Guidelines for reopening school in the wake of COVID-19. | AASA Central
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Action Steps for Guiding Principle 7

from the AASA COVID-19 Recovery Task Force

Offer Personalized and Differentiated Professional Learning

Task force superintendents expressed support for professional learning as a significant priority during this period of crisis and transition. Specifically, they identified the following needs and target areas related to professional learning:

  • The need for professional learning for all staff related to addressing the social and emotional needs of students, their families and educators;
  • The necessity of using multiple modalities and approaches for professional development, including expanded virtual options, study groups, action research teams, and instructional rounds in which educators address emerging problems of practice;
  • The importance of training all staff in key concepts and strategies related to being trauma-informed and trauma-skilled;
  • The need to focus on ensuring that all staff members are technically proficient and comfortable with instructional design within a virtual context, including making online learning engaging, student-centered and interactive; and
  • The value of expanding the range of professional learning opportunities available to staff, including highlighting best practices and strategies used by exemplary teachers and administrators to address emerging issues extending from the crisis.

Key Principles for Professional Development Related to Reopening

An emerging and recurrent theme in all dialogues and discussions involving task force superintendents was an emphasis on not conducting “business as usual.” The COVID-19 crisis has shone a powerful spotlight on practices and traditions that are now outmoded or in need of transformation as schools reopen.

The superintendents were especially emphatic that the crisis has established a moral imperative for public education: antiquated practices sustained through traditions in the old industrial model of education must give way to a new paradigm reflective of the interconnectivity, global focus, diversity and technology-based world of the 21st century.

Effective and sustained professional learning is even more critical as schools reopen and students, staff and families adjust to this “new normal.”

Following are design principles for professional development cited by many task force members:

  • Professional development must be highly interactive and personalized, regardless of the medium used (i.e., virtual, blended, in-person).
  • Reopening professional learning should emphasize strategies and processes that educators, including support staff and paraprofessionals, can employ to reinforce students’ sense of connectivity, safety, efficacy and comfort in returning to school.
  • The use of technology—including the effective design and delivery of distance-learning lessons—should become a part of all educators’ repertoire, reinforced by modeling of best practices during professional learning workshops.
  • The range of professional development offerings given to returning educators should model best practices for classroom instruction, including protocols, routines and rituals for reinforcing a sense of community and mutual support.
  • School districts must prepare for a range of contingencies and scenarios, depending on the conditions present during school reopening, including the possibility of continuing virtual/distance learning, modified schedules involving some students being taught in-person while others learn virtually, and/or traditional in-person learning in school buildings).
  • Priorities for professional learning must include strategies and best practices to ensure that all staff work effectively in responding to trauma-based situations and trauma-based disciplinary actions on the part of some learners.
  • The focus of professional learning during reopening must involve a Whole Child emphasis, including modeling and reinforcing teachers’ understanding of ways to enhance students’ health, well-being, physical growth and development, and social-emotional needs and development.

Recommended Actions Related to Professional Development and Reopening

1. Include Ceremonies and Rituals Essential to Reinforce Staff Members’ Sense of Routine and Community Affiliation:

  • Integrate a range of welcome-back activities and acknowledgments to celebrate the achievements of staff during school closings.
  • Highlight partnerships and group collaboration activities that reflect the power of connectivity and mutual support evident during the school-closing crisis.
  • Encourage staff to reflect on “lessons learned” during school closings: What lessons did we learn? What do we need to do differently as the school year opens? How can we sustain the camaraderie, outreach, and attention to students’ social and emotional needs evident during school closings?
  • Ask staff to reflect on their experiences with virtual/distance learning and generate suggestions for professional development from which they might benefit to enhance future lesson design and delivery.


