Superhero Remote Learning

Context

Sadler Means YWLA is an all-girls middle school that was awarded the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools grant in 2019. In September, all students received a Chromebook with 10 GB of data so students could connect online regardless of access to wifi. As part of the grant, the campus was also assigned a dedicated Technology Design Coach. In March, Verizon increased the 10GB of data to 30GB in order to meet the increased need of students. The primary goal from the beginning of this collaboration has been a people-first approach centered on empathy, SEL, consistency, and quality.

“We can be heroes, for ever and ever. What d’you say?” – David Bowie

Principal: Christina Almaraz Ortiz

I was so excited and proud when I found out that Sadler Means YWLA had won the VILS grant. When we received the opportunity, our families and staff knew that it would change learning opportunities for our girls. The partnership with Verizon came in a timely manner, as we journey into distance learning, and I think it has really helped us to face this current challenge.

We spent a lot of time preparing for blended learning before we even received the Chromebooks. Our SEL team worked throughout the summer to make a plan for how we could integrate technology into our SEL and advisory programs. The teachers who worked on this were really able to create a plan that prepared teachers for best practices in a blended learning environment before and after our students received their Chromebooks. As a campus, we focused on schoolwide procedures and systems to help our students and staff be successful. Looking back, all this work to blend our SEL/advisory program really prepared us to tackle the remote learning challenge.

As a leader, I started working with my lead instructional coach and technology coach as soon as we realized that there was a possibility that our campus might be closed, as a safety measure to keep us healthy. We were able to think through how we could support this shift in instruction in a way that was student- and staff-friendly. Although we have had to adjust our plans as we receive guidance from the district, I think we were set up for success.

Lead Instructional Coach: Megan Fischer

This may seem counterintuitive, but in order to get our campus ready for remote learning, the first thing we had to do was stop talking about instruction. Our leadership team – especially Mrs. Ortiz – made it clear that our first priority was taking care of our people. For me as the instructional coach, this meant making sure that all of our teachers had both the skills and the confidence needed to tackle whatever would be asked of them in this new world of distance learning.

This really shaped how I structured our first remote PLC. Teachers were so anxious about what a transition to remote learning might mean, particularly in terms of technology tools and applications. Our technology design coach, Rita, and I agreed that we needed to address this first, and we devised an activity for our first PLC meeting that would allow us to collect data about the technology tools currently used by our staff and students. With this information, I’ve created a spreadsheet of common campus technology tools, as well as needs. From this, we’ve made recommendations about which tools teachers should use as they design learning opportunities for students; we feel it’s important to only use tools with which students and teachers are already familiar, and collecting this information has helped us effectively communicate this expectation. Moving forward, this information will also help us create specific professional learning and coaching to meet teacher needs. 

Aside from setting PLC agendas and supporting teachers, my primary role in this transition was to create our schedule for online learning. Given the short time frame I had for creating it, as well as the stressful and volatile nature of our present circumstances, I chose to prioritize three qualities in designing our schedule: flexibility, clarity, and fun. 

Learning at home is not like learning at school. Students likely have an abundance of distractions at home: they could be caring for younger siblings; multiple children in the home may be vying for devices; if parents are also working from home, there are additional strains on time, structure, even WiFi. We can’t know what a child’s environment or access is like, and so it’s unfair to have rigid expectations for it. That’s why our schedule is framed as a suggestion, and there is messaging within the schedule itself as well as the accompanying videos that emphasizes to students that it’s okay to not follow it. We want students to have access and to keep learning, of course, but we also need to let them know that this situation is extraordinary, and it’s okay not to be perfect. 

Without a teacher in the room to explain and facilitate this suggested schedule, I also felt it was important that the language and organization of it was straightforward and clear. This is why, in addition to the weekly schedule, I also created a suggested daily schedule. In it, I tried to communicate exactly what a student could be doing within each time frame. I also felt it was important to let kids know that they should take time to walk away from their screens, stretch, walk, eat a snack – whatever they need to do to stay healthy and focused. To further support this, Rita created really fantastic videos for students, explaining both the schedule itself and how to manage their classes in BLEND so that they’re organized and easy to use. 

