Leadership Questions to Help Guide Design of a Virtual School


This post was written by Jill Thompson and Allison Zmuda, and first published on Education Elements.

To support the planning of opening a virtual school, leaders can be overwhelmed with the volume of questions to consider — logistics, strategy, and purpose to name a few. To guide the planning process, we offer the following table with phases of implementation with related questions. While the guide is set up sequentially, each phase may trigger a deeper articulation of previous phases to refine or reimagine the virtual school.

Phases Questions
Vision — who you are serving and how it adds value 
  • What is motivating the design of the virtual school?
  • Who are we serving through the virtual school and why?
  • How does the virtual school continue to expand our commitment to equity for every student?
Regulations and Operational 

Parameters — the prework leaders have to successfully establish the virtual school

  • What are the rules and regulations in your state to start a virtual school in your district? NOTE: Pandemic and post-pandemic regulations may be different.
    • What policies does the state have about staffing, certification, etc?
    • What are the state policies on seat time?
    • How flexible is the state on competency/proficiency-based learning? To what extent are there guidelines or samples another public school has used within the state?
  • What does your funding/budget look like for your virtual school?
  • How big will the virtual school be to determine enrollment size for the first year? What grade levels will be taught?
  • How will we ensure all students have access to a reliable internet connection for their learning needs?
  • What platform will be used to organize learning with your staff and students? (Where student-facing curriculum, assessment, and instruction lives)
Foundations — steering committee with key stakeholders to inform foundational choices
  • Who will be the instructional leader(s) of the virtual school?
  • What curriculum should the virtual school adopt and adapt to meet the needs of students? What secondary program of studies (course catalog) will your virtual school have?
  • What might professional learning look like for teachers based on their needs and the needs of students?
  • What does the evidence of learning look like for a given course? What does completion look like for a given course?
  • How will we bolster the skill set of our staff, students, and families in virtual platforms and tools that are foundational to the school?
Day-to-Day Learning Design— working with staff to design instructional roles, practices, and pedagogy in a virtual school
  • What would a typical day look like, feel like, and sound like for students and teachers?
    • What roles are you imagining teachers will play in the design of learning, facilitating instruction, and coaching of students?
    • How might instructional practices shift because of the virtual setting?
    • What does effective instructional pedagogy look like in a virtual school?
    • Where does learning take place?
    • How does the schedule flex with the learning needs?
    • How will you create a sense of community and belonging?
  • How do we communicate with our families to better understand the vision and day-to-day learning experience that their children will be engaged in?
  • How will you market to families and the community about your virtual school?
Kicking Off Virtual School – essential policies and expectations 
  • What are the virtual school expectations for staff, students, and families – e.g., handbook, code of conduct for students and families
    • Grading and reporting practices
    • Conferences
  • How will you develop a school community and learning culture in a virtual setting?

Because leaders benefit from consistent reflection when implementing something new, a powerful approach is through retrospectives to think more flexibly about what virtual school can look like. Building in checkpoints to reflect and iterate on what is working and what could improve avoids/prevents becoming stagnant. Regular reviews with staff, students, and families continue the iteration process in service to the school district vision and commitment to every learner’s success.

Check out the previous posts in the series, Reimagining Post-Pandemic Virtual Learning in Public Schools. 

Part 1: Virtual Schooling is Here to Stay

Part 2: Slow Pivots – What’s Driving the Change to Reimagine School Schedules?


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