Planning Amidst Change “Aim small, shoot small,” is an old saying that many of us who occasionally enjoy a round of target practice embrace. But in our case, planning small for how to serve kids during this pandemic, simply was not going to work long-term. Our district Warren County is a rural county in Tennessee with a population of approximately 41,000 people. The entire district is considered economically disadvantaged and is served via the Community Eligibility Provision under the direction of the USDA.
In an effort to reconnect with students to truly understand their experience with virtual learning and what they will need from their teachers going forward in an educational landscape irrevocably impacted by this year’s events, we decided to embark upon a two-week long empathy interview tour with students themselves. We searched high and low - from reaching out to former students through email, connecting with former colleagues still in the classroom, to scouring Instagram and LinkedIn accounts. Not only did this allow for a mind-blowing retrospective of my twenty years in the classroom - what the students shared in an honest, open platform enlightened us to their relationship with school and opened our eyes to how kids are actually interfacing with the technology that has functioned, and will likely continue to function, as a central vehicle for instruction.
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Regardless of where students are physically learning this school year, educators must orient their instruction towards distance learning. An orientation towards distance learning allows for continuity of meaningful learning experiences despite changing circumstances or disruptions to the school calendar, whether it be an isolated power outage or a global pandemic. It is important to note that highly-effective distance learning doesn’t just happen with the flip of a switch. It requires thoughtful, intentional design decisions fueled by a desire to empower students to drive their own learning. Ultimately, distance learning requires a student-centered approach to ensure more impactful and equitable learning outcomes for all students.
Through most of the spring and summer, we at Education Elements have intensely focused on helping school districts prepare for returning to school. As we’ve gotten closer to the start of school, and school leaders return to prepare their campuses, one of the most common questions we get is how to think about instructional staff assignments when some students will be learning remotely and some will be onsite. To explore this topic further, we convened a group of school and district leaders in Texas to participate in a design sprint. Here’s what we learned:
Here we are, looking down the barrel of another stretch of at-home learning. We always knew that it was likely not “if” but “when” we’d be back here, but the fact that many districts are announcing remote learning from day one has caught us all by surprise. Worn down from an already long stretch of stay-at-home learning, it’s understandable for parents to feel overwhelmed or daunted by the prospect.
The first time I tried to cook a meal in my own place was a disaster. Within 10 minutes, my kitchen was a disaster. Within an hour, my house smelled charred, and I had abandoned all efforts to cook myself dinner. I called my mom frustrated: what went wrong? Until that moment, I failed to realize the level of strategic thinking my mother uses every time she cooks. Her successful dishes require intentional preparation, planning, and organizing to achieve the outcome of a satisfying dish. The art of mise en place to smoothly roll out a meal was utterly lost on me. It wasn't until I had this experience, firsthand, that I realized that neglecting to read the whole recipe and then adequately preparing before I cooked results in disaster. Once that pan gets hot there isn't time to dice more onions or cut up the chicken breast. You need to know the next step and be ready ahead of time to add the ingredients quickly. It sounds silly, but no one had explicitly said this out loud to me, and I didn't make the connection on my own.