July 31, 2020

Considerations & Essential Questions for the Upcoming School Year

by Caitlin McLemore

This blog post shares some important considerations and essential questions for schools and teachers to consider when planning for the upcoming school year.

Infrastructure and access
To begin, schools must answer questions of what infrastructure and access students and teachers need to participate in digital learning experiences.

Some technological considerations include:
Internet. Do students and teachers have access to a reliable, high-speed Internet connection? What is their capacity to engage in low-bandwidth vs. high-bandwidth activities?
Hardware. Do students and teachers have access to mobile devices or school-issued laptops?
Software. Do students and teachers have access to the programs or software needed to successfully complete schoolwork? Have they used the tools before, and if not, have they received training?

Schools also need to consider what additional materials and resources students may or may not have access to outside of the physical classroom (e.g., art supplies, paper and pencils). For any of these questions, schools should try to provide access and support to families when possible. Teachers should also be mindful of students’ situations and accommodate as needed.

Establishing a common culture and vision
With the future being so uncertain, schools will need to think through multiple options for providing an education to students and helping teachers fulfill their roles as educators. Schools should think through a variety of situations: physical distancing in school settings, remote learning environments, and/or hybrid learning options. Even if schools open for in-person classes, they should be prepared to support students and teachers that choose/need to be learning remotely for extended time periods.

Relationships are critical
Connection is “a fundamental human need” (Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2020). Regardless of location or situation, the student-teacher relationship is foundational to learning. Yet, developing authentic relationships online can be challenging, as many students and teachers discovered in the spring with the sudden transition to remote learning. This upcoming school year, classes may begin remote, with no prior face-to-face interactions.

How can we make students and teachers feel comfortable in this environment? With remote learning, students should have opportunities to interact with other students and their teachers in non-graded experiences. For example, a classroom teacher might provide an online discussion thread for fun topics. Or, a school librarian might host an esports league for students to join.

In addition to the student-teacher relationship being a critical component of any learning environment, the teacher-family relationship has become even more of an impact on student learning than ever before. In the spring, families spent hours each day supporting one or more school-aged children in their home, likely while they also managed other caretaking responsibilities and working from home.

Schools should ask:
– How might we utilize community and family members to help support learners?
– How might we support families in the home learning experience?
– How might we use technology to facilitate communication, collaboration, and connection between families and schools?

Learning will need to be a community effort with long-term hybrid and remote learning a real possibility. Schools and teachers should plan for increased communication, not just around attendance and grading but as a two-way experience that supports student learning.

Making the most of time
Immediacy is a limited resource (Stanford, 2020). With remote learning environments, ‘Zoom fatigue’ is real (Fosslein & Duffy, 2020). Students and teachers cannot be expected to be engaged in video conferencing sessions all day long. As such, schools and teachers should consider the following questions:
– How can we make the most of synchronous sessions?
– What are some of the benefits of asynchronous learning?

When scheduling, schools and teachers should also be mindful of potential challenges and constraints within a hybrid or remote learning environment.

Quality professional learning
Educators need to think about how they can be adaptive and modular in the planning process (Reich & Mehta, 2020). However, educators cannot do this alone. Schools need to support educators with professional learning opportunities that establish best practices for hybrid and remote learning, as well as for meaningful learning with technology. It is not just about learning how to use the tool, but how to best use a tool to achieve learning goals and outcomes.

Look for more information on hybrid and remote learning including curriculum resources, strategies, and tech tools for designing meaningful digital experiences in our upcoming guidebook, From Surviving to Thriving: Reimagining Learning During the COVID-19 Crisis.