2. Emphasize Strategies and Research-Based Actions Involving Social and Emotional Learning (SEL):

  • Provide sessions on strategies teachers and aides can use to welcome back students and help them to feel safe, invited and welcomed back to school.
  • Integrate suggestions for SEL-related routines and protocols, modeling such techniques as morning meetings, reflection opportunities, metacognition strategies, and reinforcement of the classroom as a learning community.
  • Reinforce staff understanding and use of both simple and complex cooperative learning structures, extending from Listen-Think-Pair-Share reflections to complex techniques like JIGSAW investigations and in-class competitions.
  • Demonstrate ways that teachers and aides can model and reinforce students’ ability to demonstrate effective interpersonal communication skills.
  • Use periodic reflection checkpoints during workshops to help staff see the value of self-regulation and self-assessment.
  • Make certain that workshops are varied and engaging, using a range of experience-based interactive activities aligned with effective lesson design (e.g., articulation of objectives, engaging warm-ups, modeling and shaping of key skills and knowledge, opportunities for independent application, ongoing feedback and coaching, and meaningful closure activities).


3. Provide Workshops for All Staff About the Impact of School Closings and the COVID-19 Crisis, Including Trauma-Related Effects:

  • Provide sessions involving the meaning of trauma, its multi-faceted impact on individuals and groups, and specific insights concerning the potential traumatic effects of COVID-19 and school closings.
  • Develop consensus-driven ideas and strategies for identifying evidence of trauma in individual students and staff as well as evidence of subgroup trauma extending from unique challenges students and staff may have confronted during school closings.
  • Encourage staff to understand the continuum of trauma-informed schooling, including what it means to be trauma-skilled in responding to students who are demonstrating signs of sustained effects extending from trauma.
  • Offer sessions that help classroom educators understand the range of personnel, student services, and support programs that students and families can access—or that they can access if there is evidence of trauma-based actions/reactions in their classrooms.
  • Expand professional development opportunities to all support personnel (including bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers and office workers) to ensure that they are both celebrated for their contributions and that they understand the potential ways in which the school closing experience may have generated trauma-based reactions among students and staff.


4. Emphasize School-Specific Professional Learning Personalized to the Needs of the Staff:

  • Be sensitive to the range of needs and challenges that individuals are facing as they return to school in order to personalize professional development.
  • Consider options for personalizing and differentiating professional development to customize it for the unique needs and priorities identified for a specific school site or program office.
  • If funding and logistics allow, consider how educators might be given options customized to their specific needs and objectives.
  • Take into account how employees new to a school site may need extra support and professional learning as they acclimate to the culture and changing dynamics of their new site and the after-effects of the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Consider ways to expand staff access to a range of customized program options, including recording workshops and sessions they may have missed if they are in other sessions.
  • At the conclusion of all individual sessions and at the end of each professional development day, encourage staff members to debrief on how they are feeling, how they are reacting to the sessions, and how they plan to use workshop knowledge and skills in their classrooms or other settings.


5. Integrate Effective Uses of Technology and Social Media to Reinforce Strategies for Learning in a Virtual World:

  • Ensure that staff experience models and exemplary practices related to virtual and distance learning as part of their professional development experience.
  • Use a variety of social media and virtual learning to build a sense of collective support, interaction and debriefing.
  • Model strategies for making learning in the virtual world interactive, including opportunities for online breakout rooms and discussion sessions integrated into workshops and professional learning programs.
  • Encourage staff to post their experiences and insights concerning the use of workshop-based virtual learning strategies and insights.
  • Showcase throughout the year examples of elementary, middle and high school teachers using technology and social media effectively in their classrooms and schools.
  • Integrate synchronous and asynchronous virtual learning experiences, ensuring that individuals unable to attend a session in person have access to a virtual learning archive of prior workshops, discussion sessions and webinars.
  • Highlight for staff available webinars and other resources aligned with school and district priorities and problems of practice related to reopening and strategic planning focus areas.


6. Anticipate Unique Challenges Related to Reopening and Engage Participants in Using Design Thinking to Address Potential Problems of Practice:

  • Present to staff the concept of “design thinking,” encouraging them to follow its key steps as they identify and generate solutions to problems of practice arising from reopening and COVID-19-related issues and concerns.
  • Encourage professional development participants to develop a deep understanding of the members of the learning community they serve, especially their students and families, reinforcing SEL dispositions such as empathy.
  • Engage participants in identifying emerging problems and “unpack” them by questioning the problem, questioning related assumptions, and questioning implications.
  • Pose to participants COVID-19 problems with solutions that are ill-defined or unknown, reframing the problem in practical and humane ways
  • Ask participants to adopt a hands-on approach to prototyping and testing proposed solutions.
  • Encourage participants to use their design thinking solutions in their classroom and school settings, providing tools and platforms for them to share updates and insights.


