4 Key Considerations

Planning for Distance Learning

4 Key Considerations

As an organization supporting states, districts, schools, and classrooms during this time of distance learning, we have observed many educators pushing forward on instruction, curriculum, and assessment prior to ensuring the health, safety, and emotional well-being of students and families. As we brace for a longer engagement with distance learning, we want all leaders, coaches, and teachers to think through four key considerations that will help ensure greater equity, scale, and sustainability during this time of national crisis and compassion.

We are launching this page as a place for Highlander Institute to share its observations and thinking, but we also want to hear from you regarding what is and is not working with regard to distance learning implementation.  Reach out with any questions or ideas to info@highlanderinstitute.org. We will continue to update this page with resources and examples so feel free to check back often.

considerations_pyramid

CONSIDERATION #4
How are you thinking differently about the kinds of meaningful learning experiences students are engaging with in a distance learning format?

CONSIDERATION #3
How are you communicating with students in an ongoing way that facilitates relationship building?

CONSIDERATION #2
How are you communicating with families in an ongoing way that facilitates relationship building?

CONSIDERATION #1
How are you reaching out to all parents and guardians, individually, to understand their current conditions and needs?

As an organization supporting states, districts, schools, and classrooms during this time of distance learning, we have observed many educators pushing forward on instruction, curriculum, and assessment prior to ensuring the health, safety, and emotional well-being of students and families. As we brace for a longer engagement with distance learning, we want all leaders, coaches, and teachers to think through four key considerations that will help ensure greater equity, scale, and sustainability during this time of national crisis and compassion.

We are launching this page as a place for Highlander Institute to share its observations and thinking, but we also want to hear from you regarding what is and is not working with regard to distance learning implementation.  Reach out with any questions or ideas to info@highlanderinstitute.org. We will continue to update this page with resources and examples so feel free to check back often.

considerations_pyramid_mobile

CONSIDERATION #1
How are you reaching out to all parents and guardians, individually, to understand their current conditions and needs?

CONSIDERATION #2
How are you communicating with families in an ongoing way that facilitates relationship building?

CONSIDERATION #3
How are you communicating with students in an ongoing way that facilitates relationship building?

CONSIDERATION #4
How are you thinking differently about the kinds of meaningful learning experiences students are engaging with in a distance learning format?

CONSIDERATION #1

CONSIDERATION #2

CONSIDERATION #3

CONSIDERATION #4

CONSIDERATION #1

How are you reaching out to all parents and guardians, individually, to understand their current conditions and needs?

There are families who are experiencing challenges that you will need to better understand before setting expectations. Once you understand the conditions, you can design for the margins to ensure your approach reaches all students.

ACTION STEPS

1 Reach every parent/guardian

Reach every parent/guardian

While you may reach some parents/guardians through email and websites, texting software is often the most flexible way to get in touch with families as it can reach individuals with cell phones who may not have access to computers. The most popular options include:

Kinvo: offering free subscriptions, virtual training, translation services
Talking Points: offering free subscriptions, translation services, allows link attachments, teachers can send photos and videos
Remind: offering free subscriptions

Implementation Example:

After the first week of distance learning, teachers at a suburban high school were feeling overwhelmed by the need to manage teaching, getting a hold of families that were difficult to reach, and troubleshooting issues of access and safety. So administration and support staff developed a weekly distance learning form for teachers to raise up concerns about particular students. Teachers indicate whether the student has an IEP or 504 plan and provide some context on the challenge. Then case managers of students with IEPs were made responsible for connecting with those families, guidance counselors managed issues of students with 504 plans, and assistant principals and deans divided up the rest of the students to support. They then were responsible for communicating back to teachers a plan to support these families. By creating this system of support, teachers were able to dedicate more focus to teaching and learning.

2 Determine the needs of every family
3 Connect families with resources

CONSIDERATION #2

How are you communicating with families in an ongoing way that facilitates relationship building?

Research shows that some of the most effective ways families support their children is by helping their kids understand that education matters and supporting the development of positive learner identities. When families set high aspirations and expectations for their kids, students are more likely to be successful.

Families will need to know when and how to communicate with you and other members of the school community. Building regular structures helps establish routines that families can support. Even if family members struggle to support their children to learn the content, families do a lot when they understand the school’s expectations, support their kids to believe in themselves, and help them adhere to routines (Flamboyan Foundation).

ACTION STEPS

1 Communicate district/school structures and policies to every parent/guardian

Communicate district/school structures and policies to every parent/guardian

Share district/school mandated communication structures as well as additional communication needs. This is critical, as each district has established different norms and expectations.

