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March 31, 2020

Distance Learning in the Time of Coronavirus

“At the end of the day, we can all walk away from content and be ok,

not as strong as we might be, but we will be ok.

But, our humanitarian purpose is to establish strong connections

with our students and our families in a distance learning model.”

-Chris Bussmann, principal, Levi P. Dodge Middle School


Distance Learning was the topic of discussion when I turned on the radio and heard accomplished interviewer Angela Davis questioning two teachers and a principal about the ways distance learning would be accomplished in their schools. Davis’ guests included:

  • Chris Bussmann, a middle school principal
  • Jasmine Lane, a high school English teacher
  • Mark Westpfahl, a middle school American history teacher

Each of the guests responded to questions about how to accomplish the shift to distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Questions ranged from“How are teachers preparing for distance learning?”to“What if students don’t have an iPad?”

The guest panel rose to the occasion, providing ideas for how we can adjust to this new way of doing school.

What have teachers done to prepare for distance learning?

Teachers are…

  • Ensuring all students continue to have equal access to learning and materials.
  • Doing their best to plan when the length of time is unpredictable.
  • Communicating with other teachers around the nation to see what is working for them.
  • Refreshing their knowledge of online tools and exploring new ideas.
  • Continuing to use the tech tools for which they are familiar.
  • Learning about federal and state statutes for video-conferencing.
  • Keeping an open mind about teaching and learning.
  • Practicing patience, flexibility, forgiveness.

What are some ways teachers, students, and parents can ease the transition to distance learning?

  • Start out slowly and allow time to adjust.
  • Remember that when things are new, they can be challenging.
  • Many children are skilled at technology, use students’ tech knowledge as a resource.
  • Acknowledge that these new school days are different.
  • Create schedules and structures to help students focus.
  • Check in with one another using video-conferencing, phone, or email.

What if students don’t have access to an iPad, Chromebook or laptop?

  • Teachers can create assignments that can be completed using a smartphone or paper and pencil.
  • Mobilize staff to deliver devices to students.
  • Get creative! One school district created paper packets of materials and is delivering them using school bus routes. Parents or students go to the bus stop to pick them up.

What adjustments will be made to curriculum, grading and attendance?

  • As teachers transition to teaching online, they understand the importance of creating assignments with straightforward, easy-to-follow, directions.
  • Grading will be structured in new and innovative ways.
  • Students’ curriculum will continue to be at grade level.
  • Many Learning Management Systems like Google Classroom or Schoology can be used for chats, discussions, and collaboration.
  • Attendance can be accomplished through one-to-one check ins or through built in LMS attendance tools.
  • For younger students: Consider Seesaw and Google Hangouts Meet
  • For older students: Consider Schoology, Google Classroom, and video-conferencing platforms: Zoom and Skype.

Other insights:

  • Provide students with a break from the news through literature, virtual field trips, virtual art, virtual board games, and play.
  • Living through times of uncertainty can cause trauma.
  • Students experiencing food insecurity, financial loss, illness, etc. must be addressed, and it is imperative that we pay close attention to the social-emotional needs of every child.
  • Connection over content.

Teachers, students, and parents, let’s take these next weeks one day at a time. As we do so, remember to practice patience, flexibility and forgiveness, and to keep the words of principal Chris Bussmann in mind, to focus on our humanitarian purpose, connection.

To listen to the full interview, click here.

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