Change happens. Change exists. Change is.
Whether change is qualified as good or bad, bad or good is based upon personal perspectives, experiences, and understandings reflective of situational contexts. Emotionally charged, excessively logical, or flying by the seat of one’s pants on instinct, change is frequently difficult.
Our world has changed.
A global pandemic. Countries uniting to share resources and hope on social media. Schools of all levels closing buildings. Learning adjusting and continuing. Lives and jobs lost due to the virus. Families created with marriage, births, the adoption of kittens and puppies. The first collaborative partnership between a private organization and NASA to launch man into space. Increasing protests on the inequalities and injustices of institutions. Towns unifying to stand together.
Our world has changed. How will we improve?
As districts, teachers, parents, and students close the current school year, they are already looking and planning ahead. As part of the future, conversations should be held regarding three key components to make the following school year effective towards learning and development: considering physical and virtual learning environments, considering the balance of content, physical, and social-emotional development, and opportunities to educate and train staff to promote success.
Learning Environments: Physical and Virtual
There are many intricacies and complexities before reopening school, and OSPI has provided guidance and recommendations on their Covid-19 website. Additional considerations include the social-emotional well-being of students, the neurological developmental processes, and encouraging diverse, inclusive communities that represent all students, all lifestyles, all cultures.
How can classrooms be inclusive when students are present physically, virtually or absent? Are grades a reflection of behavioral expectations or learning (even if not successful)? Should students lose points for not turning work in on time to enforce timeliness and time management skills? If students are attempting a skill, should they earn full points? Partial? Some complex algorithm of percentages tracked over time? Should all students earn an A or incomplete?
These questions have rocked education institutions during this continuous learning environment while currently operating under the directive of “do no harm.” If there are practices that are potentially harmful to student learning and development, then why do these practices and philosophies exist? Why would we return to such a system? Contemplating the design, schedules, and learning environments involved critical reflection in teaching practices.
Evaluating individual philosophies and practices are highly personal to each individual and largely based upon our personal experiences, educational training and practice, and the mentorship teachers have experienced throughout their lives. As such, discussing changes to personal practices that may not align or are contrary to our pedagogical philosophies are often highly emotionally charged. Depending on the school or department culture, these conversations can build connections or can isolate, feeling like a personal attack. In addition, we all have unrealized biases, microaggressions, and tendencies. To improve, individual reflection of personal practices, philosophies, and cultural tendencies needs to occur. Often, when becoming a teacher these answers sprawl over pages in their ability to address and articulate important pedagogical concepts. However, this article by Trombella emphasizes the importance of simplifying personal pedagogical philosophies and practices. Once streamlined, then conversations regarding learning can occur between teachers in a positive direction together.
Balancing content, development and motivation
Focus on student learning is a main component of teaching (and correctly so, right?). Increasingly important, however, is not just the content being presented but the neurological process of learning, expanding social and emotional skills, and expanding student development. Please visit the below links to explore resources and ideas concerning the balance of content, development and student motivation.
- Creating Collaborative Environments through Language and Tech Tools – Getting Started!
- Redefining “Teacher”
- The Power of Language
- Modeling technology tools in professional development
- Acknowledging change to improve the future.
Opportunities for staff education & training
Staff training should also reflect the best practices to implement within a classroom, modeling various strategies, tools, and coaching opportunities (ISTE Coaching Standard 4). To be meaningful, training needs to be intentional, meaningful, and timely for staff. There are several opportunities to offer training this summer, especially as the word recognizes various needs to improve and revitalize learning in education. This graphic, shared by educatorstechnology.com, encapsulated the four areas for training teachers to improve learning with digital tools.
Teachers need to know how to authoritatively navigate, use, and interact with technologies and resources districts provide; districts need to provide trainings to enable teachers to empower their youth.
Despite the opportunity to gather under safety conditions and considerations, districts and schools should provide professional development in a variety of learning environments that are differentiated to meet a variety of technology comfort levels, personal learning preferences, and alternate styles. Districts should consider sharing and acknowledging important webinars. Some examples of these webinars are from ISTE, CommonSense Media, Code.org, NeuralEd but there are also organizations addressing critical components of learning. These virtual events are hosted by The Learning Council, the Global Online Academy, and iLearn Collaboration. These organizations are a compilation of leaders who are passionate about improving education by reflecting and challenging practices and perspectives within education. There are free webinars, in addition to resources and blogs of ideas to implement into physical or virtual classrooms to spark student creativity and learning.
Many are offered by organizations, but there are additional resources available by individual speakers who are authorities in their recognized field, like Zaretta Hammond Culturally Responsive Teaching, Monica Burns EdTech Tips, Jeff Utecht Building the Future and ReimagineWAEd, and Conn McQuinn STEM and Maker Projects. Many of these teachers provide resources available for teachers and are active advocates to improve education for all students by aiding teachers.
An example of differentiated training in pace, place, and timeline.
To encourage teachers to expand their expertise, below is an example of providing this online learning through Canvas. Our Digital Learning Coordinator is creating online training sessions for clock hours, and the Digital Learning Teachers are providing age appropriate tutorials, opportunities, and examples for staff to use as templates or inspiration for their own classrooms.
Within the Canvas Professional Development Portal, the district is allowing teachers and staff to work on self-selected content to earn clock hours. Instead of mandating a full day of training, teachers are able to select their preferred 1 or 2 hour tutorial to complete at their own pace, place, and timeline (ISTE Coaching Standard 4). The various content is organized into two levels of districtwide tools, like Canvas, and then various learning platforms or apps to help teachers provide interactive learning activities and opportunities.
In addition to mandatory learning platforms, trainings and opportunities for district or school approved learning platforms or apps should be provided by teachers. While these resources may be free, some of these applications do require district or student licensing. Familiarity with the licensing process and products allows teachers to offer different learning opportunities for students and teach using various methodologies.
In addition to the training, the digital learning teachers want to also recognize that sometimes teachers just need a reminder or refresher. The last example is currently underdevelopment and will be a quick reference guide for teachers. This will either link directly to a tutorial video snippet or a highlighted screenshot of essential steps or processes. This will provide a reference for teachers and staff that is quick, easy to navigate, and directly addresses the issue or task.
As this years wraps up, there are many conversations that should be held. While these conversations should start with celebrating the end of the previous year, there are also conversations that need to look to the future. These conversations should reflect on physical and virtual learning environments, the balance of content, physical, and social-emotional development, and opportunities to educate and train staff to promote success.
Congratulations on completing one heck of a year! Let’s improve and be ready for the next.