From North Carolina to California to Alaska, public schools around the United States are planning to preserve a virtual school option for students after the pandemic is over. The constant drumbeat of getting all students back to school as quickly as possible does not tell the whole story of learning in the pandemic.
Singing the praises of virtual learning was not something many students, educators, and families would see themselves humming along to twelve months ago. But from the early and draining days, there has been a rhythm and stability that has flourished in expected and unexpected ways.
- Early infrastructure challenges — 1:1 devices, broadband access, access to learner management or common platforms — have either been addressed by the local community or have become educational priorities at the regional and national levels.
- Teachers have accelerated their learning curves in digital fluency with a range of design, communication, and feedback tools.
- Caretakers of students — family members, daycare workers, pandemic pod leaders — have become instrumental both as audience members and coaches for their learners.
- Students have found relief from the early morning commute time, persistent bullying, and more flexibility in when and how they learn.
- Professional development has become much more targeted based on “just in time” learning which is in tune with staff requests.
- State requirements have temporarily eased up on the frequency and role of standardized testing as well as the number of school days, providing more relief right now from a “test prep” curriculum.
Each one of the statements above can be seen as opportunities to reimagine schooling as striving to be more flexible, connected, authentic, and appropriately challenging. For those schools who were already knee-deep in personalized learning, they were more acclimated to personalizing instruction with their students. Educators were already more attuned in how to work with students to personalize pace, content, process, demonstration, and goals.
As local school districts continue to iterate virtual learning, we suggest reflecting with school community members through focus groups, listening tours, conferences, and/or personal reflections. The intention is that virtual school does not have to live only in a virtual space. It can be infused with other elements to amplify its flexibility, connectedness, authenticity, and challenge to meet more students’ needs.
Prompts that are open-ended and can be used with a range of stakeholders might be:
- How might we create learning spaces when home becomes your classroom?
- How might we stay motivated to persist when we are facing a challenge?
- How might we ensure all students have access to the devices they need to fully participate in virtual school?
Jill Thompson is currently an Associate Partner at Education Elements. Prior to working with Education Elements, she was the Director of Personalized Digital Learning at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). Follow her on Twitter: @edu_thompson