The understatement of the decade is that 2020 has been quite the wild ride. This is especially evident in the realm of education. It seems like things change day-by-day (or minute-by-minute, in some cases). My school district started with fully virtual instruction for the first quarter of the year, but changed to a hybrid model in October.
At my school, our hybrid model operates in the following manner. In a team of five teachers, two are teaching half of the face-to-face students on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the other half of students come in on Thursday and Friday. Two other teachers teach all the students who chose to stay virtual. The final teacher, which we call “Teacher C,” teaches science, social studies, and reading/math review online to the face-to-face students when they are home on their opposite days.
Now that we’ve been living it for about a month, I wanted to share five things that have helped us have a smooth transition.
1. Develop new procedures and think through them carefully.
While our aforementioned plan was the overarching framework, we also had to redesign how many other procedures occurred. For pretty much every existing protocol we had, changes needed to happen and we attacked it from multiple angles.
For example, we had to revamp how we did bus dismissal. We couldn’t dismiss all students at one time for social distancing reasons, but we also didn’t want to make a bunch of announcements to dismiss various grade levels. We ended up creating a Google Sheet with all the buses and grade levels on it. When a bus arrives, someone outside radios inside and I change the cell color of the grade level that is to be released for dismissal. We took a lot of time thinking through which grade levels could walk independently, and which needed to be escorted.
Though it was literally hours upon hours of deliberation on how to best do this, we ironed out many potential wrinkles and I am happy to report it has gone so smoothly that teachers are even requesting that we do dismissal like this when we get “back to normal.”
2. Keep safety at the forefront of your mind
Safety definitely needs to be the priority as we bring a bunch of children back into school. Throughout the building, we have child-friendly mask reminder posters, spaced out paw prints on the floor as visual cues for social distancing, plexiglass shields on student desks, and a ton of cleaning supplies. These all help keep our students and teachers safe throughout the course of the day.
Personally, as a cancer survivor, I know my own risk is a bit more elevated, so I’ve taken extra precautions. Instead of using communal water coolers, I got myself a personal water station called the Fillup to keep myself distanced from potential germ breeding grounds. I’ve swapped out my customary hugs and high fives for elbow bumps and air fives, with promises to give them extra hugs when things are more safe. You need to do what is best for your own sense of safety.
3. Create a video for students about expectations.
One thing that we did that was especially helpful was us creating a video detailing our expectations for hybrid learning, starring our school mascot. We detailed everything that we wanted our students to know, including what to do before leaving for school in the morning, proper mask wearing and handwashing procedures, how to socially distance in the hall, and more.
We played this video on our live-streamed morning announcements and hosted it on our school’s webpage so students knew what to do before they ever stepped foot inside the door. By having members of our school in the video, the video was a welcoming experience for the students and acted as a sense of normalcy in a year that is anything but normal.
4. Send updated schedules out to all students.
With delivery methods changing, we opted to send new schedules to all students, even if they weren’t having any schedules changes. This ensured that everyone was on the same page and knew where they were supposed to be on any given day, whether it was at home on a computer or inside the school building.
Similarly to my first point, we checked each individual student’s schedule multiple times before sending them out. I really felt like Santa; I was making a list and checking it twice. From there we used AutoCrat to create and send out mail-merged copies of the schedule to each student’s individual email address and followed up with an auto-dialer message to have the parents. While this was a big process, it helped avert any crises that may have popped up.
5. Continue to iterate on your tech plan
In my post about setting up a virtual classroom, I mentioned having two monitors as a game-changer for instruction. As we’ve gone further into this year, my teachers have continued to improve their set up. One thing I saw in one virtual teacher’s classroom was someone using The Raise to elevate their computer to eye level. This allowed the teacher to be looking directly at their students versus looking “down at them.” It’s so important to be able to make those connections with students to help them remember this weird time as a good experience instead of a lost year of instruction.
Nothing is normal, but make the best of it.
I will not lie to you – Transitioning from one instructional delivery method to another is a lot of work. It can be frustrating to just start hitting your groove with one style, and have to upend everything.
However, this is just the reality of life this year and we need to roll with it. By having concrete plans, keeping safety as a focal point, and using clear communication, we were able to have as smooth a transition as possible.
Most importantly, our students were ready, prepared, and excited to return to learn. That’s an elbow bump worthy reason if I’ve ever heard one.