Opportunity Culture Fellows are educators with a track record of high-growth student learning who lead more students, fellow teachers, and, as principals or assistant principals, whole schools. This week, we added to the collection of stories and tips from these field leaders focused on helping students learn—and supporting their social-emotional health—no matter what challenges they or their students face.
See links below to each educator’s story. They all shared their thoughts on what schools and districts should consider if at-home learning continues into the fall or recurs sporadically, including:
Continue to Support and Develop Your Team’s Ability to Teach Well
—Have a distributed leadership structure in place, as Opportunity Culture provides. The shift to at-home teaching and learning is dramatically eased for Opportunity Culture schools, with principals supporting and supported by a leadership team of multi-classroom leaders, who in turn support small teaching teams. The built-in structures of support and collaboration shifted from in-person to videoconferences and phone calls, but otherwise stayed largely the same.
—Maintain multi-classroom leader (MCL) team routines: Multi-classroom leaders continue to meet at least weekly online as a team for planning and student learning data analysis, and in one-on-one meetings with each team teacher. They also continue online with coaching, co-teaching, modeling instruction, and leading small groups.
—Encourage teachers to fill in for one another. The stresses on teachers who are caring for their own children or other family members at home were high on Principal Kristen Boyd’s mind. Encouraging teachers on the same teams to alternate or provide backup for videoconference teaching sessions may make an at-home teaching schedule more doable.
—Keep aiming for high-standards, high-growth instruction. “Don’t think about any barriers right now,” Principal Jeremy Baugh said. “Just pretend that every single kid is online, they’re going to show up to your class when they’re supposed to show up—what exactly would that look like?” That exercise, Baugh said, opened his team up to create a better environment for learning.
—Stay focused on relationships with students and teachers—by far the top recommendation from all Opportunity Culture educators interviewed. That includes paying attention to teachers’ and students’ mental health needs, and to keeping teachers and students connected even while they are forced to stay apart. “The biggest thing long-term for me is relationship-building,” said Candace Butler, who leads a middle school team of English language arts and social studies teachers. “I’ve said it from the beginning and I’ll say it til the end—we have to keep building the relationship…not only with the students, but also with the parents and the community because we need everybody’s support in order to make sure that our students are getting exactly what they need.”
—Consider looping teachers, to maintain student-teacher relationships, if school closures continue into the fall. Teachers may need to learn new content to move up a grade with their students, Baugh said, “but we’ve got MCLs to help with that, so we can overcome those barriers.” Baugh leads an elementary school; even in secondary schools, keeping some consistency can help.
—Keep tech tools focused. This also began to feel like a mantra from the Opportunity Culture educators we profiled: Don’t overload teachers or students with scattered communications or a variety of remote-learning resources. Consolidate communications, and use the full capabilities of the few platforms used.
—Guide students in becoming more self-directed, and work to meet each student’s needs, which may look different when they’re learning at home. “Teachers have to slow down and realize that just because you’re putting this up on Google Classroom or on Canvas, it doesn’t mean that every student is getting it,” Butler said. Tutor students on technology and time management, as well as subject content.
—Provide multiple opportunities for students to join live classes online. In the early weeks, “I’ve got kids responding to assignments at 7:30 in the morning and some at 11 o’clock at night,” MCL Casey Jackson said. Students may be caring for younger siblings or sharing devices or Wi-Fi and thus not be able to get online for one specific time every day; providing several chances to join live instruction will help students show up. As districts fill in devices and broadband for 1:1 use, still consider offering small-group time slots in each “class period” for flexibility.
Monitor & Adjust
—Monitor learning data & adjust instruction. In the early days of the transition to at-home learning, MCL Christina Ross said, teachers needed her to focus on providing instructional support and resources. But after the initial transition, teaching teams should refocus on student data analysis, she said, and how to close the gaps the data highlight.
—Finally, turn vulnerabilities into strengths to keep improving. “We are in a constant state of problem and solution to improve our weaknesses so they can become our strengths,” Ross said. “Change is amazing, and this is the fastest change you will ever see in education. … Any weakness that you have in your district or in your teaching is going to make you feel the most vulnerable you have ever felt. That vulnerability is going to make you and your district grow faster than ever, to meet the needs of your students and community.”
This week’s stories:
- In Arizona, Turning Vulnerabilities Into Strengths as Teaching Goes Home, April 10, 2020
- High-Touch At-Home Learning? That’s the Plan in Indianapolis School, April 10, 2020
- From Start to Finish, A Focus on Relationships During At-Home Learning, April 9, 2020
- Spreading Support in Vance County During At-Home Learning, April 9, 2020
- Consistency and Care: Confronting COVID-19 in a Rural Community, April 8, 2020
Read all columns from previous weeks here.