Supporting Learning in a COVID World

It all happened very, very fast. COVID-19 rushed in and everything changed. 

Overnight, our personal and professional lens at Highlander Institute shifted from the usual wide scope of educational support to a laser focus on the acute needs of teachers and families. As our home state of RI rallied to boldly respond, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. 

Highlander Institute has had an internal mantra of “one foot in the classroom, one foot in the national conversation” for years. We have become a credible national thought partner because our ongoing work on the ground informs our intimate knowledge of the challenges, barriers, and successes that exist in all classrooms. Whether providing embedded coaching in classrooms and schools across the country, facilitating school redesign work, or training cohorts of teachers as change agents, our team has been in the field, combing the data for bright spots, trends, and gaps.  

This remained the case with our COVID-19 local response. One day after remote learning was mandated on March 23, our team developed and launched the RI Distance Learning Helpline, a free service to help RI teachers navigate the swift transition to virtual learning models, staffed by Fuse RI Fellow volunteers and our team members. This support was broadened to include families a few weeks later with the help of community partners the RightClick, libraries across the state, the RI Office of Innovation, the RI Parent Information Network, and the RI Department of Education.

Our quick response leveraged the extensive network of talented and innovative educators established through our Fuse RI Fellowship. Over the past 6 years, the Institute has trained over 100 RI educators as coaches and change agents. This network was well-positioned to support schools and districts through the transition to virtual learning; Fellows are able to address the myriad communication, logistical, and pedagogical challenges generated by this shift. 

The Helpline has become a goldmine for data, a bird’s-eye view into the true daily needs of families and educators across the state.  The Helpline cuts across geographic, socioeconomic, and linguistic barriers, elevating trends, identifying pain points, and providing essential information regarding the gaps in our state and district distance learning plans.  

To support ongoing continuous improvement efforts within distance learning implementation, we proudly announce the Distance Learning Spotlight Series. Starting June 1, Highlander Institute will regularly publish informational videos, articles, and other online media designed to provide an additional layer of support for everyone navigating this new educational space. The topics will be based on trends and gaps brought to light through the Helpline.  

The Distance Learning Spotlight Series is free and available to anyone, in both RI and beyond. While online resources cannot replace the value of customized, one-on-one coaching sessions found through the Helpline, we hope this series can be the beginning of a repository of information for educators,  leaders, and families as we continue to plan - amidst uncertainty - for the school year ahead.