set Reasonable Expectations: Given the disruption in students’ and staff members’ lives, the expectations for learning and connection must be reasonable.
3. Reinforce Routines and Collaborative Support: It is essential that students experience a sense of routine aligned with their in-school experience.
4. Ensure Engagement and Interactivity as a Key Focus Area: Ensure students’ social interaction and emotional engagement are priorities during distance learning activities by enhancing remote learning activities that are project-based or require students to work together remotely.
5. Vary Pedagogy: The virtual world requires sensitivity to students’ varying attention spans and the inevitable distractions of their home environment.
6. Encourage Student-to-Student Interaction: Students’ relationships with peers are essential in a virtual world.
7. Build a Sense of Community in Spite of the Distance: Key to effective virtual/distance learning is building a sense of community in the classroom and the school so that students know they are included, valued and known.
8. Promote Meaningful Progress Monitoring: Districts can allow for a great deal of flexibility in this area but need to ensure that students and parents are receiving ongoing feedback on learner progress.
9. Provide Student Support Services and Programs: Successful reopening includes a deep commitment to extending meaningful and productive relationships to the work of counselors, psychologists and social service workers.