Emerging times sometimes require immediate core changes. Our recent pandemic crisis impacted districts and schools all over the world. Schools needed to adopt remote learning approaches to effectively support their students and staff who needed to remain at home. School systems needed to respond to the diverse needs of students using new tools and practices, while securing their safety and wellbeing.
Create a safe learning environment
Remote learning has been adopted by most districts to prevent interrupting the learning process. However, this can only be accomplished if students are in a safe and quiet environment that enables them to continue studying and developing their skills. In a classroom, the teacher is responsible for creating the circumstances that allow students to learn effectively. On the other hand, when they are at home, teachers have very limited control over students’ surroundings. Parents might be stressed while facing several challenges caused by this uncertain pandemic situation. They might unwittingly transfer this anxiety to their children. Therefore, there might be an urgent need for counselors who will be able to provide parents, teachers and students with virtual psychological support and help them create and maintain an effective learning environment.
Important attention should also be paid to the role of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), especially in preschool and elementary school. As children are spending more time at home, missing their friends and the routine and safety of the school environment, the need for SEL is continuously growing. Students also need to feel connected in a community, beyond their families, establishing positive relationships and making responsible decisions. SEL informed practices are the key to successful student academic performance. Focusing on their emotional welfare influences their success. Improving and maintaining children’s emotional health is now more important than ever before.
Extend the use of technology
Technology plays an essential role in remote learning. Technologically-advanced systems are able to facilitate synchronous and asynchronous online learning. Therefore, many schools have been working to deliver technology devices (laptops or tablets) to their students. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), for example, are providing students PreK-12 with Chromebooks. Some districts are encouraging parents to sign up for free or low-cost internet service provided through cable companies or other providers, while others are distributing hot spots to families or creating school bus hotspots using Wi-Fi routers. Unfortunately, this access is spotty and not all children are “connected” via broadband and with appropriate technology.
Apart from the technological devices and access to the internet, school systems need the suitable software that allows them to continue and develop their learning processes remotely. Educational platforms that provide students with instructional material personalized to their learning needs and especially to their IEP goals are critically important. Teachers need tools that combine the creation and monitoring of students’ daily learning schedules with the right educational resources that can be effectively used from home.
Appropriate learning resources
Identifying the right learning resources that allow a seamless transition to remote classes, might be challenging for many teachers. This is especially true for teachers that are not familiar with remote teaching practices but were forced to adapt in a matter of days. All teachers could benefit from having centrally provided content for their students. An example of this strategy is the Johns Hopkins school, which provides teachers with specific educational material and resources. Many districts allow teachers to use the instructional material of their choice. However, these should be focused on students’ IEP goals and also be aligned with the state’s appropriate grade level standards. Remote learning requires more engaging resources that attract students attention and are easy to use at home with the parents. The best would require limited virtual instruction from teachers, allowing the teacher time to interact with students instead of developing and creating materials. (Some of those resources that can be personalized to meet each student’s needs are listed at the end of the article).
Evaluating academic performance
Even if learning material is available, it is still difficult for teachers to keep track of students’ academic progress remotely. Previously, teachers were able to assess students’ knowledge in the classroom by asking them questions and doing exercises together while physically present. But when they are not in the same place, how can they be sure that their students are in a good pace and will be able to reach their learning goals? How can teachers know that they successfully used the learning resources they provided for them and improved their skills?
After setting specific learning objectives, educational platforms that monitor students’ performance and provide individualized reports to educators and parents would solve this issue. Teachers would know what was mastered and set the next goal or objective to scaffold the continuous learning. Technology offers this potential and can be significantly useful in this process. Schools and districts can benefit from technological tools that continually record students’ learning progress and notify educators, allowing them to adjust and create effective interventions. In this way, they will be able to meet each student’s learning needs and help them reach their full potential, even when they are not physically in the same place.