Note: You can access the recording of a webinar on our approach to online learning here and the presentation slides here.
During this unprecedented time, it’s very easy to be overwhelmed and anxious. We totally understand, and are feeling that ourselves. Like all of you, we have never done this before. We’re used to learning together, side by side, in joyful school communities. Making the shift to remote learning will be a challenge, to say the least. Like so many educators, as they say, we’re building the plane as we fly it.
Amid the chaos, we are focused on what we all know how to do best: love our kids. As we develop a plan to support 18,000 students and their families, and to protect the joy of learning as much as possible, we wanted to share the guiding principles we’re relying on to chart the path. We fully expect our thinking on this to evolve as we get deeper into this new reality, and we will do our best to pass along in a timely way any new insights or learnings that might help to lighten the load for others.
1. Choose simplicity. Start slow — and remember how much you already know (you’ve been educating these kids all year long!). With so many resources and recommendations circulating right now, it’s easy to feel like you need fancy apps or sophisticated packets. A simple, easy-to-read plan that works for your family or your students is perfect. You’ve likely got plenty of time (unfortunately) to add bells and whistles. Get simple right first.
2. Establish clear roles for leaders, teachers, parents, and students. When entering into uncharted territory, one of the best things you can do is get clear on who needs to worry about what. This will look different from school to school and community to community. Here’s what this looks like for us.
Elementary School Educators
Middle School Leaders/Management
Middle School Teachers
Parents3. Make plans that are easily deployed, at any time, for any amount of time. The fact is, none of us know how long this situation will last, so it’s important to create a plan that feels sustainable. We developed the elementary, middle and high school schedules below because we think they’ll be manageable (note how ES schedule focuses on short bursts of learning, with lots of breaks). Create something that you think you can rally your school community around for as long as you might need to. And whatever you do, don’t assign busy work. Better to take the time you need to come up with work that will thoughtfully challenge kids and push them to think critically than to just start flooding them with worksheets. They need to remain convinced that we’re prepared to make this work, and that we’re doing it with their academic and emotional wellness in mind.
Grades K-2 (2.5 hours)
Grades 3-4 (3.5 hours)
Grades 5-8 (5 hours)
Grades 9-12 (8.5 hours)
4. Respect what works for parents, while keeping the bar high. This is a tremendously challenging situation for working parents and schools must be as adaptive as possible, while also rallying families around our shared objective: supporting students. The key is to focus on what’s possible. Our K-4 teachers, for example, are expected to call their students twice every day. We’ve asked parents to let us know what times might work best, and also to talk to their child’s teacher if they’re facing trade-offs and need guidance on what to prioritize.
5. Reading is the top priority. When in doubt, read. For some families and schools, remote teaching and learning is just simply not an option. If that’s the case (and even if it’s not!), aim to keep kids reading as many books as they can. A kid who loves to read — and reads well — can teach herself anything. Platforms like Tumblebooks, Audible, and Overdrive are available through public libraries (and many are offering free subscriptions of their own right now), and provide access to lots of high-quality books.
6. Minimize additional work. This will be hard enough. Don’t make it harder by trying to adopt or implement every resource crossing your inbox and social media feed. When our schools are in session live, we prioritize reading above all else. So when they’re remote, we’ll prioritize reading above all else (see above!). When our elementary teachers call home in the coming days, they’ll be asking simple questions (“What was the book mostly about?” “Why did the author write it?”). No fancy packets or rubrics required. When our middle and high school teachers begin their virtual teaching, we’ll have one teacher lead instruction across the grade, freeing the others to focus on 1:1 follow-up. With the massive amount of work coming, let’s take easy wherever we can find it.
We don’t have all the answers, but our best advice is to stay calm, do what you can, remember how much you do know about educating or caring for kids, and start a simple plan when you’re ready. We will all get through this together, one day, one book, one breath, at a time.