Based on conversations with teachers across the country, many schools/districts were not prepared for remote learning. No plan was in place and it took weeks, or even a month in some cases, to have a plan. The most troubling thing about this was that teachers were thrown into the meat grinder of remote learning with little to now professional development or support along the way. This cannot happen again. The age old adage, "Prepare for the worst and hope for the best" is what schools need to be thinking about. Based on my work with my school and with other teachers, here are some thoughts on supporting educators in Fall 2020.
Guest Speaker PD - If you are not sure where to start, looking for outside help is a good idea. There are many wonderful educators out there that have been teaching during the pandemic and/or have been supporting schools through this unprecedented time. These educators can help support staff through training or even the overall structure of your remote learning format. Not every person can do this and I'm sure there are lots of big companies that will claim to do this, but you really should be looking to educators that are doing with students now and/or already working with teachers who are in the classroom. I've been luck to work with great schools and districts over the years to support Project Based Learning, Design Thinking, and other edtech initiatives. Below are just a few of the educators I know that can help schools with so many issues they are going to face in the Fall. They are amazing and any school would be better by having them talk to their staff.
There are so many more awesome people I could point to, so please reach out if you need specific recommendations.
Book Study PD - Maybe a book study for the school or district could help prepare teachers for the shift and be less stressful than jammed packed PD before school starts. There are many books out there on a wide variety of topics that can support this. Do not just buy the book that seems popular in the moment. Do some research, reach out to authors, and ask questions. Before buying a bunch of books on Amazon, reach out to the publishers. Some publishing companies, like the one I publish under (Blend Education), offer discounts on bulk purchases. Here are a few books I would recommend, other than my own of course ;-)
Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning - John Spencer and AJ Juliani
Digital and Media Literacy in the Age of the Internet: Practical Classroom Applications - Mary Beth Hertz
Invent to Learn - Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager
The Google Infused Classroom - Tanya Avrith and Holly Clark
There are many great books out there, but there are also so very bad books out there. Reach out to your social media network to find the right book for you and your staff.
In-House PD - This type of PD is often overlooked in districts. There are so many great things happening in classrooms in your own buildings that is crazy not to reach out to them to share what has been working in their classrooms. This could be done through a virtual Edcamp model. Have teachers sign up with what they want to share and post those sessions with links to the video conference room in a shared Google Doc. Let teachers get together and share. Consider inviting some out of district educators to join your Edcamp to increase the diversity of voices.
Instructional Coaches - This one is probably the toughest of them all, but it might be the most important. Having someone from your district that is dedicated to the instructional practices is crucial if teachers are going to be asked to make major pedagogical shifts. This might mean shifting an amazing teacher out of their classroom to support others. Maybe finding ways to compensate teachers who use their free time to support your staff. There are going to be teachers that are going to need support lesson planning in this new phase of education. If many teachers do choose early retirement, then there will be many new teachers that will need support. It will be tough to find the funds for this, but it could help make many teachers more successful in the long term.
The last bit of advice I have is to make sure you are not trying to make school happen online. There needs to be a fundamental shift in what learning looks like for students and for teachers. There needs to be an increased focus in helping students become independent learners. Worksheets need to vanish and interactive lessons and projects need to replace them. A new emphasis on creation over consumption needs to happen. Now is the time to be innovative in your approach to instruction. I can't think of a better time than now.
If you have any questions or would like help in supporting your school or district, you can reach me at Nicholas.Provenzano@TheNerdyTeacher.com.