We’ve all been stuck to our cell phones, televisions, and radios over the past week as decisions have been made to begin closing schools across the country to prepare for what will happen with the COVID-19 epidemic. Hard choices have been made to close schools very quickly and as a result, teachers and central office staff have been hurriedly creating websites, distance learning opportunities and even physical packets of worksheets so our students and parents are not only informed but so that learning is able to continue.
In many school districts across the nation, decisions were made to close schools starting as early as Monday, March 16, 2020, for an indefinite amount of time. As the school leader in your building, you’ve put things in place to ensure that your students have what they need to be successful while face to face learning is temporarily on hold, but have you considered those things that you may need to put into place for you and your stakeholders?
There are three things that I’d like you to consider as the school leader in your building as we begin this unfamiliar journey of distance learning.
Consideration #1 – How will you communicate with your staff?
Being as though you won’t be seeing your staff face to face for some time, you’ll want to make sure that you have plenty of communication measures in place to ensure that everyone receives all of the information they need while we are out and as we prepare to enter back into our school buildings. Be sure to consider everyone on your staff (ie, teachers, administrative assistants, media specialists, nutrition workers, nurses, counselors, custodians, etc). How often should you be communicating with your staff during this time? Only you know. You might also consider holding weekly virtual staff meetings.
I think a lot of us depend on our email. With the influx of parents emailing teachers, central office emailing everyone, etc, email inboxes could potentially reach capacity rather quickly. It’s important that we have some other measures in place to be proactive. Keep in mind that you may have to explore and use a few different methods of communication. Here are a few to consider:
- Create a blog specific to keeping your staff informed.
- Use Remind to send text message reminders to your staff. You could also text them links to the blog referenced above.
- Send daily screencasts so your staff “sees” you delivering the information. There are a few tools you can use for this.
- Google Meet has released its recording feature free for 2 months. You could create a Meet and record it with only you present and send them that link. Meet could be an option to conduct a virtual staff meeting as well. This tool has a capacity of 250 people.
- You could use Screencast-O-Matic to screen record either just you addressing your staff via webcam, or record your screen if you had other information to share with them.
- Zoom is another recording tool that you could consider using as well. Zoom is also another option to hold virtual staff meetings. This tool has a capacity of 100 people in the free version.
- Create a newsletter through a tool like Smore, Microsoft Sway, etc. that will provide updates to your staff.
- You may have to send out physical newsletters home through the mail to your staff. We’ve encountered some teachers in our district that don’t have access to wifi. While there are internet companies that have stepped up to offer free wifi, we can’t assume that it will reach everyone we need it to.
Consideration #2 – How will you keep your parents informed?
Parents will likely be stuck to their televisions and news feeds for the latest information regarding COVID-19. How will you ensure that your school community is receiving the latest information pertaining to your particular school and their child’s classes?
- If you don’t have social media accounts for your school, this may be the time to move forward with creating them. Of course, you should check with your central office for the rules that pertain to your district first. Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram are all good places to begin and I’d be willing to bet that you have parents on all of those platforms. Don’t feel stressed that you need to create content for all 3 of these. Create it once, and post it in all 3 places. Keep it simple!
- Keep your school’s website updated. Parents are going to be looking for the latest information and will depend on your website to be updated. Be sure to not only include information regarding students being out of the building, but also any pertinent district information. This could include information about how students can access food from the nutrition department if they need it, if there is a wifi company offering free wifi opportunities, etc. In times like this, I don’t think there is too much information.
- Create videos and screencasts that you can send to your parents via email and/or post to your school’s website and/or on social media.
- Be sensitive to the fact that not all of your parents have access to wifi at home. You may need to depend on sending physical mail home.
- Be sure to translate all information that you send out into the languages that your families need.
Consideration #3 – How will you hold your teachers accountable for remote learning?
There are so many unknown questions at this time for all of us. How will you ensure that your teachers are doing what they are required to do during this time? What documentation will you require them to submit either while they’re out or once we return back to our school buildings? Are your teachers still required to submit lesson plans during this time? One of the last things that I’m sure you’ll want to deal with at this time is having parents calling or emailing you to complain that their kid’s teachers are not responsive or continuing to teach. This is not a vacation and we are all still being compensated for teleworking so there has to be a level of accountability for all of us. We are all professionals and we should all be doing what we were hired to do. We are held accountable during face to face instruction through observations, walkthroughs, lesson plans, etc. Why not while we are engaging in distance learning? Here are a few suggestions to consider.
- Have your teachers create a daily journal that they keep up with that documents their day. They could submit it at the end of each day to a shared drive or through a Google Form or even a Google Classroom. They could also compile a weekly journal and submit it at the end of the day on Friday.
- Create a staff Flipgrid and have your teachers leave daily reflections at the end of their “workday.” This would keep your finger on the pulse of what is happening in your teacher’s virtual classrooms as well as give you the opportunity to address any concerns that your teachers may have. You could set the responses to be open so they can view each other’s videos, or you could set them to be moderated so no one else sees who responded and what they said.
- If your teachers are using Google Meet or Zoom to teach their students during the day, hop in and join the discussion! I’m sure your students would get a kick out of seeing you engaging with them online!
It’s important for us to remember that for most of us, this is the first time that we are dealing with anything like this. Let’s all have patience and grace as we figure this out.
Parents are stressed.
Kids are excited.
We are overwhelmed.
With proper planning and effective implementation of distance learning (whatever that looks like for you and your students), we can and will figure this out, together.
Keep your staff encouraged and uplifted during this time as this is a new experience for all of us. If you listen to an inspirational podcast, send it to them. If you read a good book, recommend it to them. Our teachers rushed to get learning materials ready for at least 2 weeks for our students on such short notice. Our nutrition departments have been making sure our students can still access the food they need. Our custodians have been sanitizing our schools. Our administrative assistants have been answering questions nonstop. Encourage your staff to take a deep breath and to get back on the horse. We still have a responsibility to take care of our students.
If you need a list of encouraging videos to send your staff, look no further! Here is a link to one that I found online from Ray Birks (@raybirks). Of course, you want to watch them first and make sure they meet your needs! Here’s a link to access this amazing list of inspiration: http://bit.ly/TeacherInspo.
Want more distance learning support? Check out our Distance Learning Resource Hub with free live webinars, guides, online courses and more!
Natasha Rachell, a passionate educator, is an alternatively certified high school science teacher turned edtech enthusiast! Currently, Natasha is a Digital Learning Specialist for Atlanta Public Schools. Natasha has immersed herself into the instructional technology space and has earned several certifications, awards and accomplishments, some of which include: Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, Google Certified Innovator (MentorMeEdu) and Trainer, Apple Teacher, Surface Master Trainer, and Flipgrid Ambassador. She has a Bachelors in Biology Pre-Med, a Masters in Education Administration, a Specialists in Curriculum and Instruction and is finishing her Doctorate in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Effective Schools. Natasha was selected to take part in the first cohort of Our Voice Academy through EdTechTeam, a group of minority educational technology leaders from across the nation. Natasha has presented at both the local and national level. She is ecstatic to lead the work as we transition into 21st century classrooms through blended learning opportunities, BYOD, professional learning for instructional technology and digitally connected classrooms. You can learn more about Natasha by following her on Twitter @apsitnatasha, on Instagram @fithappyeducator or by visiting her website at www.natasharachell.com.