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Category: Covid

Education Leaders Reflect on Anniversary of COVID-19

Originally Published:

For the most superstitious amongst us, Friday the 13th always conjures up thoughts of bad luck and Jason Voorhees. However, Friday, March 13, 2020, will forever bring fear and terror to all our minds due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic that crippled health systems and closed schools across the globe. Education leaders, teachers, parents, and communities scrambled to provide meals, establish mental health supports, institute robust safety protocols, provide students with devices and hotspots, train educators on remote learning, and do everything possible to connect with students. 

This remarkable and overwhelming achievement reflected the dedication and commitment of district leaders to provide a safe, engaging learning environment for students even during such a horrific time in history. Superintendents Kimberly Moritz, Springville-Griffith Institute CSD, Todd Dugan, Bunker Hill CUSD #8, and Cassandra Schug, Watertown USD, and high school principals, Shannon M. Mayfield, Allentown SD, and Bill Runey, Attleboro PS, pause to reflect on the first anniversary year of COVID-19 and look to the future possibilities.  

Most Significant Impact 

The unforeseen and unprecedented school closures put all school districts into crisis mode on March 13, 2020. School districts were unprepared and ill-equipped to handle the overwhelming obstacles and immediate needs. 

Both Mayfield and Runey agree that the loss of engagement and direct connection with those they serve (students and families) was the most significant impact.

Runey recalls that student-teacher relationships suffered because, “We didn’t lay eyes on students for months.” 

In Dugan’s district, “It was the suddenness and the surreal effect it had on teachers and students,” he says. “Teachers wanted desperately to deliver and visit students even while under a stay-at-home order. The immediate impact was a sudden clarity on what was now ‘essential’ in learning.”  

Schug says, “The two most significant impacts were student learning loss and increased social, emotional learning needs that we could not meet effectively for our students and our families.”  

All of the district leaders recognized that school closures most affected their vulnerable populations. Committed to prioritizing young students and students in need of services, Dugan, Moritz, and Schug set up programming and outreach services to provide tutoring, transportation, and opportunities for some students to attend in-person learning. In Runey’s district, a virtual academy extended support, tutoring, and interventions that provided the necessary systems to ensure all students had access to their learning. 

“The educational disconnect for close to a full year has irreparably created a void with our students and necessitates a complete reset for many,” says Mayfield.

An upgraded aspect of the food and clothing outreach program in Mayfield’s district included both social and mental health support for families and students. 

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Despite the hardships, 2020 brought the future to the present with communication, professional development, and technology that forever changed our educational systems. 

Communication with the school community has always been a consistent challenge for educational leaders. Yet during the pandemic, school districts, more than ever before, needed to find ways to connect with the school community. The academic leaders in these five districts focused time, energy, and resources on developing creative, effective, and sustainable communication processes. Each district created Covid-19 specific websites and used various communication tools to ensure that they could reach all families. 

Dugan notes that out of necessity, the school community became comfortable with multiple communication mediums, including social media tools such as Instagram and Twitter. Shrug says that virtual school board and community meetings resulted in more attendance and broader audience reach with recorded sessions. 

“No matter how many ways I’ve said it or how often someone feels left out,” says Moritz, “boring redundancy is my motto with any message, and direct 1:1 conversation is always best.”  

Both Mayfield and Runey, in districts with their high populations of low-income and non-English speaking families, say that family outreach and effective communication were paramount to their respective school communities. Effective strategies in Runey’s district featured translation tools, imagery, and links that simplified communication. Runey now includes his high school students in all communications in his building due to complicated home lives in which students don’t always get essential messages. 

After March 13, 2020, professional development events that typically took place in auditoriums, cafeterias, and faculty rooms pivoted to online web conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet. In Mayfield’s district, like many districts, teachers had to be trained to learn new virtual learning environments for remote learning. Training teachers to use online platforms challenged his district to adjust based on curriculum needs and staff levels constantly. 

Moritz says that a much greater acceptance of online PD came out of the necessity to ensure that teachers can navigate and teach virtually. Both Schug and Dugan agree that the advent of more technology has expanded opportunities to include virtual programming and self-paced opportunities, and provided flexibility for staff. Runey recognizes that his school community has shown the other side of humanity regarding PD in which “everyone is kinder and willing to help each other.”  

