What now?

In my last post, I wrote about the disruption the pandemic has created for education, ways we could make use of the additional time we have in the weeks/months ahead, and how seat time and location will likely fall behind as conditions of the learning environment. Today, I want to dig a little deeper into what I believe will be one of the more significant “take aways” from this whole situation. 

Varying instructional delivery has always been a critical component of a student-centered learning environment.  And more recently, educators have determined that technology can be harnessed in order to extend and enrich the learning environment, as well as individualize learning. 

For the past two weeks, we’ve seen examples everywhere of teachers who appear to have seamlessly moved their instruction online or using interactive technology.  For me, it has been extremely heartwarming to see the ways school staff have adjusted to an environment where face-to-face isn’t an option. However, he pandemic has also brought to the surface some deficiencies in our system that need to be addressed.

Joining me in authoring this post is friend and colleague, Tammy Jackson. Tammy works for the Michigan Association of Secondary Principals and Michigan Virtual University.  She trains and supports educators and educational leaders across the state of Michigan. Prior to her current role, Tammy spent 29 years in K-12, the majority as high school principal in East Jordan. 

This is my first “collab” as trendy bloggers would say.  We will start by hearing what Tammy has to say and then circle back to my thoughts.

Here we hear from Tammy –

I can’t imagine that anyone envisioned a situation like the one that is unfolding now. The “stay at home” orders caused schools everywhere to scramble as they determined how to make sure students continued to learn.  

In some cases, the solution was simple—virtualize student-teacher connections and move instructional content online. Since access to online learning became Michigan law in 2015, thousands of students in my state have taken courses online. 

The shift is likely not a challenge for them—they embraced learning and connecting with one another in a digital environment before the pandemic. However, there are more than 1.5 million students in our state. This leaves a lot of students and teachers unprepared to make such a sudden shift. Systems and protocols to facilitate “anytime, anywhere” learning just don’t exist—at least not in most schools and for most students.

When the dust settles, and we have adjusted to our new normal, schools will need to examine where their online teaching and learning deficiencies exist.  Staff will need the training to deliver instruction in a blended learning environment—not in order to be prepared for another COVID19-like situation, but because accessing information and learning with technology is, and will continue to be, an essential skill.

Back to Mike –

To Tammy’s point, the pandemic disruption has shed a light on a place we can grow. 

In my neck of the woods in Wisconsin, many schools have also embraced digitizing their content. In addition to strictly online or synchronous video distance learning, some schools have also begun to use alternative modes of delivery to continue learning on snow days or when a teacher is absent.  And like the situation Tammy described, the vast majority of students, teachers and schools are not there yet. 

The good news is that we have all learned a lot in the last few weeks. And I’ve already had multiple conversations with school leaders who, admittedly at various stages on the continuum, are aligning their resources in order to pivot.  That, too, is heartwarming and reassures me that passion, purpose and a growth mindset are alive and well in our profession.

There’s always a but, right? 

I don’t like using the word “but,” however, there is one.  Like everyone else, my staff and the students and schools they support, are trying to work- or learn-from-home. Yet, as I sit here writing this post, a significant number of those staff, students and schools are doing so from what internet service providers call “dead zones.”  

A second take away I would suggest is that we make a commitment to work with public and private organizations, lawmakers, internet service providers—basically anyone who has a stake in the welfare of our society—to ramp up our efforts to ensure all people have access.  

While it is tremendously uplifting to hear about all the great things teachers are doing to connect with their students during this pandemic, there’s a real equity issue playing out. Broadband availability—especially in rural areas—has been a discussion point for educators, families and lawmakers for years.  Now, more than ever, we can point to the reasons it is such a priority.

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