Implementation Example:

Alenoush Hagopian and Katelyn Chouinard are fourth grade teachers at Highlander Charter School in Providence, RI. As team teachers, they debated the best ways to share their distance learning plans and strategies with families. They knew there were families in their classrooms that did not speak English, or who would struggle with digital tools. They wanted all families to understand the why behind the digital resources they were assigning to students. The teachers decided to create a master document that explained each platform and answered the question, “What do you (a parent) need to do to help your child with [XYZ platform]?” They also translated each explanation into Spanish so all families could access the information and ask informed questions.

2 Establish regular virtual meetings
3 Establish daily asynchronous communication

CONSIDERATION #3

How are you communicating with students in an ongoing way that facilitates relationship building?

Students will be experiencing all sorts of emotions through this new period of collective uncertainty. It is very important to attend to the physiological, psychological, and intellectual needs of your students. Some students may have trouble focusing, while others will welcome a sense of normalcy through distance learning. Be patient, listen to students, and help them understand that what matters most is that they are safe and healthy.

There are different aspects of school that students look forward to most. Ensure that students understand that they are part of a beloved community and that, while you certainly miss their physical presence, you are excited to nurture this new virtual academic community. As a teacher, one of the most important things you can do to address this consideration is to prioritize the relationship and trust you are building with students and their families in your new shared distance learning environment. This may mean de-prioritizing completion and attendance rates, as students and families may be easily discouraged or overwhelmed at this time.

ACTION STEPS

1 Attend to sources of stress and prioritize wellness

Attend to sources of stress and prioritize wellness

Before getting into content, checking in on your students’ social and emotional well-being can be critical, and will inform how you design learning experiences.

Name, honor, and create space to discuss what students are thinking, feeling, and asking about the pandemic:

Incorporate health and wellness into your approach (all resources below are free as of April 1, 2020):

Implementation Example 1:

A 4th grade teacher utilizes this SEL Check-in Template from Sown to Grow. Students reflect on their feelings each day with a specific prompt. In order to encourage partnership among a child’s systems of support at home and at school, the teacher encourages students to fill out the form with their family members. Then she can respond in ways that are personalized to each child’s social-emotional needs.

Implementation Example 2:

Melissa is a 3rd grade teacher at Alan Shawn Feinstein Elementary at Broad Street in Providence, Rhode Island. Besides the explicit SEL curricula she uses, she wanted her students to be able to learn and draw from the resiliency strategies of their families and she also wanted to learn from their funds of knowledge. So she designed a mini-unit in which students would interview their families to learn how they cope with challenges. Their final product would be a recording of the interview with a family member (in their preferred language) and written reflections on how their learnings would apply to a current challenge in their lives.

2 Establish regular virtual meetings
3 Establish regular asynchronous communication structures to build relationships with students as individuals

CONSIDERATION #4

How are you thinking differently about the kinds of meaningful learning experiences students are engaging with in a distance learning format?

Aim for tasks that engage students in learning that is interesting and relevant to them. They are surrounded by a global crisis, so this can be an opportunity to engage the critical thinking and higher-order thinking skills of your students. Now is the time to stretch your creative muscles! If you typically have students respond through worksheets, consider asking them to engage in deeper reflection and share what they know in a different format. Establish ways for students to share their thinking process with you and their peers. Think through how to create a sustainable process for you to provide students with qualitative, actionable feedback.

ACTION STEPS

1 Encourage students to explore their identities and interests through reading and reflection

Encourage students to read and reflect on their reading

Implementation Example:

A third grade teacher wants to make sure her students are reading meaningful, relevant texts daily and reflecting on what they read. It is important to her that her students build a positive relationship with reading, that they feel inspired by what they read, that they learn more about themselves and others, and that they feel equipped to make meaningful changes in their own lives and in the lives of their communities. She wants students to have windows into other communities as well as mirrors that reflect their own in order to build empathy and understanding. She assigns an online book that can be heard and read in multiple languages called, The Unwelcome Stranger, that tells the story of a little girl in Uganda learning about Coronavirus. Based on this quote from the girl’s grandfather, the teacher invites students to reflect on how their experiences are similar to and different from the little girl’s and to write their own advice to a younger child:

“The greatest weapon of this Unwelcome stranger, Covid-19, is causing chaos amongst us”, Grandfather warned. “It is okay to be cautious, but we must not be fearful. When we meet fear with reason, panic with patience, and uncertainty with education, we can find a way to defeat it.”

2 Design learning experiences that are engaging and relevant by considering students’ home lives and current social contexts
3 Make student thinking visible
4 Create opportunities for self-assessment, feedback, and reflection