Learning While School is Closed: What Comes Next?

These days, it’s so 2019 to think about business as usual for our nation’s schools. Now that we’re several months into schools being closed because of COVID-19, there are some early lessons and challenges to reflect on that will help school leaders and staff think about and plan for the start of the 2020-21 school year. 

Experts suggest that schools prepare for a “blended learning” environment to start the fall semester where some students will be learning onsite and others will be learning remotely on any given day. Some schools may be able to open with some students spending time on campus, while others may have no other choice but to begin the fall semester with all students in a remote learning environment. It’s an unprecedented and fluid planning challenge for school leaders and their teams. In our latest webinar “Learning While Schools are Closed: What Comes Next?,” three school leaders discussed various remote learning challenges and opportunities and how they’re addressing them.  

First, Kaitlin Karpinski, School Leader at the Rooted School in New Orleans, framed the webinar by outlining four possible approaches for schools to open in the fall. The highlights of these various options are:  

  • Full time remote/virtual learning. No one’s favorite option! This approach is a continuation of what schools are doing in the spring of 2020. The key question to consider is, “What lessons can be learned from the spring and applied to the fall?” Top concerns include equitable access to devices, internet connectivity, and distributing materials. 

  • Part time virtual/part time in person. This is a “blended” approach. Key considerations include maintaining social distancing in classrooms, banning assemblies/crowds, and managing transition time in hallways. Estimates of between 20% and 50% of students could be in the school building at any time with the rest learning remotely. 

  • Full time in person. Ah, the dream of returning to normalcy! This is exciting to think about and would require lots of staff training to manage proper social distancing and no large crowds. To create more space for students, classes outside are a possibility, but then weather and climate come into play. 

  • Intermittent school openings and closures. As a second wave of the pandemic is forecast for sometime during the 2020-21 school year, schools may have to close to mitigate the outbreak. The same equity and access challenges in the other scenarios apply here.  

Second, we heard from Forrest Cook, an English teacher at the Rooted School. He said that a silver lining for remote learning is that teachers are leveraging tools that they didn’t use before. Teachers are using tools such as Google Classroom to leave comments and feedback for students. To do virtual checks for understanding, they’re using Kahoot! and Pear Deck, and to manage culture, grades, and attendance, they’re using Schoolrunner.  

Last but not least, Ben Samuels-Kalow is founder and head of school at Creo College Prep in New York City. He discussed how teachers have adapted the popular video conferencing platform Zoom to provide live and small group instruction.  For example, teachers at Creo Prep take time to promote questions, comments, and reactions from their classes. After content is presented, teachers give students a minute or two to send reactions, write their questions in chat, or unmute to ask questions live. For small group instruction, teachers use the Breakout Rooms feature to either pre-assign or auto-assign students into small groups for a short period of time so that they may discuss things together.  

Here are the links to the other break-out session: 

Breakout Room #1: Leveraging breakout rooms in Zoom for remediation 

Breakout Room #2: Strengthening the instructional feedback loop virtually 

Breakout room #3: Planning for the 20-21 school year

All of the educators noted that their transition to remote learning is challenging, but that they’re learning exciting news things and adapting their styles to their new environments as best they can. When teachers remain open and willing to experiment with new approaches, innovation happens! The Schoolrunner team was really impressed by their adaptability and can-do attitudes! 

At Schoolrunner, we’re inspired every day by school leaders, teachers, and parents who are innovating in support of continued student learning during this difficult time. As part of our efforts to support schools, the Schoolrunner team released a set of resources for schools adapting to COVID-19. We also recently tapped two innovative schools in New Orleans to share their strategies for adapting to school closures in an earlier installment of our webinar series.  You can view the recording of that webinar here and read about it in this blog post.


Lee D.

School Partnerships and Operations Manager

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