Covid-19 Strikes First 

Early in March, 2020, the conversation around the Novel Coronavirus started to gain momentum as it spread, but concerns remain limited. Then, like a wave crashing without warning, COVID-19 hijacked our communities and the educational system with it, changing how we think about schooling for young people into the far future. No one predicted that the virus would consume us and dictate how we were going to live or fundamentally alter education. At first strike, talks were about finding temporary solutions, leading us to a time now when we must consider the nature of this vast and very long-term problem. 

At the time it hit, many of us were gearing up to head to California and learn at ASCD’s Empower20 conference, and the next moment, the unthinkable occurred–schools across the U.S. and the world were shutting down. Suddenly, we were communicating to families about schools being closed for two weeks, possibly cancelling Spring Break, and how we would make the shift to remote learning. As we now know, the rapid spread of the virus, and the serious nature of its health concerns, resulted in nothing less than a scramble to figure out everything from meal programs to offering instruction online. Since then, schools around the country have been working around the clock to respond to this ever-changing pandemic. 

The good news is that we’ve learned a ton in the past 8 months. It’s been a pressure-cooker for learning, growth, and transformation. The takeaways are endless–both personal and professional–but we’ve curated a number of them so that we can all benefit as teachers and leaders as we press forward. The concept of “going back to the way things were” is gone. The code to our success in schools is not cracked by what we used to do but by creating something new that we can live with for the foreseeable future. Our hope is that each of the 5 Key Takeaways in this post will help you to do that very thing. 

Hope In Sight

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. ~ Desmond Tutu

It wasn’t just that we didn’t anticipate ending the school year remotely, we didn’t predict that we would begin the 2020-2021 school year in a modified instructional setting with words like remote and hybrid and synchronous and asynchronous becoming everyday eduspeak. Most of us held out hope that the news reports would indicate that the virus was weakening or a vaccine would soon be discovered. Our longing to offer students in-person instruction and to engage them in all of the wonderful advantages of the brick-and-mortar classroom increased day-by-day, despite the ever-looming awareness that COVID-19 was redefining how we would educate our students and live safely within our communities. 

Fast forward several months later and although we’ve adjusted to many aspects of “normal” life, it’s hard to quantify the human cost of the virus. It’s an ongoing concern for educators who know that despite all of our efforts to engage students and connect with them, virtually or behind masks, this virus has taken an educational, emotional, and psychological toll on all of us. Fundamental activities associated with schools were dropped from calendars completely or significantly altered to respond to social distancing. Proms were postponed, then cancelled, graduations went virtual, and moving-up grade-level celebrations resorted to Zoom. Quarantining and face coverings are new norms of our daily lives.

That said, hope is the key to a successful future, living with or without this pandemic or into the next. Hope is an attitude. It’s a skill. As leaders, we must strive to be more hopeful and to spread hope for others. We’ve learned to lead in new ways, through hope and grace, by communicating better, by thinking with new methods, and by pivoting in a moment’s notice. It’s our ability to learn and grow through tough times that defines who we are on the other end. Regardless of the pandemic, or even in the use of it to become a stronger leader, the need for leaders is clear and those who have stepped up to lead better and grow faster are out in front. 

You can’t predict pandemics or always anticipate major crises. However, you can develop critical skills–like adaptability, communication, self-control, divergent thinking, grace, and even hope–that will help you to lead better and grow faster when put in unpredictable circumstances.

Surveying the Situation

The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection. ~ Thomas Pain

Once the reality set in that social distancing was a new fundamental expectation, educators moved forward to plan effectively. One way to evaluate the educational situation created by COVID-19 is through a simple and straightforward two-by-two matrix, developed by Paul Bolton. Many lessons were learning in the Spring, the goal is to identify them and use the new found knowledge to plan ahead.

Source: Paul Bolton of Johns Hopkins University

This tool guides us to evaluate and review certain issues and ideas through four quadrants. Each quadrant requires us to analyze situations and outcomes to fully gain a thorough understanding of what occurred, aiding us in our ability to make the most informed decision possible as we move forward. Quadrants A and C require us to reflect on what we anticipated, both positive and negative; Quadrants B and D require us to think about what we did not anticipate, also through a positive and negative lens. 

