LFA Board Discusses Best Practices, Evolution of Online Instruction

By Joetta Sack-Min

Public schools are adapting to online and hybrid models of instruction

As public schools reopen this year—whether in person or virtually—students and parents can expect a significantly different educational experience from the abrupt closures in March.

Virtual and online learning will continue to evolve, and because the Covid-19 pandemic may shutter more schools this winter, schools are learning and adapting to new ways. Many educators believe that public education will emerge stronger and with greater abilities to meet students’ needs using new tools and formats.

At a recent board meeting, executives and officials from LFA member organizations discussed some of the exemplary practices they have seen from member school districts. Overall, the group agreed that online learning has, in most districts, built systemic changes after lessons learned from the sudden changeover in spring. There is evidence that many districts are shifting to new, more accessible, streamlined learning platforms, getting devices to all students, getting hotspots to all students who needed them, and finding ways to better communicate with families and students.

For instance, one executive who is also a parent in Prince William County, Va., praised the district’s efforts to work with parents and caregivers to access and use new platforms and technologies. Before school started virtually, IT professionals posted videos on YouTube for training. “They made it fun,” she reported. District officials also ensured that every student had laptops and access to a wi-fi hotspot. Also, every family and student had access to a tech specialist for troubleshooting.

Another member who lives in Loudoun County, Va., praised the district’s rollout of a 1:1 program, which was fast tracked once Covid-19 struck. The school board recently examined educational services, and determined that some students—such as those with disabilities, English language learners, preschool special education students and some career-tech classes—should receive one-day-a-week in-person instruction.

One executive praised the Hartford, Conn. School district for its efforts to engage parents through home visits, where teachers would assess needs, including technology, food, and security, and other issues. Over the summer the district realized e-mail was not always the most effect form of communication, and they began using texting, push notifications, and surveys to better reach all families. Ultimately, they were able to connect with 99% of their families.

Others noted that communications staff have been vital in helping schools reach their students, caregivers, and other community members.

The most successful school districts had already built some form of an infrastructure for hybrid learning models. In places where it’s done well, those actions have led to a systemic change that improved the listening and communications infrastructure.

In Indianapolis public schools, the district had begun addressing equity and it had begun building an infrastructure that examined achievement gap issues. Everyone in the district underwent mandatory training, including its board president and top administrators, to better understand how biases and communications styles and mindsets impact the quality of teaching, even more so with virtual learning.

Several other school districts have shifted to more accessible, streamlined learning platforms. While the Covid-19 pandemic may continue to disrupt schools’ abilities to provide in-person learning for some time, schools are becoming better equipped to meet the needs of more students through hybrid and online models.

 

 

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male teacher with tablet using whiteboard to teach virtually