There is no way to be prepared for everything, but if you have clear systems and triggers for action, there is more stability and the transition becomes less visible to the students, teachers and staff which decreases stress and anxiety and allows them to move forward.
Making "everything" virtual...
Long ago in a galaxy far, far away, teachers used technology-based activities as "enhancement" to regular instruction. Now we need to turn this on its head and recognize that technology needs to be the "regular instruction" and the "enhancement" is what we can provide when we get to be with them again.
Understanding the cumulative files and records, etc. are still items we need to deal with in schools, in order to be able to stay away from a building, our daily world should be "mobile". By using the online platforms and processes every day, whether on site or at home, there is no difference in the experience of the players in terms of the academics and employment situation. What is different is of course the additional things that can enhance a student's experience by being with teachers and other students when that is possible.
Expectations & Follow Through
Once you have a plan, set out the guidelines and expectations clearly. Explain how you will be checking on the implementation and provide an opportunity for ongoing feedback about how things are going. For example, if office hours are expected, tell the teachers you will be popping into random meetings and saying hello. Don't make any rules or expectations you cannot enforce or provide follow-through.
Insist on structure.
It may be daunting to imagine creating structure as we observe the most reliable parts of our world changing daily. It may be easy to default to being extra flexible to try to accommodate every student's situation. But the truth is, whether it seems like it or not, most everyone needs structure to feel secure. As the leader, you get to set up the structure in a new context for everyone. People may struggle at first but creating clear and predictable routines will help them more quickly become comfortable with the online environment. You will also need to follow through with your commitments, honoring the guidelines you laid out for communication and getting information and feedback as outlined. They are looking to you to understand what teaching and learning looks like in this new structure.
Relationships & Team Building
An online culture for your organization is vital and takes a lot of effort at first. But here are three things that can be done to provide a good foundation.
1. Make sure people know what is going on. People can feel like they’ve lost touch with what’s happening at their school, with classmates, teachers, peers, colleagues, and staff. Communication is extremely important: send more emails or announcements, implement one-on-one conversations, and encourage more discussions.
2. Make sure that no one group or person has more of your attention or more access to you so that they feel that there is equitable and fair treatment among all. When you run synchronous meetings with the entire group, make sure you’re balancing for inclusion and airtime. If you have participants who tend to dominate the conversation during in-person discussions, they’re going to dominate virtually as well. Make space for all to participate. Intentionally include those who are less inclined to speak up when other students are dominating class time.
3. Use different modalities to provide variety and hit the interests and styles of stakeholders. Use visuals, auditory items, polls, humor, reflective activities and simulations are flexible for most topics.
Meetings & PD
Have people participate in different ways: Use chat for quick feedback for example, "thumbs up/down" or an emoji are quick ways to gauge understanding or perspective. An advantage of online environments is that all participants—including introverts—can meaningfully participate in new ways. Ask your participants to put questions in the chat.
Use polling and discussion groups: Set up a Sli.do or Kahoot for real-time polling. Use a platform like Google Teams or Slack to create work spaces and teams.
Leverage School Resources
Determine accommodations that can be used
Collecting Data & Evaluating Effectiveness
Observations and Evaluations are tricky, but not impossible. Remember to consider privacy, FERPA, contracts and other issues of personal image safety. As a faculty discuss what items can be considered artifacts for online evidence of their work and their instruction.
Data collection should include qualitative studies of anecdotal evidence as well as quantitative in order to assess the effectiveness of the work being done online.
The objective is to have clear triggers for action and then to document and share it out in ways that are helpful and not too overwhelming. Here are the top three challenges for students, and staff...
1. Learning new online course management systems: They need to get comfortable with your school’s online systems in order to access all the elements of school. That could include listening to lectures, participating in discussion forums, downloading resources and submitting assignments.
2. Being self-disciplined and managing time: Online courses require self-motivation and strong time-management skills.
3. Adapting to virtual engagement, rather than in-person engagement: Students who find it helpful to chat face-to-face with instructors and fellow students, may find it challenging to lose this personal element.
Opening & Closing Procedures
Have a "cheat sheet" similar to crisis plans that delineate who, what where and how the process will go. Determine the triggers and the staff that will respond. Don't forget back-up in case someone is not able to fulfill their role. Consider the following?
Communicate with care.
One of the trickiest parts of transitioning to an online environment is communicating without the benefit of facial expressions and body language. We've all sent and received emails that contained seemingly abrupt or ambiguous language. Wondering about the intention of the author can be awkward at best and anxiety-provoking and/or relationship damaging at worst.
To ensure your messages are clear and your tone is supportive, it's important to take a moment to review what you've written before hitting send. Put yourself in the student's shoes and imagine how they will receive your message and revise if there is any question about tone or clarity. A few moments spent considering the lens of the recipient of your email can save time later clearing up misunderstandings and (potentially) hurt feelings.
Lead with empathy.
Moving to the online environment will create challenges for everyone. It will look different for different staff and students, but it's important that educators avoid making assumptions about where others "should" be in their comfort level or progress. Some students who have performed well in their face-to-face classrooms may struggle in an online environment. Some who struggled previously may flourish. And some students who have historically struggled in class may find that online learning is even more challenging.
Staff need to manage their expectations appropriately, understanding that for some students, two or more weeks of learning from home feels like a luxury with plenty of technology, space, and parental support to help them along the way. For other students, home may not be such a safe space. The house may be overcrowded, access to technology and the internet may be minimal or non-existent, parents may be neglectful or absent, and food may be scarce. Students in the latter situation may have seen their brick-and-mortar school as a respite from instability that has suddenly been taken away without a clear end in sight. Of course, any of your students or staff may be dealing with an illness (either themselves or a loved one) which will impact their physical and emotional well being.
Student, Parent & Family Needs
This may seem at odds with the insistence of structure, but providing some flexibility for students, especially as they begin a new approach to learning, will help students feel it's safe to struggle and ask for help. In the early days, you may waive late penalties or provide extra opportunities for revision. As students become more comfortable, you may increase accountability, still providing more flexibility in extenuating circumstances. Flexibility may look different depending on the student, the assignment, or the situation.
Without the benefit of face-to-face interaction, teachers can struggle to gain insight that may be easy to detect through a short conversation or observation. The online environment requires teachers to seek clarity by asking questions until they fully understand what is behind a student's challenges. By leading with empathy, a teacher sets aside assumptions and can support the students where they are, giving them a little extra grace as they navigate these uncertain waters.
The coming weeks and months are new territory for everyone. Schools and districts are tasked with trying to figure out how to maintain some sense of normalcy for students, and teachers are the first line of defense in executing this plan. Prioritizing relationships, clear and effective communication, and support may bring a much-needed sense of stability to students when they need it the most.
Anticipating Technology Issues