7. Integrate into Professional Development Strategies and Actions Designed to Support Staff in Addressing Learning Gaps and Disproportionality Issues Extending from the Crisis:

  • Reinforce research and current reporting that confirm the potential for major learning gaps for all students as they return to school.
  • Ask participants to brainstorm and identify priorities related to these gaps, including ways they can support students in transitioning to higher grades or course levels while addressing areas in which their knowledge and skills may be underdeveloped as a result of closings.
  • Encourage educators to determine “power standards” (i.e., standards with a high level of significance, transferability and foundational strength) that students should have mastered in the previous grade level and generate suggestions for integrating those standards into initial lessons and units.
  • Engage participants in discussions of strategies to assess student achievement data to identify individuals and groups who may be most at-risk because of school closings.
  • Explore strategies for staff to address the needs of special populations, including students with Individualized Education Plans, English Learners, Gifted, and Title 1 learners.
  • Develop strategies to address issues of disproportionality extending from students’ inequitable access to technology, internet and virtual learning resources.
  • Ensure that participants understand the assessments and data analysis measures they can use or access to identify and address emerging or continuing learning gaps.
  • Integrate school improvement plans into these discussions, reinforcing staff understanding of school and district priorities related to identified learning gaps and disproportionality issues.


8. Model Cultural Responsiveness as Part of Your Professional Learning Activities:

  • Ensure that staff members explore and understand the significance of students’ cultures and backgrounds as key parts of their life experience and education.
  • Explore with staff what it means to be “culturally responsive,” including integrating whenever possible multiple perspectives, references to students’ various cultural traditions, and strategies to understand how culture can shape and inform students’ perceptions and construction of meaning involving key themes, issues and events.
  • Encourage staff to reflect on how students’ various cultures and communities may have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, including differing perspectives about health, safety, security and well-being.
  • Ask staff to analyze the implications of available student achievement data and academic progress using the lens of disaggregation (i.e., how have different student subgroups and communities been affected by the crisis?).
  • Brainstorm ways to have teachers and other staff use a range of culturally responsive strategies for welcoming students back to school and addressing emerging needs and concerns.


9. Expand the Range of Designs Used to Deliver Professional Learning Related to Reopening:

  • When using keynote speakers, employ available technology so staff members can hear the speaker(s) without having to leave their school or home (if virtual learning continues in the district).
  • Extend and refine staff members’ use and competency related to Zoom, social media and online lesson design and delivery.
  • Integrate a range of designs to model interactivity and participant-sensitive pacing during professional learning sessions, including opportunities for electronic voting, expression of opinions, breakout chat groups, and other platforms.
  • Offer opportunities for staff to identify areas of concern or need related to the use of technology in their classrooms and schools, including varying degrees of students’ home access to internet and hardware.
  • Identify and present models and exemplars of effective virtual learning to showcase techniques and resources available to teachers to help them replicate these best practices.
  • Encourage follow-up collaborative planning and action research as participants move beyond opening-of-school professional development into the academic year.


10. Use Opening-of-Schools Professional Learning as a Springboard for Sustained Professional Development Throughout the 2020-21 Academic Year:

  • Reinforce that the coming academic year is a journey that staff and students will move through together.
  • Use feedback generated during opening professional development sessions to chart a course for follow-up professional learning throughout the coming academic year.
  • Encourage staff to form study groups and discussion teams to extend and refine their initial professional development experiences, including opportunities for sharing lessons and resources for teachers across schools teaching the same courses or grade levels.
  • Plan professional learning for the coming academic year as an extension of the needs analysis conducted at the time of school reopening, including strategic planning for the possibility of a second wave of school closings that may occur if another wave of COVID-19 cases impacts the district or region.