Under normal circumstances being a teacher is hard, but in the face of a global pandemic that causes rolling school closures, it feels downright impossible. Educators across the country are scrambling to do their very best to make sure our students are still learning and mastering content regardless of whether learning happens in-person, remotely, or somewhere between the two.
Thus far, our collective response has focused on giving teachers and students more–more resources, more training, more devices–just more. Every leader I know has worked night and day since March 13th to try to do all the right things to support teachers and students because the stakes are just too high and the cost of not doing the right things will have a lasting impact that extends well past the end of this pandemic. But in our necessary haste to globally deploy distance learning to millions of students…
is it possible we are neglecting the support teachers actually need?
The good news is the essential support that teachers are responding to and requesting is much simpler than you may expect. So, instead of giving teachers more training, resources, and options, let’s simplify and focus on giving educators in every classroom, virtual or otherwise, the three things every teacher needs right now:
1. Clarity of the Best Practices for Distance Learning
Districts have spent all summer creating curriculum and providing teachers technical training on the various digital tools adopted by the district. But giving every teacher the same curriculum and resources do not automatically mean every student is then given the learning experience they need to thrive.
With so many tools and resources to choose from, teachers desperately need clarity about the best practices for leading learning in the virtual space. This clarity will ensure that teachers are able to effectively close gaps and accelerate learning in a way that meets the needs of every learner. The good news is that there is a simple solution to doing this very thing!
Educators are in a unique position to thrive even through distance learning because the past two decades have yielded volumes of research on the instructional strategies that produce the best results for students. Those strategies just need tweaking to convert to the remote environment. Differentiation, scaffolding, small group instruction, and the like–a global pandemic does not make these irrelevant for student achievement but rather more vital than ever. Combining these best practices with digital fluency to make them work in the virtual space is the magic teachers and students need. That can be very simple for teachers when it is organized in a way that translates easily to practice versus just having a bunch of tools in the toolbox. For years, engage2learn’s (e2L) partner districts have been leveraging the 12 e2L Life Ready Best Practices to close achievement gaps and accelerate learning for students of every background and demographic. From this list of research-proven instructional best practices, we have created a focused list of seven that make up the e2L Best Practices for Distance Learning–or remote, virtual, or blended if you prefer. With these seven standards…
we have created actionable rubrics with clear, leveled growth indicators that teachers can use to guide and improve their planning and implementation of distance learning lessons that are guaranteed to engage students and ensure student outcomes.
These rubrics are like “checklists” that show teachers very clearly and all in one place how they can convert current best practice to an online platform.
e2L’s award-winning professional growth platform, eSuite, provides teachers access to the full rubric and growth indicators for each of the e2L Best Practices for Distance Learning. These rubrics, paired with eSuite’s growth tracking system, provide teachers a clear roadmap for bringing what research has repeatedly demonstrated, are the very best strategies for learning to the remote classroom.As an added bonus, with eSuite, teachers also have access to thousands of professional learning resources that are ALIGNED TO THESE BEST PRACTICES to aid their growth and implementation of the Best Practices for Distance Learning.
2. Engaging, Competency-Based Learning Lessons
Prior to the pandemic, most districts already had a Learning Management System (LMS) deployed across their district. While adoption and use of the LMS may have varied from classroom to classroom, the system was there nonetheless. When school closures forced everything to go online, the district LMS quickly became a repository for all of the various resources, activities, and assignments teachers and students needed to keep school going.
But things like internet access and a lack of in-person parental support for students of essential workers has led to an unprecedented widening of the achievement gap. To narrow the gap, educators must be able to accelerate learning–even in the remote setting–to ensure our most vulnerable students do not fall even farther behind.
There is only one answer to this dilemma, and it is not a one-size-fits-all curriculum. The answer is mastery learning.
Teachers must design learning experiences that are standards-aligned and scaffolded to support learners at varying levels of background knowledge, help students plot a course to mastery beginning at whatever level of understanding they currently have, and accelerate their varying paths to mastery. Unfortunately, most LMS platforms are organized in a way that makes it difficult for teachers to design and implement truly differentiated learning units that can be personalized for mastery learning.
For this reason, e2L has incorporated into eSuite a unit design platform called eLX–where LX equals “Learner Experience.” eLX gives teachers instant access to over 36,000 standards-aligned, mastery learning units with thousands of aligned and differentiated resources. Teachers can clone and use any of those 36,000 units or build their own in minutes using the resources provided in their LMS. eLX is an entire platform focused solely on designing mastery learning for students, which saves teachers hundreds of hours of prep time and planning that is better spent helping students learn.
3. One-on-One Personalized Support
If you put the average person on a desert island with a hammer, nails, and a palette of wood, they still wouldn’t be able to get off the island. But if you also give them a master carpenter to show them how to build a boat, they would be casting off in a matter of hours. In many ways, we have given teachers everything they could possibly need to build a boat for learning, but without the benefit of ongoing, job-embedded support, they are overwhelmed.
Recently, I was visiting with a coach who told me that the consistent response of teachers to 1:1 support has been RELIEF. Teachers are saying things like, “we have received training all summer and a set curriculum in our LMS and so many tools, but I didn’t know how to really put it all together in daily practice until you walked me through it and answered my questions.” Another coach told me that teachers do not like to admit they are struggling with all the technology because many of them have been excellent teachers for a long time, so having a one-on-one, private session allows them to get the help they need in this unique time.
So, how do you do this effectively? Utilize all of your “hands-on-deck,” including assistant principals, librarians, and every type of coach to match up each person to several teachers until every teacher has an individual coach. It doesn’t matter if the “coach” knows the content or is coaching on “math” because the teachers know their content; it is about a thought partner who ideally understands the technology or can partner on problem-solving.
Ideally, you also have an online system like eSuite to schedule these proactive bi-weekly sessions. eSuite includes a comprehensive coaching platform called eGrowe Coach which keeps track of sessions, sends notifications of sessions, has a calendar that organizes the sessions for teachers and for the coach and houses resources that can be used to learn skills asynchronously when the teacher identifies a skills gap as a goal. Leveraging e2L’s evidence-based coaching methodology, eGrowe Coach provides teachers and their coaches a guided process that ensures teachers are highly effective in their implementation of the e2L Best Practices for Distance Learning.
Teachers Are Desperate For the Right Kind of Support
While it may sound counterintuitive, some of the support we give to teachers could actually increase their burden. Thankfully, if we focus our support around the things research has repeatedly proven works best, we will be able to provide relief to our overwhelmed teachers and help them become highly effective in this new normal. This results in teachers who are not only able to mitigate learning loss caused by the pandemic but actually accelerate achievement and engagement for every learner regardless of the environment.