Guidelines for reopening school in the wake of COVID-19. | AASA Central
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Action Steps for Guiding Principle 3

from the AASA COVID-19 Recovery Task Force

Advocate for an Equitable Technology Infrastructure

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:

  • Ensuring student access to internet and related virtual learning resources;
  • Continuing beyond the duration of the COVID-19 crisis the provision of WIFI hotspots and access services free of charge to families throughout a district;
  • Making certain that the recently passed federal legislation to expand availability of broadband internet access is implemented, including funding going to high-needs urban and rural areas in which citizens currently are underserved;
  • Ensuring that technology-driven curriculum and instruction accommodate the needs for personalization and differentiation among all students, but especially English Learners and those identified as requiring Special Education services; and
  • Rethinking and refining the district’s approach to professional development to ensure that all staff members have expertise in instructional design within a virtual/online setting.

The Challenges Confronting Educational Leaders Leading in a Virtual World

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.

Promoting Connectivity and Engagement in a Virtual Learning Environment

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.

  • Distribute Chromebooks and related technology resources to those who need it with simple directions and access to technology workshops for students and parents.
  • Ensure affordable broadband WIFI connectivity and internet access to staff, students and families who require support in accessing them.
  • Commit to achieving some level of equity, ensuring that every student has a support network and personal contact with teachers regardless of their access to technology.
  • Reinforce this sense of contact and connectivity by making weekly or more frequent contact with every learner via phone calls, emails, letters, and either individual, small-group or even whole-class video conferencing meetings.

 

2. Set Reasonable Expectations: Given the disruption in students’ and staff members’ lives, the expectations for learning and connection must be reasonable.

  • If virtual learning continues as part of the reopening process, don’t expect teachers to replicate the classroom or expect students to complete all the work that would have been accomplished if they were in school.
  • Recognize and reinforce that remote teaching, particularly online learning, takes teachers much more time to prepare for and facilitate than teaching in the regular classroom.
  • Acknowledge the limits of what students might be able to accomplish in a more limited amount of time and set reasonable learning targets to reduce student anxiety and apprehension.
  • Give students time and support in this new blended learning environment to help them function in a meaningful and productive way so they can be proud of what they are able to do.

 

3. Reinforce Routines and Collaborative Support: It is essential that students experience a sense of routine aligned with their in-school experience.

  • Provide a schedule of when teachers will be available or when online learning will occur to bring a sense of order to students’ and their families’ day.
  • Provide a schedule for teachers to be available online for office hours to provide parents and students an opportunity for individual support.
  • In a blended or virtual learning environment, consider having elementary teachers whose students have access to technology and connectivity host daily virtual morning meetings for students.
  • At the secondary level, encourage teachers to use technology to host virtual advisories for middle and high school students either in small groups or in their regular advisory groups.

 

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.

  • Provide video lessons that students can access and assignments that include discussion and sharing of ideas or experiences in order to personalize and engage student learning.
  • During virtual learning weeks or situations, ensure that video conferencing occurs 1-3 times a week, moving students from whole-group meetings to small-group conferences.

 

5. Vary Pedagogy: The virtual world requires sensitivity to students’ varying attention spans and the inevitable distractions of their home environment.

  • Strive to make distance learning as interactive as possible.
  • Reduce focus on didactic presentation and increase focus on discussion, feedback, coaching and counseling, as needed.

 

6. Encourage Student-to-Student Interaction: Students’ relationships with peers are essential in a virtual world.

  • Strive to integrate a range of strategies to enhance this interaction, including a major focus on small-group project-based learning.
  • When feasible, form project teams so that students can interact (via collaborative research, discussion, presentation, etc.) using such platforms as Zoom and Google Classroom.
  • Form interest groups that can allow small teams of students to pursue reading selections and performance-based tasks aligned with standards as well as their desired areas of investigation.

 

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.

  • Encourage school administrators and teachers to create individual and collective messages in which each teacher expresses caring and support for students and lets them know they are missed.
  • Have faculty create fun videos such as a dance video with each teacher participating for a couple of seconds each to brighten students’ day.
  • Host virtual talent shows with submissions of videos from students edited together and shared online or via cable TV.

 

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.

  • Make certain students are clear about learning targets for a lesson or unit.
  • Provide regular individual feedback on student work to support learners in achieving identified lesson and unit outcomes.
  • Encourage students’ development of such habits of mind as self-awareness, self-regulation and self-assessment.

 

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.

  • Ensure that these professionals reach out to students and families through phone, email and video conferencing.
  • Establish or reinforce virtual technology to allow student support personnel to continue providing individual and small-group therapy using teletherapy tools.
  • Reinforce collaboration by having these individuals reach out to teachers so that students who are not participating are identified and contacted.
  • Stay connected with students and their families, ensuring they receive the services and resources they need, including health services, food, psychological services, and social-emotional programs and services.