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Category: Remote Learning

Leading Teaching and Learning in Today’s World

Originally Published:

The 2021 Driving K-12 Innovation report released by CoSN selected the most critical Hurdles (challenges), Accelerators (mega-trends), and Tech Enablers (tools) that school districts are facing with personalized learning, innovation, and digital equity. In a recent edWebinar, sponsored by ClassLink and co-hosted by CoSN and AASA, education leaders reflected on the challenges of the past year and the possibilities of the upcoming school year. 


According to the CoSN report, the standard definition of hurdles is a roadblock that forces schools to slow down, prepare themselves, and then make the leap. When asked about the hurdles that happened due to schools closing on March 13th, 2020, all four presenters agreed that broadband, not devices, challenged their districts to provide equitable access to learning no matter their districts’ geographic location or demographics. Dr. Carol Kelley, Superintendent of Oak Park Elementary District 97 (IL), stated, “We were not as prepared as we could have been to have made that shift in terms of our practices and pedagogy.” Director of Schools for Wilson County Schools (TN), Dr. Donna Wright’s hurdles included broadband issues and a tornado that hit the area two weeks before closing schools. “We were almost stunned into paralysis, which is a hurdle in itself, but then it became an urgency as far as what do we need to do next.”


As defined by the CoSN report, accelerators are megatrends that drive change. In Maury County Public Schools (TN), former Superintendent of Schools Dr. Chris Marczak said, “As we had to hit the brakes on many things, parents demanded that their children continue learning, which is understandable from a public K through 12 sectors. So, we had to think on our toes about what we would do throughout those next couple of months to hit the needs of our parents while still dealing with the hurdles.” In Wilson County, they focused on students by understanding them intimately and identifying their strengths before determining their needs. In Township High School District 214 (IL), where Dr. David Schuler is Superintendent, they doubled down on how to personalize the pathway for every child and enhance the student voice and student choice.

Tech Enablers  

A question put to all the presenters by Ann McMullan, Project Director of CoSN’s EmpowerED Superintendent Initiative, was, “Were there pieces of technology that you had in place already that enabled you to grease the wheels so that you could surmount the challenges that you were facing?”

Echoed by all four presenters, Dr. Schuler described how his district outfitted parking lots with internet and WiFi for students who could not access WiFi at home. His district also ensured that apartment complexes and mobile home parks could access WiFi with overnight placements of minibuses with hotspots. Dr. Wright’s district created a parent university that provided opportunities for parents to understand what their children would be experiencing and how they could support learning at home. Dr. Kelley stated her tech enablers included her amazing technology team that was instrumental in supporting technology during the transition to online learning. Finally, Dr. Marczak focused on the demand and need for a consistent and transparent parent community by launching a Facebook Live and Periscope blast to talk directly to parents and community members about what was going on in the schools. 

Looking Forward

Frankie Jackson, Independent K-12 Chief Technology Officer in Texas, highlighted the efforts by CoSN and the fact that all discussions by the advisory board regarding innovation in K-12 have happened over the last year. Personalization and digital collaborative environments identified in the fall of 2019 have accelerated due to the pandemic. When asked about which lens her district was looking through for the upcoming school year, Dr. Kelley reflected that tech enablers and system thinking would drive the following year. “The district is leveraging my departure as an opportunity to help the community come together to envision, build, and prioritize what they see as the future of learning,” Dr. Marczak stated. “We realized in the Department of Defense that we couldn’t go back to the way things were before March 13th of 2020. The world has changed. It is going to be different moving forward. So, we’ve worked hard on that cooperation around using tech to enable the work we’re doing moving ahead.”

Dr. Schuler said, “We’re excited about how we’re planning to accelerate the rate of learning for all of our students thinking through a school community lens. In addition, we are looking to bring in more supports through our ESSER dollars. The supports include providing more social work outreach to families and thinking through what trauma our students and staff may have experienced this year.” While at the same time, his district is also accelerating personalizing learning environments for every child to ensure that they have access to early college credit. Dr. Wright stated that it would have to be the accelerator because that is something that we stumbled into by accident. “With the virtual option that we built overnight, we were ready for remote and other small or short-term experiences.” Still, the virtual program has seen children thrive who failed in a brick-and-mortar classroom so that personalization became even more critical. McMullan concluded the presentation by stating, “What I see as an accelerator for all four of you is your incredible leadership. In the last year, we have learned that leadership does matter, and exemplary leadership and good leadership are what will drive this forward. The four of you are exemplars of the power of good leadership, which is an accelerator.

Speak Up 2020: A Look at Digital Learning and Transformation

Originally Published: 

For the last seven months of 2020, school districts have gone through extreme changes regarding how learning is happening in pandemic-induced hybrid and digital learning environments.

