New Podcast: Cloud School

Episode 14 Cloud School

Click to Listen to Episode 14: Cloud School

In this episode, I attempt to give you peek at what remote home learning is like for students across the globe right now as schools close in-person learning. I interview my nieces, a 2nd grader, 6th grader, and sophomore about what they are experiencing.

I share sounds between administrators, teachers, and students from Cloud School. This provides listeners with a sneak peek into how teachers in Estes Park School District have continued to provide rich learning opportunities for students.

Remote learning from home has been difficult for parents, students, and teachers.  In our teacher preparation programs we didn’t receive any formal training on how to be online teachers, so this is all new and we are learning as we go.  There have been a lot of great blog posts and educational articles published with tips for teachers on what to do and what not to do. Based on feedback I have received from administrators, teachers, instructional coaches, and parents about their experiences so far, I offer the following tips. They all start with the letter ‘L’ and there are 5.

Pictures from Podcast interview with Elsa, Evie, and Cecilia

The 5 L’s

Tip 1: Let Go

Let go of content and curriculum. Assign way less than you think you should.  We already struggle to teach all the standards we need to, and now we are facing a Global Pandemic. You won’t teach everything and students won’t learn everything you were planning between now and May 22, we have to reach a level of acceptance with this.  

Students are going to take much longer to complete any task due to tech issues, added time for reading everything, toggling back and forth between resources, and stress. Not to mention the challenge of having to learn mostly on their own, which they haven’t had to do before.  They’re going to be learning how to schedule and manage their time, and they’ll be overwhelmed. We have to take into account that a lot of kids have other responsibilities when they’re at home like other classwork, cooking meals, helping with siblings, taking care of the pets, etc.  It’s not the same as having them in our classrooms for an allotted amount of time. 

Let go of grading too.  How can we find equity in grading when every student’s access to online learning, adequate learning space, adult help, and many other variables are vastly different.  We strive for equitable grades that are a result of students’ understanding rather than a result of the environment students live in. Our current reality is that the environment students live in and the situation in which they find themselves has a profound impact on their ability to access learning right now.  We just have to reach a level of acceptance that we can do our best, but we cannot provide equity for our students right now.  

I’m not saying don’t give the students and their parents feedback on their participation, engagement, and learning. Absolutely do that!  The more feedback the better! I’m just talking about letting go of typical grading practices for ranking, rating, and sorting students. 

So take a deep breath, and let it all go.

Tip 2: Learning Target 

Tip two is Learning Targets. Pick just a few of them and make them really clear. We have been focusing on refining our learning targets all year, so now is a great time to work on this.  You are going to have to let go of many of your learning targets, and that is OK.  

Use two things to determine what your learning targets would be. 

First, what standards are the most important for preparing students for the next grade level and the rest of their lives?  We really have to be selective here, so what is the most important? Second, what standards will be best taught online? This should help you narrow it down.  Don’t try to teach more learning targets than you can count on 5 fingers between now and May 22.

I’ll make a suggestion here to really focus on teaching students to acquire Global Outcomes for the remainder of the school year.  These are 7 skills that our entire community believes are the most essential in preparing students for a successful future no matter what the path it is that they choose.  Take this time to focus on teaching communication and collaboration skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills, how to take care of your social, emotional, and physical wellness. Focus on teaching about the World and having compassion for others, provide them with opportunities to be creative and express themselves.

Once you have established that learning target make sure it is clear to students.  I like the advice from teacher Larry Ferlazzo in the video 7 Tips for remote learning.   He suggests that if the instructions take more than 15-20 seconds to explain or more than 2 to 3 sentences to write, then it is too much. Pair it down. You can’t catch misconceptions immediately or give them immediate feedback on the spot, so clarity is important. 

Less is more right now.  Instead of teaching a lot of content, minimize the content and go deeper.

Tip 3: Lots of Choice and Flexibility

Do your best effort to provide lots of choice and flexibility to students.   Many of our PLC leaders participated in some professional learning this year about creating blended learning playlists and choice boards.  Jon Anderson and Sonja Greenway, two or our exceptional instructional coaches, have created some for you to help you through this time.  You can find them linked here: Sonja’s Playlist & Jon’s Playlist.   

Providing this kind of choice and flexibility keeps students engaged and motivated. You can add humor through videos and other media to make them laugh and make learning fun, and you can provide them with resources vetted by you. Keep in mind that the brain only stays engaged for about 10 minutes before it naturally cycles down anyway.  Lecture isn’t going to work here. Give them choices and options.

Tip 4: Love 

Give double the love and compassion to students right now.

 “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  A quote by Teddy Roosevelt that is one of my favorites. Take some extra time to check in personally with your students.  Smile, laugh, and have some fun with them. There is a lot of added stress right now and no learning will happen anyway with an overload of stress.  Students can’t access executive functioning until they are safe, comfortable, and belong. Be understanding, supportive, compassionate, empathetic, and patient.

Families are carrying the burden of financial stress and anxiety of the unknown.  There is stress that comes along with everyone in the household working and going to school at home, and finding a quiet place without interruption will be very difficult.  There are endless reasons for why families are feeling a heightened state of depression, anxiety, and stress right now. We know that has a profound negative impact on the limbic brain, which will block learning and recall. Put care and compassion before the curriculum. 

Tip 5:  Let yourself make mistakes 

The most important tip of all.  Allow yourself to make mistakes. Actually, plan on making mistakes. There is no learning without mistakes, and this is the first time for all of us, so plan on making a lot of them because we have a lot to learn. Check out this great link for managing your own stress during this time.

Reply to the blog post and share your tips for Cloud School!

Published by Ruby Bode

Assistant superintendent of Estes Park School District.

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