While many districts struggled with 1:1 initiatives before the pandemic, the sense of urgency to provide students with an education in an online environment brought technology’s inequity to the surface. Districts such as Moritz’s ensured that there was finally a device in every student’s hands and provided hotspots to families who needed them. 

Schug says that they adopted highly effective technology learning platforms that allowed them to offer instruction virtually while also providing personalized and adaptive instruction in face-to-face environments. “Teachers are much more adept at these learning platforms, and they have used them to supplement face-to-face instruction significantly,” she says.  

Runey says that technology instituted before and during the pandemic, such as establishing Attleboro’s Virtual Academy and utilizing virtual parent-teacher meetings and programs including Talking Points for ESL parents, has positively disrupted education in his district. Dugan says that while his district has been innovative with technology due to the pandemic, broadband, a necessity for online learning, continues to be a challenge. It is still years from being a universal offering in rural, outlying areas. 

Glass Half Full

No one can predict how the upcoming FY2021-22 school year will look. However, these education leaders agree that positive and forward-thinking initiatives have come out of the tsunami tidal wave that affected all aspects of our lives. 

“Our very best teachers continue to lead the way with outstanding preparation for remote learning,” says Moritz. “Our teams are more vital than ever before–our administrative team, our relationship with the teachers’ union, our interaction with families–all much better.” 

Dugan is witnessing creative ways teachers and curriculum leaders combine multiple subjects into one learning experience in his district to maximize precious class time. “[We’ve had] a realization that grades/work completed does NOT equal learning,” he says. “Instead, it has become apparent that, especially in secondary grades where significant learning loss did NOT occur, lower grades reflect either lack of engagement or compliance.” 

“It is the incorporation of technology into tasks where we haven’t used it before,” says Schug. “We have seen reduced challenging student behaviors and increased enthusiasm about attending school and its value to our students and families. We have built stronger relationships with our students and families as we have all worked to navigate the unique challenges of this school year.” 

Runey says that edtech programs in place before and during school closures have provided students with ownership and responsibility for their learning. “There is increasing appreciation for the things we haven’t been able to have,” he says, summing up the group’s thoughts. “Everyone is more aware of being safer in general; family connections have strengthened, and learning is personalized and tailored to students’ interests and needs.”  

Insights from Leaders on Closing the Attendance Gap

Originally Published:

Even before COVID-19 created online, remote, and hybrid learning environments in school districts across the country, most district and school leaders struggled with chronic absenteeism in their schools. Researchers like Dr. Todd Rogers, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University and Chief Scientist at EveryDay Labs, have tirelessly worked with school districts to identify, develop and implement strategies to reduce absenteeism at scale.

When the pandemic hit, communities experienced the highest rate of chronic absenteeism due to students and families learning from home. In a recent edWeb edLeader Panel, sponsored by EveryDay Labs, Dr. Rogers, along with Dr. Carletha Shaw-Rolle, Cadre Director CS 1, Broward County Public Schools (FL), Dr. Elena S. Hill, Assistant Superintendent for Early Learning, Dallas Independent School District (TX), and Jennifer Kretschman, Director MTSS, LCSSP Grant Coordinator, Sacramento City Unified School District (CA), discussed the key topics relating to closing the unprecedented attendance gap in 2021.  

Chronic absenteeism is on the rise this year at a time when it is critical that students are present, engaged, and participating in their learning.

Sitting in an in-person classroom environment did not have the challenges presented in our remote learning environments where students sit at home in front of a computer screen.

Can we define attendance if students simply log onto their Google Classroom or submit an assignment? The presenters on this panel think not and recommend that schools begin to look beyond the traditional definition of attendance and measure attendance through the lens of student engagement and participation. Focusing on how to engage students more fully has the potential to reduce chronic absenteeism significantly.

Disturbing chronic absenteeism trends identified during this panel involve two groups: early learners and marginalized students. The early learners developmentally struggle with learning, engaging, and comprehending Zoom-type learning environments. Difficult socio-economic conditions at home challenge marginalized students to participate in online classes fully or at all. 

There are two strategies the presenters recommend to increase student attendance that results in engagement, connection, and educational growth. The first strategy is to examine what teachers are doing in the classroom. There are many challenges classroom teachers face with replicating brick-and-mortar learning environments in a virtual world. The entire school community must participate in self-reflection to determine what they can do differently to engage students. This reflection includes asking questions such as: “So if I’m in a teacher role, am I doing something in the classroom that’s resulting in students wanting to show up to class? Am I hitting home with students? Am I making sure that I have culturally relevant texts, and am I making sure that students have an experience that means something to him or her so they will want to come?” School administrators have the opportunities to work with teachers on redefining and reimaging education that is both engaging and inviting for students.