This may seem like a silly thing to include, but I spent a lot of time trying to think of a way to make this all look fun. I’m firmly in the camp that school should be fun anyway – for students and teachers – but in our current situation, I believe that fun is essential. This is an unprecedented time; students have lost their daily structure, their time with friends, their clubs and sports and dances. They are stressed out and scared, just like the rest of us. That’s why the schedule is so graphically driven and brightly colored, and why Rita used her best superhero movie voice in her videos; we need to make our students smile, laugh, and feel like things are going to be okay. 

P.S. You’ll notice that the teacher-facing version of all this is set up exactly the same. And that’s because teachers need and deserve the same flexibility, clarity, and fun in all of this. 

Technology Design Coach: Rita Fennelly-Atkinson

As a technology design coach, my primary challenge was trying to figure out how to best support an entire campus transitioning to remote learning very quickly. Luckily, I had been able to forge a strong relationship with the campus administration, instructional coaches, and staff. As a campus, we had collectively worked to introduce blended learning in an intentional and systematic way. The administrators and lead coach did a really good job of modeling best practices and they used BLEND for PLCs, faculty meetings, for campus-wide challenges in the Campus Community Course, and so many other things. Because they led by example, our staff and students already had an understanding of BLEND and how to use it.

As a technology design coach, my primary challenge was trying to figure out how to best support an entire campus transitioning to remote learning very quickly. Luckily, I had been able to forge a strong relationship with the campus administration, instructional coaches, and staff. As a campus, we had collectively worked to introduce blended learning in an intentional and systematic way. The administrators and lead coach did a really good job of modeling best practices and they used BLEND for PLCs, faculty meetings, for campus-wide challenges in the Campus Community Course, and so many other things. Because they led by example, our staff and students already had an understanding of BLEND and how to use it.

While transitioning to remote learning was still not easy, activating an entire campus to teach in a way that had never been done before was still challenging. Luckily, we already had systems in place for students and staff that could easily be pivoted to this new situation. My primary role was to consult with administration, coaches, and staff on how to leverage the existing tech and technological skills on the campus. The activity that Megan mentioned above was instrumental in helping us identify opportunities and prioritize needs. Due to time limitations, I had created a Learning in the Loo youtube series that has since been instrumental. It provides a really easy way to offer just-in-time professional learning of discrete tasks that only take a few minutes. Teachers get a kick out of it because it is fun. In addition, I created an optional simple one-page weekly lesson BLEND template to support teachers in designing their lessons. Teachers are already adapting it in so many creative ways!

While I focused on the key technical and distance learning considerations, Megan was instrumental in taking the district guidance and transforming it into a schedule that was doable for everyone. My favorite part is that Megan really had a student-centered approach. She did a great job of taking something that might be boring to kids and made it fun. We tried to create space for teachers to complete their professional learning, so I took the schedule and made some really fun videos in English and Spanish to support kids in navigating this new method of learning. 

The period right after spring break was great, because staff was given the opportunity to engage in meaningful learning opportunities, adjust to the new landscape, and focus on connecting with students. The most important lesson is that it really did take a village. Every step of this journey has been a collaboration with the entire staff, and it will be successful because it is student-centered.

Creating a Distance Learning Schedule with Supports

While the schedule went through multiple drafts, the primary considerations were balancing the district guidelines against setting time aside for teachers to be able to complete all the requirements. The final-ish (as these may change with continued district guidance) version focused on a student- and teacher-centered version of the schedule.

In an effort to support this transition, the following student videos were created:

In an effort to support this transition, the following resources were created for staff:

  • A BLEND Lesson Template Page that can be found in the Commons by searching for “Sadler Means YWLA – Week of DATE: Lesson Name”
  • Just-in-time videos through Learning in the Loo

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