Let’s Talk About Your Concerns About Reopening Schools

by | Aug 28, 2020 | Back to School and Classroom Management, Blended Learning and Virtual Learning, Equity and Excellence, School Reopening

School leaders, what’s keeping you up at night as we approach the 2020-2021 school year? Lately, we’ve seen so much debate about whether districts should reopen completely with in-person learning, move temporarily to a completely virtual model, or transition into a hybrid model. Let’s talk about some of the biggest areas of concern educators and families are grappling with.

How should schools minimize the threat of spreading COVID-19?

If you’re afraid of COVID-19 running rampant due to the reopening of schools, you’re not alone. A July poll from Reuters/Ipsos reports that only 26% of Americans believe it’s safe to reopen schools. School leaders need to consider how the virus’s spread has been managed in the regions surrounding their district to determine whether the fall semester should be conducted through:

  • Completely virtual classes,
  • In-person classes only,
  • Or a hybrid of both through blended learning.

Some school leaders may need to consider using a rotating schedule, in which students would be broken into at least two different cohort groups and take turns attending classes in person. This type of schedule could be helpful for implementing CDC social distancing guidelines for schools, and limit students’ and teachers’ contact with others. However, teacher groups such as the United Federation of Teachers Solidarity Caucus point out that rotating schedules would cause issues for working parents who would need to find and pay for childcare for the days their children are home.

Recently, we published an article with four evidence-based recommendations about how and when schools should reopen for in-person learning.

How can schools promote educational equity in the Fall 2020 semester?

Many school districts have been aware of “equity gaps” in their schools for quite some time, but the COVID-19 pandemic quickly widened those gaps as schools were unexpectedly, suddenly forced to shift completely over to distance learning models. In the news, we’ve seen examples of new equity challenges for underserved students, including:

  • Lack of broadband access at students’ homes — With libraries (and their computer labs) closed during the spring semester, some students have been forced to study in parking lots where they can access public WiFi.
  • Lack of proper supports for students with special needsMany families feel as if they’ve been completely abandoned by schools which can’t provide full-time, in-person care and education for their children. Parents are often untrained and ill-equipped to support the specific special educational needs their children have.
  • Disproportional negative impact for students of colorNAACP reports that high-poverty schools, at which over 75% of students are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch, Black children make up more than 44% of the students. In some areas, it is very difficult or even impossible to continue providing food for students in need when schools are closed.

Schools must consider how to serve all students with high-quality education, regardless of whether and how schools decide to reopen their physical classrooms.

The Mid Atlantic Equity Consortium offers a free Equity Audit your school and district can use to identify equity gaps, and develop a more culturally responsive instructional strategy. 

If we must host virtual classrooms this year, what instructional strategies should we use?

Teaching virtually requires new and different skill sets that teachers may never have needed to develop in the past. Teachers must be provided with frequent, consistent professional development to learn how to properly support and engage their students.

Recently, we published two articles which will help you plan your virtual instruction for the 2020-2021 school year:

  • What COVID-19 Taught Us About Student Engagement in Digital Learning — Digital learning is a new skill for both students and faculty, especially as teachers try to keep students engaged without in-person contact. In this article, you’ll learn the components of a truly engaging virtual classroom, and tips for preventing your students from feeling isolated in their learning.
  • How Do We Measure Student Mastery of Virtual Content? — Even in a regular classroom, teachers can struggle to measure how students are progressing through each learning unit and know how to intervene before students fall behind. In this article, we discuss how teachers can implement formative assessments in their distance learning instruction to track student achievement and support struggling students.

Individualized learning (also known as personalized learning) should be strongly considered by school leaders to ensure all students receive the support they need to excel in virtual classrooms. Some schools may need to consider breaking teachers into two groups this year:

  1. Presenters, who spend their time leading engaging virtual lessons through online platforms, and
  2. Tutors, who work with small groups and individually with students to help them understand and work through lesson plans.

The Achievement Network provides a few case studies to help your leaders understand how individualized learning could look at your school this year.

How can we provide high-quality professional development to help our teachers succeed in the Fall 2020 semester?

Regardless of the learning format your school chooses to use this fall, school will inevitably look different from previous years. Even if your school chooses to reopen all classrooms, classroom management will require creativity to keep students safely social distanced. Students with underlying health conditions may not be able to attend school in-person and need new supports.

The Center for Student Achievement Solutions offers customized, ongoing professional support solutions for your school or district which are planned through collaboration with your leadership. Schedule a free call with one of our experts to begin planning for the 2020-2021 school year.

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