Lessons Learned from Coronavirus – Part 1

By: Jack Creeden

Lessons Learned From Coronavirus – Part 1

Depending on when you start counting, teachers and students have been involved in distance learning now for over two months. There are hundreds of examples of incredible success stories where the very best of classroom learning has been transferred to the online mode.

Teachers and students deserve our congratulations and thanks for making the incredibly quick adjustment to the online learning environment. In some instances, school was being conducted in a traditional fashion on a Friday, and then we were required to move to distance learning the following week. Suddenly everybody became a first-year teacher again regardless of years of teaching experience. The teachers’ efforts were nothing short of herculean. Well done!

We also must acknowledge that the digital divide among our families is real. Not every child has a device or multiple devices at home to use for distance learning. And all parents are not equally adept at using technology. One size does not fit all.

As we move to the end of the spring term, we now must turn our attention to preparing for the re-opening of school in September. We have plenty of expert advice from educators across the country and the world about how to prepare for the fall. Almost everyone agrees that there is no way to predict with any certainty what a fall re-opening will look like. Nevertheless, we must plan now.

In addition to the recommendations from the experts, we can also glean important information from experiences in our virtual classrooms over the last two months. Here’s what faculty are telling us:

Lessons Learned From the Past

1. Teachers across the country transformed their classes into distance learning lessons in record-breaking time. Each week our lessons and assessment strategies become more engaging and directly aligned with learning goals. We are much better at distance learning now than we were in March.
2. Online learning is not the same as teaching and learning in a classroom. To prepare a simple hour of online instruction, whether synchronous or asynchronous, takes twice as much time as preparing for a traditional class.
3. The teaching creativity to capture a student’s attention for an online lesson is doubly important, and often ten-times harder than in person.
4. Middle and secondary school students have the executive functioning skills to persist in the online environment. The attention span and internal discipline required are especially challenging among primary students. We must acknowledge the developmental differences online as we do in the classroom.
5. Parental involvement in supporting online learning is essential, especially for younger children.
6. The ability, patience and inclination of parents to serve as teaching assistants vary widely among families, and is compounded if the parents are home trying to do meet their own professional obligations.
7. Many parents have tried their best to fill a supporting role, but we must admit that being a parent does not qualify one to be a good teacher. Parental involvement in distance learning is filled with many positive intentions but truly mixed results.
8. The anxieties about Covid-19 health risks have been exacerbated by the stress distance learning has added to the lives of families. Now more than ever we must focus on the social-emotional health of students, teachers and parents.

Looking Ahead to Re-Opening

1. As Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases tells us, “The virus will set the schedule.” The good news is that we have the remainder of the spring term and all summer to plan for what’s ahead.
2. Most educators assume we will follow a hybrid model of teaching in school and at home depending on the resurgence of the virus in particular locations.
3. Based on the last three months, we now know what methodologies worked well, what we should do more of and what strategies we should discontinue.
4. We must assure that all children have the equipment to participate in online learning. The financial commitments to eliminate the digital divide are not unusual expenditures but now fundamental costs to operating schools in the Covid-19 environment.
5. With the summer to plan, we can design a fall term that identifies those lessons best implemented in a classroom, while scheduling lessons more suited to distance learning for the times when we are forced to return to our homes.
6. We must provide more instruction to parents about how to support our online teaching efforts. We know how to guide student teachers when they intern with us. Parents are in a similar situation. They need to be taught how to teach.
7. When our students return in person in the fall, we must pay special attention to their social-emotional health. Young children and adolescents have endured not just distance learning, but the effect of an extended period of social distancing. We do not know yet what the impact has been, but we can anticipate the importance of paying special attention to this issue.

The best classroom teachers constantly revise their lesson plans. As we complete the winter/spring under these different teaching circumstances, we can and will adjust so that we will be prepared for Part 2 of distance learning.

Jack Creeden, Ph.D.
Head of School
Whitby School

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