Teachers and school leaders can use the matrix to evaluate each of the instructional models that we’ve used since March, giving us a clearer picture of what’s working and what needs to be improved for the next round of modifications. 

Allocate and schedule specific time to evaluate situations through the Bolton Matrix to understand the impact of various issues and outcomes. Reflecting on what we anticipated, for better or worse, along with what we didn’t see coming, helps to make clearer decisions for the future.

Impact on Instruction

In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy. ~ J. Paul Getty

One thing that is certain through this pandemic is that instruction has changed and will continue to do so. In a recent Ed Week article, the author identified the need for teachers to offer “targeted support” for students and model “explicit instruction” by creating avenues for independent learning through the use of videos. The argument is that these are anticipated positive effects that occurred due to the crisis, which will have a lasting impact on lesson delivery, Quadrant A. Our own experiences revealed several challenges and benefits in this domain as well. 

The monumental task of moving beyond the initial focus regarding access to technology and internet connectivity to providing sophisticated online lesson delivery has given us much upon which to reflect. Despite many schools using learning management systems prior to the outbreak, these platforms were not necessarily designed to be used as full-blown cyber schools. Adjustments were made overnight. Systems that were used to house assignments were altered to offer fully remote instruction. The speed of our efforts to provide blended learning experiences for students were drastically escalated.

Teachers across the country have learned to embrace new online models for learning and have even created virtual classrooms. Schools worked tirelessly to discover how online options can be viable for lesson delivery. Conversations shifted from how to get learning online to what does virtual school look like from home. Additionally, as social distancing restrictions became clearer for schools and we received news that we could open our doors in some capacity, another question was raised, how do we offer both in-person instruction and remote learning simultaneously? 

Despite federal and state guidance, not every household was in favor of the same model of instruction. Schools adjusted to reconcile the very real fears that families and communities faced. These issues continue and concerns range from students receiving a quality education to social and emotional support to contracting the virus at school. But one thing is true for educators, as much as we’ve learned to adapt to the online and hybrid versions of school, we need to focus on what works and get better at a simple set of critical strategies, methods, and platforms. The tools are infinite but our capacity for using them is limited by our expertise. Everyone is a brand new teacher this year, and that requires us to be humble learners and to focus on a set of best practices. 

Of course there are a host of online tools to use, but inundating ourselves can create tech-overwhelm. The key is to pick 3-5 tools to get good at using before moving on. Below is our list of Powerful Online Learning Tools and Powerful Virtual Formatives that we’ve curated as a place to start. 

Powerful Online Learning Tools

  • Screencasts
  • Padlet
    • Padlet is amazing. Essentially a digital canvas that can be used very creatively in the classroom. 
  • Flipgrid
    • Flipgrid, although similar to a screencast, effectively allows for digital conversations. 
  • Seesaw
    • Seesaw is a powerful way for students to demonstrate their learning.

Powerful Virtual Formatives

  • 3-2-1
    • Students post 3 new things they learned, 2 things they still have questions about, and 1 aspect of the lesson that helped them the most. 
  • I used to think, but now I know…
    • Students write one sentence about the content–what they thought at the beginning of the lesson and what they learned by the end of it.
  • Muddiest Point
    • Students have to identify one thing that is a little unclear from what was learned to date or something that they fully understand but didn’t before.
Identify 3-5 key strategies or tools to be learned by all staff. Avoid tech-overwhelm and settle on a simple list of key tools and methods that will enable teachers to achieve their goals.

