Plan A

At the beginning of the pandemic in the US, I wrote a post suggesting that we seize the opportunity of what appeared to be additional time that educators had, given schools were closing and students were staying home.  Shortly thereafter, however, it became clear extra time was not necessarily available, as most educators, administrators and school staff began putting their energy toward ensuring that some form of instruction continued.  And they’ve accomplished a lot since.

  • Parents and families are arguably more connected to the process of learning than ever before in our recent history. 
  • Millions of parents and educators have caught up to their students and millenial peers in terms of technology skills. Well, we’re getting there. 
  • Everyone has started to recognize the importance of social-emotional learning, mental health and self-care. 
  • The intentionality of communicating and connecting in different ways has actually brought students, educators and families closer than we’ve ever been, despite being distanced.

A big challenge is that the variables surrounding the situation we are in seem to change every day.  Right now, schools everywhere are planning unique ways to celebrate graduation and at the same time imagining the possibility that there may not be school sports in the fall.  It’s one thing to consider U of M not playing “the” Ohio State, but the institution of school sports, or band, or debate, and so on is so ingrained in our paradigm about the American school experience that a lot of people just cannot wrap their minds around it.

I haven’t touched on the possibility that state legislatures may decide to rake back some of the funding for this year based on the misinformed belief that schools are spending less.  If anything, they are spending more as they provide unreimbursed school meals, compensate staff for the extra time needed to individually reach every student and invest in mobile hotspots and other technologies for students and staff.

All of this and more has happened in just two months. But now, instead of thinking about what to do with what we originally thought of as “extra time,” we need to pay attention that time is running out.  

As summer approaches, we are all optimistic that the pandemic will soon be behind us.  However, we can’t bank on it.  If school opens on time, there will undoubtedly be guidelines about social distancing, limiting the size of groups, cleaning requirements, and so on.   Is it possible to schedule students in a similar way as post secondary institutions, in which only some students attend each day? And what will happen if a COVID-19 case arises in a school? Will the expected response be to shut down for two weeks?

One superintendent I spoke with indicated that his “Plan A” was to prepare to start the year providing a virtual learning environment.  “Plan B” would be the traditional face-to-face environment.  A wise idea, preparing for the worst and being pleased if it is not necessary.  I think we should all go with that, because the notion that learning (or working) has to be face-to-face is outdated, if even possible, in the near future.

What is your “Plan A?”  If I were a principal or superintendent, I would ask every teacher to begin working now to set up a virtual classroom and to digitize their content. Of course because broadband access is not ubiquitous, the universally-designed virtual content will also need to be transposed into a format that can be delivered with or without access to the internet.   This will take a lot of time and resources.  Aside from the technologies needed, schools may need to compensate educators for additional contract days to get it all done in the next 100 days.

If I sound negative, it is certainly not my intention.  Instead, I am trying to impress upon everyone who has a stake in our public education system that this is serious and we are running out of time.

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