Engaging families can be another way to get students involved in our classrooms in more authentic ways. This partnership happens when trust is built between families and the school community through outreach and support and families see the school district as a resource to connect them to whatever materials, supplies, or services they need for their students. The presenters highly recommend exhausting every resource and connecting with outside assistance if necessary. 

The presenters agreed that why students are not coming to school has changed since schools transitioned to remote learning. The reasons uncovered by the types of supports utilized include sending social workers, teachers, and staff into homes to discover the challenges families and students have with the types of remote learning we are employing. Dr. Shaw-Rolle said the “most significant thing for us is the ‘whys’ and providing the right support to students to either get them back in school and face-to-face learning or respond to the types of learning they have to do in the remote environment.” 

Unpacking Research on COVID Learning Loss

Originally Posted: eSchoolNews

According to an Education Week survey, classroom teachers spent the first six weeks after school closures troubleshooting connectivity and software issues, resulting in a 75 percent drop in instruction. Even as late as into the spring, classroom instruction was still less than 50 percent of pre-COVID numbers, with district staff and educators challenged to reengage students with sound instructional practices from a distance.

In a recent edWebinar sponsored by FastBridge Assessment System by Illuminate Education, Dr. John Bielinski, Senior Director of Research and Development, Dr. Rachel Brown, NCSP, Senior Academic Officer, and Dr. Kyle Wagner, NCSP, Research Associate, explained that unprecedented events like COVID-19 create a vacuum of knowledge.

According to the presenters, district leaders and teachers need reliable data to guide them to determine how learning has been affected and remediations to recover critical student knowledge.

Implications of learning loss

Through its studies of summer reading programs and data collected from FastBridge Assessment, Illuminate Education reports that summer learning loss varies by household income. Students from low-income households lose about 1.0 to 1.5 months of learning.

Learning losses also vary by reading domain, with minimum losses for reading, comprehension, vocabulary, and more considerable losses on early reading skills, including phonics and fluency.

Illuminate Education usually estimates learning loss across the summer by comparing the spring scores from one grade to fall screening scores from the next grade for the same students. This fall, due to the loss of learning for at least four months last spring, all of the skills that students were starting to acquire in the winter and the spring of the school year vanished.

Addressing instructional loss

Three main components critical for addressing instructional loss include conducting the universal screening, adjusting core instruction, and considering additional resources and remediation.

Universal screening in reading, math, and behavior establishes a baseline for all students. The logistics are significant, so steps such as selecting the assessment, creating a schedule, and reviewing data will ensure a holistic group-level approach rather than addressing piecemeal student by student.

The next step in providing support to students is for districts to examine core instruction using the 80 percent rule. If fewer than 80 percent of students have met the learning benchmark, which is more likely to be the case this year, the presenters strongly recommend intensifying core instruction.

The way to strengthen instruction includes using widely used strategies and tools that look at the frequency of instruction, the number of instructional days, the duration of lessons, and the practice opportunities students have during and between lessons.

Key recommendations

Fall screening is essential to ensure that school leaders and educators understand where they are when returning to school. The presenters caution that the primary grades’ most significant anticipated losses will require several months of remediation and intense instruction.

The more aggressively school districts decide to address gaps and provide accelerated instruction, the less the long-term effect of the loss of learning due to COVID-19 will have on students for years to come.


Restoring Learning at Scale in a Remote Environment

Originally Posted: eSchoolNews 

Disruption in learning caused by COVID-19 is the reality that school districts face this school year. K-12 education is evolving from a brick-and-mortar learning environment to learning both in-person and online. While this shift is challenging, to say the least, it is an opportunity for school districts to use technology to engage, personalize, and challenge students.

In an edWeb edLeader Panel sponsored by EveryDay Labs, Michael Romero, Local District South Superintendent, Los Angeles Unified School District CA, and Todd Rogers, Professor of Public Policy, Harvard University and Chief Scientist, EveryDay Labs, talk about actionable strategies to help create the conditions for learning this fall, including using attendance data, effective communication strategies, and building strong family-school partnerships.

Every day and every instructional minute is sacred with our students, especially in this time of remote learning.

