What Have We Learned During the Rapid Transition to Remote Learning?

Sounding Off May 20 / May 31, 2020

— Larry Ferlazzo —

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Larry Ferlazzo:
Welcome to Classroom Q&A. I’m Larry Ferlazzo. Most K-12 educators have been doing remote teaching for between three and six weeks by now. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all learned a whole lot in that short period of time. Today, we’ll talk with four educators as they reflect on exactly what they have learned and how it might inform them, moving forward.

I’m joined by Elvis Epps, Laurie Barber, Ashley McCall, and Claudia Leone, who have also, all contributed written commentaries to the classroom Q&A column, Education Week Teacher. Welcome, everybody. What is the one biggest lesson that you’ve learned over the past few weeks, Elvis?

Elvis Epps:
Wow. Transition, we can make it happen. If you have a plan and you’re very clear in your audience, your teacher trusts you, they’ll follow you, but if they don’t, you’re going to have some resistance. So I just know that just from over 35 years of leadership.

Larry Ferlazzo:
Good lesson to remember. Laurie?

Laurie Barber:
I would actually have to echo and say that the trust between students and teacher is also a huge, huge factor. We’re not with them in person anymore and so that mutual respect and trust has to be there in order for learning and growth and safety, also to happen.

Larry Ferlazzo:
Good. Ashley?

Ashley McCall:
I’d say the biggest lesson has been, less is more. I think that folks have been tempted to really recreate exactly what we were doing in the classroom, right when school’s closed. We quickly realize that, we’re not in the classroom and so what we’re doing as a part of remote learning, needs to look a little bit differently for students and families.

Larry Ferlazzo:
Yeah. I’m going to echo what Ashley said. Just thinking in terms of teachers, I’ve been sitting in on some teachers live sessions who are very good teachers, but just on that level, teaching online is very different from teaching in the classroom. Good teaching in the classroom is not necessarily the same thing as good teaching online. Claudia?

Claudia Leone:
Well, I learned that the hard way. I pride myself, I follow the SI method, differentiate, small group instruction, collaboration, that did not work with my online lessons. And it’s hard to admit that I feel like I wasted four weeks until it finally hit me in the face. And I had to say, “No, I need to now modify myself in the way I teach.”

Larry Ferlazzo:
Great lessons. Now, what was the biggest mistake you made and what would you do or have done differently? Claudia, you want to elaborate?

Claudia Leone:
The biggest mistake I made, I think, was relying on my students, to be honest, when we were in the classroom about, “Yes, I have Wifi. No, I don’t have Wifi. Yes, I have a device.” I think they were embarrassed to tell me the truth. Now that we’re teaching remotely, I’m discovering there’s one Chromebook for five siblings. They use data from mom’s phone. They go to an uncle’s house for Wifi. I wish I had asked parents earlier on.

Larry Ferlazzo:
And Laurie?

Laurie Barber:
To echo what Claudia said. I wish I would have communicated with parents about how their child is learning at home versus at school, earlier. So for example, I have kids that, in school present, as very independent learners and are on top of things and are doing things really well in the classroom, but that isn’t happening at home. And for the first couple of weeks, I thought, “Oh, they’ll get it. It’s just different, blah, blah, blah.” But it turns out the kids that I have to focus on and pay more attention to, are not the ones that I had to focus on and pay more attention to in class when we were all together. And I’m reaching out to different parents in different ways now.

Larry Ferlazzo:
Good points, Ashley?

Ashley McCall:
I would say the biggest lesson that I’ve learned, has to do with my schedule. So when remote learning officially started with Chicago public schools, during our first week and really the first day, was a nightmare. We, my team, it felt like we were on call for at least 12 hours, just supporting families with tech, on the phone constantly, working with live lessons. There was just too much going on and I really put a lot of pressure on myself to respond to every email, every text message, every attempt at communication as quickly as possible, because all teachers, we want to support our students, but I really wore myself out very quickly. And I realized that I needed to get back that balance, or semblance of balance, that I had while we were still in the classroom.

Larry Ferlazzo:
And Ashley, I think you’re probably the only teacher who made that mistake.

Ashley McCall:
Oh, definitely. Silly me.

Larry Ferlazzo:
Elvis?

