Way back in March I thought we’d miss out on two weeks of school. You probably did, too.
I thought, “we’ll hunker down for 14 days and slow the spread of this thing and we’ll be back to normal by April.” I was, obviously, very wrong. I gave up trying to figure out when things would be like they used to be. Every guess I’ve made has been off.
That said, I do know a couple of truths about back-to-school based on my years in the classroom, and my knowledge of the amazing resilience of educators. Here they are:
#1 It will happen.
#2 Students everywhere will learn.
What we don't know is what's coming next.
I think we all know that, so we need to prepare. Here’s how.
It Will Happen
Regardless of when your district opens its doors, or how it opens its doors, school will start. You may be in a completely virtual environment. You may be in a hybrid environment. You might have a ‘traditional’ classroom - but that classroom will be masked, socially distant, disinfected and anything but traditional.
Depending on how the year plays out, your classroom might even be all three before Halloween: traditional, hybrid, virtual. Talk about spooky!
Dialogue, not monologue
The best way to prepare for this year is to talk to parents about what’s going on at school. They have more questions for you than ever.
Open that dialogue now.
SchoolStatus will make it easy for you to reach out to a parent and have a one-on-one conversation. You don’t have to be at school—you don’t even have to give out your phone number.
I know that talking to parents on the phone isn’t the most glamorous thing. I know that you think it will take a lot of time...I know that you don’t want to talk to people you don’t know. Please, let me assure you that while not glamorous, it is the most effective method of classroom management and it helps students grow. It takes less time to make a phone call than it does to type an email.
Furthermore, it’s not likely that we will have the back-to-school staple of an open house this year. It’s possible that your students’ parents will never set foot in your classroom. It’s possible that even your students will not set foot in your classroom.
Now is the time to establish a culture of open communication. Remember, dialogue is a two-way street—talk to parents but ask questions too. Most importantly, listen to answers. Listen to their concerns. You don’t have to have an answer, but it’s important to listen.
Make the call, but also send a text. We live in a world where texting is expected. My dentist even texts me. Parents will respond to a text message and, in SchoolStatus, those texts use the same number as phone calls.
The only way that this school year will work is if we talk to parents about what we know and listen to what they know.
Students Will Learn
Your district likely just bought an LMS. Or maybe they’ve had it for a while...but certainly, this year, you’re using that LMS. Your Learning Management System might be Google Classroom, Canvas, Schoology, Blackboard, Microsoft or something else, and that’s great! It will be instrumental in helping you teach your students. You will come to rely on it for a lot of things: Did that kid turn in his work? Are they working on assignments at all today? Are they ‘present’ at our virtual school? Your LMS will handle these issues. You’ve likely spent a few hours (or maybe days) digitizing some of your curriculum. It is a heavy lift right now, but it will be good in the long run. Especially, when/if students cannot physically come into a school building.
Reach parents where they are
The most important thing to remember about implementing an LMS in your district, school, or classroom, however, is that it will only work if you talk to parents about your expectations—and that may not happen within the software.
Some LMSs have internal tools to post notices to students or parents. The problem is that they only work in an app or on the web. Parents have to download an app, or log in online which statistics show only a small portion actually do. They don’t reach parents where they are.
Equity in communication
Your LMS and distance learning rollout has likely centered around equity. You, or others in your district, have asked if you can get computers in the hands of students that need them. You’ve gotten buses equipped with WiFi parked around town. You’ve championed statewide initiatives that increase broadband access into more rural areas (or at least I have).
Even if a family has access to high quality broadband, multiple internet connected devices, and the student connects every day—even if we have all that—we still need to reach out to the parents.
We must connect with the parent or all this time ramping up our LMS will be for nothing.
Parents crave information, but what they really want is assurance. They’re already all over Facebook, Twitter and your district’s website looking for information about what will happen at school this year. Your district has, no doubt, gone to great lengths to get the word out, but sometimes individuals are the conduit for that message.
That’s because relationships are built on effective communication.
So, tell parents what you know. Be honest about what you don’t know. The most successful app ever created for a phone was not Facebook, it was the text message. SchoolStatus gives you the ability to reach all your parents right now via text without them having to download anything.
Think of all the apps you’ve downloaded onto your phone and forgotten about - that’s your LMS to parents.
Expect the Unexpected
I admit that I am bad at predictions. I will only make one very obvious prediction now: this school year will be remarkable.
Every school year is different and every one of them have little things that stand out. Maybe a state championship...or the year that the senior class made dollar store sunglasses the “it thing” to wear… or the year that the raccoons fell from the ceiling. Suffice it to say, every year has something remarkable that happens.
Find the silver lining
My recommendation is that we should continue to expect the unexpected. New things that never happened in your classroom will happen this year. Things you never expected to see will happen this year. Last year was wild, I think this year will top it.
The only way we can deal with frustrating daily schedule changes and unsettling world events is to have a good sense of humor, find the truly incredible lessons to be learned from a pandemic, and to talk to your student’s parents. Call them or text them, but do it now. As the structures that we have relied on for years and years change in an instant, it is the relationships with our teammates, our students, and our parents that endure and make what is to come possible.
SchoolStatus is a 'one-stop-shop' where Educators have command of tools to initiate contact tracing, communicate with families, visualize student data, monitor sub groups, and maintain continuity. Learn more HERE.