However, according to Rogers, 80 percent of parents/guardians with school-age children underestimate their children’s attendance by 50 percent.

This underestimation of attendance is a slippery slope to chronic absenteeism. Without parental/guardian monitoring of attendance, it is difficult for school administrators to intervene to increase student participation in their learning. Even in the best of times, chronic absenteeism can significantly impact education with low graduation rates, higher suspensions, and decreased standardized testing proficiency.

The chronic attendance problem that had plagued districts before COVID-19 was exacerbated once schools shut down in March 2020. According to Romero, there is no panacea or silver bullet to address this issue. However, Rogers’ work with EveryDay Labs has developed a personalized approach to connect with families and students in a collaborative way to increase participation and engagement in learning remote, hybrid, or in person. By planning fast, acting fast, and fixing fast, districts can quickly identify, design, and resolve highly challenging absenteeism issues.

Parent/guardian involvement and commitment is a crucial component of any district absenteeism initiative. A three-prong strategy—simplification, repetition, and transparent monitoring—developed at EveryDay Labs and implemented in Romero’s district, ensured parent/guardian understanding and participation in increasing their children’s attendance rate.

The first prong, simplification, establish a districtwide commitment with a clear message that student attendance in school, whether online or in-person every day, is essential to their learning. The second prong, repetition, involves daily phone calls from a live person at that school site when a student is absent. This consistent action ensures that parents/guardians know when their child is not at school and guaranteed school communication. Transparent monitoring, as the third prong, focuses on personalizing interventions. By identifying a targeted group of students with chronic absenteeism, school districts can reach out to families to determine the level and type of support needed at home to increase learning time.

Decreasing chronic attendance is critical to ensuring all students have equitable access to their education. Yet this can be a daunting and complicated process for school districts already dealing with the overwhelming challenges of online learning this year. However, due to their partnerships with EveryDay Labs, districts like Romero’s are getting positive results with increased student attendance, more students on target to graduate, and successful outreach to parents and the school community.


Cultivating a School Culture that Promotes Executive Functioning

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across the country struggle to move their brick-and-mortar classrooms to remote online learning environments. While empowering students to take the lead in their education is the vision and mission of school districts, the abrupt move to distance learning has placed a heavy burden on our students.

“What is being asked of our children today in terms of executive functioning is way more complicated than it used to be, and their brains are not more ready,” said Courtney Wittner, M.Ed., director at Hayutin & Associates, during a recent edLeader Panel.

Wittner, along with Renaud Boisjoly, CEO of Studyo, identified and provided valuable strategies for supporting students as they navigate these unprecedented and challenging times with executive functioning skills.

Executive function overview

Executive functions, or EFs, are considered “higher-order” brain functions that can initiate, break down, and follow through on multi-step tasks. Executive function skills help our brains prioritize tasks, filter distractions, and control impulses.

The three core EFs are inhibitory control, such as self-control, discipline, and attention control; working memory, which includes mentally relating one idea or fact to another and reordering the sequence of items; and cognitive flexibility thinking outside the box. A 2007 study found that executive functions are more critical for school readiness than IQ or entry-level reading or math.

Executive function enablers and deficits

Three main factors that impact students’ likelihood of developing executive function skills at school are positive relationships with adults, experiences that foster social connections, and safe, nurturing environments that promote creativity, exploration, and exercise.

If nurtured in young children, the executive functions will allow students to act in a goal-directed manner.

Students with low executive functioning are considered lazy, unmotivated, and apathetic. Teachers and adults can support all students, including students with low executive functioning, by modeling and providing explicit instruction on strategies and skills such as calendar and time management, an environmental organization, self-advocacy, goal-directed behavior, attentiveness, motivation task management, processing speed, informational recall and memory, and study skills.

Fostering a culture that promotes executive functioning

Supporting and developing critical executive function skills involves the entire school community. Steps to encourage a school culture that promotes executive functioning includes analyzing current systems, assessing physical or social learning environments, and providing teacher training and executive function professional development opportunities.

Educators need to teach executive function skills during the school day and model planning and study skills to generalize these skills and take agency and ownership of these skills themselves.

As students enter upper elementary and middle school, the focus on executive function strategies declines, so students show up to high school and don’t know how to take notes or study.

The presenters recommend teaching executive function skills and strategies at an early age. This can decrease anxiety and result in overall competence as a learner to ensure success in college and beyond.

Originally Published: eSchoolNews
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