In a recent edWeb edLeader Panel sponsored by Project Tomorrow, Dr. Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, and Christina Fleming, Vice President of Blackboard K12, presented the Speak Up 2019-2020 National Findings titled Digital Learning During the Pandemic: Emerging Evidence of an Education Transformation.

The research surveyed more than 136,000 K-12 students, teachers, and parents, focused on what digital learning looked like during the pandemic, and revealed potential emerging transformation evidence.

Digital learning during the pandemic

The Speak Up data revealed an increase in students’ access to mobile devices, tablets, laptops, and Chromebooks. The largest increases seen were where schools and districts invested in Chromebooks as their students’ home devices. It was also evident in the research that teachers were using more digital content than before. There was a weekly increase of 41 percent in online animated movies and smaller, but still significant, increases in simulations, online curriculum use, mobile apps for learning, and cloud-based collaboration tools.

As a result of increased access and increased use, there was a noticeable shift in teachers’ interest in the professional development types they needed. Data precisely from teachers during the school closure period reflected their desire to understand how to implement new learning environments due to their experience. There was a 120 percent increase in teachers saying they want to learn how to teach an online class as well as increased interest in the use of social media to communicate with parents and students, how to create videos, and facilitate an online discussion forum or a blended or flipped classroom.

Students, teachers, and parents all agreed communication between students and teachers in grades 6 -12 increased significantly–an outcome of school closures and digital tools outside of school.

Emerging education transformation

Some interesting perspectives from teachers and parents became apparent during the Speak Up research project.

Whereas many teachers had previously thought of technology exclusively as a tool for student engagement, there was evidence that with the sudden shift to digital learning, technology was the learning platform.

As a result of the teachers’ increased experience using technology, mainly digital content, they become better informed about what constitutes high quality in that digital content and what they wanted to see in the products for use in the classroom. Digital tools added value for both teachers and parents as the tools facilitated more student-centered learning focused on individual student’s strengths and support needs. It led to another key finding from the Speak Up research this year: parents are much more supportive of the value of effective technology use in supporting their child’s future success.

What remained consistent before school closures and after school closures was student perspectives on online and virtual learning environments. Forty-nine percent of students surveyed agreed that their best learning experiences involve solving real-world, hands-on, project-based learning. They also felt that online gaming gave them opportunities to problem solve, collaborate, and use critical-thinking skills. Fifty percent of students in grades 6-12 stated that digital tools help them develop a greater sense of personal ownership of the learning process.

The research conducted by Dr. Evans and Project Tomorrow plays a vital role in uncovering growth and opportunity in K-12 education, underscored Fleming. The information provided in the Speak Up National Findings will support district and state leaders to make policy decisions “that will share the future of our educational system, and by virtue, shape the future of our children.”


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.


Helping Students with Autism Navigate a Socially Distanced Classroom

Originally Posted: eSchoolNews

While many educators and students are returning to the familiar classrooms left abruptly in March, teaching this upcoming year will be anything but business as usual. A recent edWebinar, Aimee Dearmon, Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) and Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), says the disruption of routines, schedules, classroom layouts, and necessary social distancing protocols will be challenging for our most vulnerable students with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Related content: Strategies for teaching students with autism

Even under the best circumstances, these populations struggle to adjust to changes, and now the struggle will be exacerbated due to COVID-19 safety protocols. Dearmon emphasizes that schools and educators need to develop safe and healthy classroom action plans for students with autism and other disabilities, including environmental arrangement, classroom organization, rotations, hygiene, and material sharing.

The biggest challenge with developing classroom action plans is establishing the same support level for these students while maintaining social distancing. Educators need to craft strategies and processes that meet health guidelines and ensure that students understand and adapt to new routines and behavioral expectations.

Dearmon recommends social scripts, video modeling, visual supports, and prompts. Using these ABA reinforcement tools, students with autism and other developmental disabilities can learn simple distancing protocols such as wearing a mask, walking in the hallway, and remaining apart from others in the school setting.

Learning new routines establishes a comfort level for these students to understand and allows them to predict how, what, where, and when learning will happen.

When educators utilize the tools, there is a significant reduction in student anxiety and stress, resulting in new habit formation. It is essential to remember to give students cues one time to provide a direction one time and then provide the students with a little bit of wait time.

It is crucial to recognize that we may overprompt students or offer too much assistance. Dearmon cautions that these strategies will result in students not having the necessary time to learn skills associated with socially distance protocols. She recommends starting with a less intense approach with verbal, visual prompts, or gesture prompts.

The new school year will be stressful for students with autism and other developmental disabilities. It is crucial that school districts take the time, use researched-based strategies, and design thoughtful learning opportunities that set students up for success—three to six feet away from each other.