Social Interactions 

Human beings are social creatures. We are social not just in the trivial sense that we like company, and not just in the obvious sense that we each depend on others. We are social in a more elemental way: simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people. ~ Atul Gawande 

Our current learning environments, whether in-person or remote or a blend of the two, have unveiled another major issue with which administrators and teachers continue to wrestle–providing meaningful engagement for all students with the ability to connect, communicate, and collaborate with one another. With the goal of offering rigorous learning opportunities for each and every child, schools have always worked creatively to build networks of support and develop activities that strive to face the needs of all learners. We’ve come so far in the ways that we prompt students to think and respond, using their network and collaborative structures inside and outside of the classroom. COVID-19 seemingly swept away our ability to connect kids to one another, but we moved past that quickly to get them together in new and improved ways, often at a distance but still learning with and from each other. 

When done well, our new blended approach to learning has at its core the essence of our fundamental human need to connect with other people. Using virtual break-out groups, the continuous use of low-stakes formative assessments, and deliberately orchestrated time during a session to build the classroom community, teachers are creatively finding ways to support collaboration online and in-person. The chart below illustrates a social interaction structure specifically used to help students forge relationships, especially when some of them are online (either all at once together or spread between the classroom and their homes). 

Day of the WeekEngagement ActivityAdditional Notes
MondayWeekend HighlightsStudents share out one highlight from the weekend and build relationships with other students.
TuesdayTerrific TuesdayStudents have to identify one thing they would love to happen to have a Terrific Tuesday!
WednesdayWednesday WowOne thing that they learned so far that “wowed” them.
ThursdayThankful ThursdayDone in lighting round fashion not to take up too much instructional time, students identify one thing they are thankful for.
FridayFavorite Part of the WeekStudents identify one thing that they really enjoyed this week. This does not have to be related to school but can be done as a formative assessment as well. 
Just because we’re distanced, doesn’t mean that we don’t need to interact with one another. Communication and collaboration are still the most important aspects of learning. Humans are social by nature so the need for interactions is even greater when we’re not together very often. 

Moving Forward By Learning and Growing

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. ~ Walt Disney

One last takeaway is that leaders should never think in the temporary. Every temporary–”we’ll do this until we can return”–strategy has only required an eventual rebuild. Let’s just move forward by learning and growing, building what the future of schools should and can be (and maybe should have been anyway). Although this crisis has created some limitations for how students engage as learners presently, it has the potential to bring about unforeseen opportunities for how we learn to do schooling differently in the future. 

Educators have learned so much so fast during these times that the educational system has already evolved immensely and only stands to be better during each iteration. The focus for leaders should be on growth and the leaps and bounds that can be made with, for the most part, a blank canvas. It’s important to promote teachers and the supports they need, including professional experiences like an EdCamp, Google Certifications, and other wonderful learning opportunities. Technology, the internet, and other digital skills all became critical for teaching and learning, and moving forward we will all have new techniques and faster ways to acquire them as long as we explicitly acknowledge what we’ve learned and how we’ve grown. 

Capitalize on unprecedented growth experiences. Don’t leave learning to chance. Make sure that everyone is growing in ways that support the professional and praise the people around you for taking risks and trying new things. 

We hope that these 5 Key Takeaways from what we’ve learned and practiced during COVID-19 will help you to lead better and grow faster. These unsettling times are less than ideal, but they have provided new ground for educators to tread upon and a future for students that has potential to transform the way we think about school forever. 

Stay tuned for more nuggets of wisdom, podcasts, books to read, reflection sessions, and the best resources for leading better and growing faster in schools. Follow us at theschoolhouse302.com to join thousands of leaders who get our content each month. Send this to a friend. 

As always, let us know what you think of this with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCould. And, again, if you want one simple model for leading better and growing faster per month, follow this blog by entering your email at the top right of the screen.

TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple by maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

Joe & T.J.

Claim Your FREE Copy to Our Praise Practice- Practical Praise Giving Tips for Principals

Claim Your FREE Copy to Our Praise Practice- Practical Praise Giving Tips for Principals

Learn how you can give practical praise each day as you lead your school to develop a better and more positive culture through this complimentary eBook we use in our workshops to help principals all over the nation and subscribe for more resources like this one delivered to your inbox. 

Congratulations on claiming your copy - you may download it here: https://theschoolhouse302.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Technical-Tip-Praise-Practice-A-Model-for-Specific-Praise.pdf

%d bloggers like this: