Leading in a Remote Learning World

It goes without saying that our teachers have done an incredible job when it comes to adapting to a remote learning world.  With little to no training, they are finding ways to make it work for their kids while overcoming a myriad of challenges in the process.  You could even say that they are the true leaders in a sense as their actions are leading to innovative change.  Administrators are also playing their part and rising to the occasion. Countless hours were spent planning once it was clear that schools would be shut down for an extended period of time.  Now more time is being spent refining plans as lessons are learned and, in some cases, are prepared for schools to be closed the remained of the year.

Flexibility and an Empathetic Lens

Everyone needs to understand that there is no one right way to implement remote learning. I can’t even say that mistakes are being made as this is uncharted territory for virtually everyone.  The best advice I can provide is to understand that making teachers go through the motions like it is a typical school day might not be the best course of action.  It is vital to take into consideration the pressure this is not only placing on them at home with their kids but also parents who are now working remotely. Adjustments are continually being made, and schedules are always in flux.

Additionally, teachers need to have the autonomy to make changes as needed while providing the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous instruction.  Try not to lock everyone into a one-size-fits-all plan. Regularly reflect on what is and isn’t working, adapt, listen to concerns, and most importantly, do what’s best for all the kids that you serve. In the end, flexibility will lead to success and is a hallmark of empathetic leadership.

Learn what others are doing

In times of crisis and disruptive change, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.  By embracing digital leadership, you can connect with others near and far to find out what has been successful in other districts or schools and also veer away from roadblocks that others have encountered. So many resources are being shared daily on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.  You can either lurk and learn or develop your own Personal Learning Network (PLN) to farm the best ideas and strategies that are actually working in similar demographics. 

Realistic and Fair Grading

I will admit that I am on the fence with this one.  In a previous post, I recommended that grading kids should be avoided as many have yet to complete one assignment since schools closed, and there are equity issues at a scale most have never seen before. However, I also recognize the need to help justify many of the remote learning plans in place and to support high school students, especially seniors, as they prepare for graduation.  The bottom line is there is no easy solution here. Work with teachers and other support staff to develop a responsible and equitable policy. Try to ensure that there is new content presented in a manageable fashion where students then have multiple opportunities to practice and then apply what has been learned.  Consider also eliciting feedback from parents and students themselves to create a policy that realistically and fairly depicts what has been learned.

Connect with families

You will not find an effective leader who is not an effective communicator.  In times of crisis, families need just as much support, empathy, and flexibility as teachers and students.  In Digital Leadership I recommend that all leaders consider using a multi-faceted approach that blends both digital and non-digital strategies to get the required information and updates to all stakeholders. This definitely applies now. When using social media, think about the platforms being used and mix it up by mashing together text, hyperlinks, images, and video.  Take a risk and make yourself vulnerable by delivering light-hearted messages using Snapchat and TikTok. Consider a daily or weekly YouTube video that can be embedded in a mass email to showcase how teachers are successfully implementing remote learning.  The bottom line is that you cannot overcommunicate.  

Provide professional learning support

A recent article highlighted how many teachers don’t feel prepared for remote learning.  Just because schools are closed doesn’t mean professional learning should stop, especially now.  Funds have been allocated this year to provide this support for both teachers and administrators. As remote learning is a new venture for most, it is crucial to ensure that sound instructional techniques and pedagogy are embraced.  There is no better time than now to implement personalized and blended learning pathways, which really cater to a remote learning environment.  In cases where there is not equitable access, teachers need support developing and implementing non-digital strategies that challenge kids to think and apply their thinking in authentic ways.

Think about converting what would have been a face-to-face day to a virtual one.  I myself have facilitated several virtual presentations and coaching sessions with schools in lieu of being there on site.  My colleagues and I at the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) have modified all of our services for virtual delivery. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you want to get some more information on what can be done for your school or district. 

Make sure kids are safe

Many educators have embraced live video platforms such as Zoom and Google Hangouts/Meets. It is important that leaders make sure that requirements set for by COPPA and FERPA in the United States are being met (or the equivalent in other countries). What this means, in a nutshell, is no sharing of student information or identifiable features without permission.  In my opinion, teachers should be advised not to share video conferences or pictures from such sessions online regardless of whether or not waivers have been signed. Leaders should also update parents on the dangers of social media and online games since more and more kids are spending time in these spaces, thanks to social distancing.

Don’t ignore self-care

These are stressful times for teachers. Leaders should be cognizant of this fact and encourage their staff to make time to take care of themselves.  In a previous post, I shared some ideas on how to build this in daily. It also goes without saying that leaders themselves should prioritize self-care to model for others.

Success in a remote learning world will require bold and courageous leadership.  As you grapple with decisions that have to be made, realize that everyone else is in the same boat.  Constantly reflect on where you are, but also where you want to be when the crisis ends.  The lessons learned today can help to build a brighter future and culture once schools reopen.

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series