Saturday, June 13, 2020

Conflict and Compromise in the Remote Teaching/Learning World

Communication is not as fluid in the remote teaching/learning world. I can't simply pop into a colleague's room to discuss an issue and as we discuss the issue, not only hear the colleague's words, but also read her body language too. That kind of communication was richer than online meetings that capture words and facial expressions, but not the body-talk and surrounding circumstances. When teaching, learning, and collaborating online, we have to think about communication differently. What is important here?

It is essential to prioritize what is most important in your teaching/learning community and use that priority list as you make decisions. This is the list I've created, that I will consult as I make decisions. I've shared this list with colleagues and will be interested to see if they change the order or revise some of these priorities. The priorities begin with a focus on the teacher-student efforts and then move out to the greater community focus. Someone in a different role may think of this list in a different order.
  1. Safety first
  2. Relationships next - make strong student-family-educator teams that build strong teaching/learning relationships
  3. Teach children to be lifelong learners w/optimal mindsets, teaching/learning behaviors that can morph in and out of any teaching/learning environment
  4. Give every child a strong academic foundation including a strong standards foundation
  5. Make sure we are using a number of consistent, top-notch online/offline tools that support an optimal education
  6. Scheduling is key--we didn’t know where to begin with scheduling for remote instruction in the fall, but now that we’ve done it for a few months, we have a better sense of what works. 
  7. Parents have complained about virtual learning start time of 8am. Having good parameters about school start and end time will probably be important in the fall. 
  8. Communication: Communication via online venues as much as possible rather than real time in-person communication to avoid spread (i.e. PLC, staff meetings, more online rather than n real time)
  9. Inclusive decision making processes - how can we enlist the voices of all constituents in this planning process in thoughtful and meaningful ways.
  10. Inclusion matters - many stakeholders may see decisions mainly from their perspective and not realize the perspective of others--if we are a school that values inclusion, we need to make that clear and also foster processes that demonstrate our commitment.

Schedules, Protocols and Explicit Expectations Matter
We have to have good protocols, schedules, and explicit expectations for online learning, teaching, and collaborating. Without those, the communication won't be as successful. What protocols, schedules, and expectations matter?

First, schools need to think deeply about scheduling. Some families were disappointed that we scheduled student meetings this week for our typical school start time. They thought that was too early, yet it was almost impossible to schedule those meetings later due to the number of other meetings already scheduled--the early slot was open and available which meant everyone could attend. While I understood families' concerns, we simply didn't have the luxury to schedule a later time due to the many other meetings scheduled. In the future, however, we need to consider how to schedule meetings in ways that meet most family's needs and availability.

Protocols and expectations ensure that everyone has a chance to participate and that everyone attends meetings and completes assignments in doable ways. These protocols also help us to provide help where needed. These protocols and explicit expectations have to be a priority as we move ahead in our blended (hybrid) teaching/learning world.

Lead Time Matters
Decisions made at the last minute are typically not as good as decisions that are made with considerable lead time. Lead time gives time for the voices of all concerned as well as time to reflect, revise, and improve decisions. Of course, our quick transition to remote learning did not give us a lot of lead time to think about how to make this happen. So, in hindsight and with greater lead time, I would have made some decisions differently.

Discomfort Will Occur
As we navigate new situations, there will be a sense of discomfort. Discomfort is not pleasurable, but will be a part of the process. We will make mistakes, but if our mistakes are made with good intention and a focus on the priorities above, the mistakes will not create long lasting problems. For example, there is controversy over a traditional practice. Some feel it should be one way and others feel it should be another way. The avenue chosen is the most inclusive and safest while the avenue desired may be a bit more fun. To choose the fun choice means people may be left out and it might not be as safe since there hasn't been as much lead time to think it through, and the fun way can be recreated in smaller ways with those interested, while the inclusive way has to come from the team. In the long run, it is not a huge deal, and to choose a safe, inclusive route will mean everyone can be there and everyone will be safe so it's not a bad choice.

There's lots to think about as we move to a more hybrid approach to teaching and learning in the fall, and as we think about this, one key factor is what we do to communicate well.