Elvis Epps:
Yeah. From a logistical standpoint, it’s rolling out the devices. We had to build this plane while it was in flight, with no training. And within a week’s notice, close the school, inventory of all your laptops, computers, and then put a plan in place and the first day was a disaster. But we did a handout for about two weeks in a row, different days. So it started out a train wreck and people didn’t understand the social distancing, the six feet, the eight feet, the ten feet. And instead of one kid and a parent showing up, we had some families, eight, nine of them showed up just for one device.

They just came out to support, but so much for the six feet. So we had to reshuffle those plans and then instead of saying six feet, we made it 12 feet and it really went to six feet by the time they finished wandering. So it’s just rollout plan, but I use the word fluid constantly, but a lot of my teachers took the word fluid as solid, instead of understanding that things would change as we go. Grading policies, attendance policies, and getting homework and office hours, there’s a lot are moving parts. And they were treating everything as if it was the written policy. And we were just, like I said, building the plane as we were flying it. I had to reassure them daily, just to relax, let’s have some fun, do the best you can. You won’t be evaluated on any of this, let’s just be there for our students and make sure this transition is a smooth one for them.

Larry Ferlazzo:
Good. So now let’s go to, what has been the best thing you’ve done over the past six months? Claudia?

Claudia Leone:
The best thing that I’ve done is, really forge deeper relationships with the parents, not just, so and so’s not doing their work, but on a more personal level as a parent, as an immigrant, I’m from an immigrant family, that’s been really a positive note.

Larry Ferlazzo:
Great. Ashley?

Ashley McCall:
Now that we are deeper into remote learning, we finally have a consistent weekly schedule and that’s been better for everyone. The students appreciate it, the families appreciate knowing exactly when they can join in for live lessons. It has also allowed us to host a lot of the fun and creative spaces that we were doing in person. So just like we have a reading or a math block, we also have a virtual recess now. And we have virtual Thursday screenings. So really creating some semblance of normalcy and routine in the midst of the chaos, has really been great for everyone.

Larry Ferlazzo:
Great. When you’re talking about virtual recesses, I know in my live class, I deal with newcomers. I used to say, “Okay, if anybody has a question, just stay afterwards and we’ll answer it.” And the whole class would stay, even though only one or two would have questions and they just wanted to hang out and be connected. So after the class ends, we officially have 10 minutes that people can just hang out, do a little dance party maybe, just chat, because the students need that kind of connection. Laurie?

Laurie Barber:

That’s exactly what I was going to say actually, Larry. That the best thing that I feel like I’ve done throughout these last six weeks is, take the community that we worked so hard in building all year long and keep it together. The kids look forward to our live chats when we’re all together, they jump on early, they stay a little bit late. We don’t really get started with anything until 5 or 10 minutes in and it’s just been wonderful to sit back and hear them talk to each other. And, “Oh, hey, did you see this? What about this? Oh, I did this the other day.”

They’re even starting to share parts of their personal lives in little videos or pictures that they post for each other on Seesaw. Like, “Hey, look at what my cat did today.” That kind of thing. It’s just been wonderful to know that they still care greatly about all of us as a group because we’re going through something together. That’s so tremendous.

Larry Ferlazzo:
Great. And Elvis, what’s the best thing you’ve done?

Elvis Epps:
One of the best things I’ve done is to really take a step back. The two foundational questions that helped me as I moved forward, understanding the constraints that a teacher might face, will face or could face as we transition from brick and mortar to distance learning, and the same thing with students, what stressors, traumatic experience might a student experience? And that has changed my leadership approach and definitely my conversation that I’ve had with the teachers.

Some are a look for us when we look at the mental health piece and a lot of kids really don’t want to be at home. And so we had to help our teachers understand that piece, as we help our students saying, “If you need any help, let us know.” And then just drafting something to help our teachers understand key terms of the kids that say, “I don’t like being here.” Something to look for, something to listen out for. So the big thing is, I’ve grown as, what do you call that? I was already a caring principal, now in the area of the mental health, I’m more focused on social and emotional, of all my staff and students and parents. So that really helped out a lot.

Larry Ferlazzo:
Great. Well, I’d like to thank Elvis Epps, Laurie Barber, Ashley McCall, and Claudia Leone, for participating in the conversation today. And you can see their written commentaries at my Ed Week Teacher column. Thanks again, everybody.

Join us as we discuss the ideas in the article with educators around the global at the Second Wave Summit | 2020

 

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Editorial Leam
Editorial Team
This article was written by a collaboration of editors and columnists on the FLR editorial team or guest contributors.




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