Sustaining Online Learning During COVID-19

When Project Tomorrow surveyed students in 2015 about what they envision schools will look like in 2020, one student described the school as a place where there would be more educational videos, online class discussions, online games, and texting between teachers and students. Everyone would have their tablet or laptop.

In 2020, we lived through the COVID-19 pandemic and in the remote and online environment predicted in 2015.

In a recent edWebinar, Dr. Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, and Chris O’Neal, a former teacher, and current Blackboard Solutions Engineer, shared front-line stories and tips to provide insight into how to ensure continuity of learning for our students during this unprecedented time.

Three phases of online learning during COVID-19

Using data, stories, and observations collected during Project Tomorrow’s research, Evans discussed the three phases of online learning during COVID-19 and subsequent K-12 school closures.


During the first phase, before school closures, many schools and districts had already begun developing plans for sending devices home with students to provide them with self-directed learning experiences outside of the school day.

However, transitioning to remote online learning was a significant hurdle for teachers and students, who may have had familiarity with using these mobile devices for different digital content types, but not necessarily from the standpoint of using them from an instructional component at home.

During the second phase, which school districts are in now, Evans identified three waves of attention that school districts are experiencing during school closure: responsive support, facilitation of the continuity of learning, and recovery, readjustment, and reinvention.

The third phase of online learning will happen once schools open up again and focus on the questions we should be asking right now during phase two. Building upon what we are experiencing and what we knew before school closures, school leaders should take those reflections to the next level and think about what school looks like in the future and how we will support learning in this new norm.

Tips and strategies for effective online learning

Evans uncovered three distinct insights about online learning during COVID-19 that all school districts have experienced.

The first insight is the trauma of uncertainty impacting the school community about school closures and how and what school will look like in the fall.

The second insight is about the importance of social and emotional supports for both students and teachers when teaching and learning in an unfamiliar education environment.

The third insight is the idea of what school looks like today and what learning looks like in a physical school environment is entirely different than the reality we are all experiencing. “A fire drill is a breeze compared to what teachers are going through right now of having to adjust,” said O’Neal.

While districts may not know what the school will look like in the fall, with summer soon upon us and lifeless chaos, now is the time to plan for possible scenarios.

One of those things is thinking about envisioning learners outside of the classroom: what a classroom looks like at home and how it will impact the work you assign and the learning materials you expect students to create. Teachers should reflect on their new role and the latest strategies to engage students in an online environment.

O’Neal encourages teachers to remember their classroom vibes because they need their classroom vernacular, imagery, and humor. Work with special education teachers and curriculum leaders to evaluate inclusion and diversity strategies to ensure that students’ needs are met. Lastly, lean on your support system, engage in social media communities, and utilize resources and publications.

Source: eSchoolNews

5 Tips to Design a Future-Focused Edtech Mindset in the Midst of a Pandemic

As of March 29, 2020, school closures due to COVID-19 have impacted at least 124,000 U.S. public and private schools and affected at least 55.1 million students, according to Education Week.

In a recent edWebinar, Dr. Justin Aglio, Director of Academic Achievement and District Innovation for the Montour School District in Pennsylvania, expressed that while we have prepared for school closures due to weather and disasters, school districts have found themselves in an unprecedented reality.

While educators and support staff are trying to ensure continuity of learning for their students during school closures, school and district leaders have an opportunity to design a positive future.

Aglio recommends that districts align every action and decision regarding remote and virtual learning to their mission, vision, and core values. In the Montour School District, they are designing a positive future for Montour schools aligning every action and decision to their three core values: curricula, educational technology, professional development.

Adopt and adapt

As recently as three months ago, school districts had robust, successful adapt and adopt methods for new curricula and programming, including the collaborative process of assessment, observation, and reflection. However, most school districts are forced to adopt and adapt methods for online and remote learning software and curricula due to the current school closure situation.

Aglio points out that school districts must implement the same collaborative process to acquire educational programs and curricula no matter whether stakeholders are meeting in person in a school conference room or online in a Zoom or Google meeting room.

The new August

Aglio recommends that teachers and school leaders take a step back and consider March as the new August, focusing on the start of the school year expectations, curricula, scope and sequence, and relationship building.

He prescribes five tips for designing a student-centered, future-focused edtech mindset:

Ensure equity for all students, especially students with disabilities, low-income students, and ELL students through digital resources such as Google sites and Classrooms, television options such as PBS, and communication tools such as Google phone and snail-mail.

Develop a clear game plan, including clear, precise, and accessible communication options that support the entire school community.

Build a healthy community by focusing on learning for students, teachers, parents, administrators, and school board members while creating a sense of belonging that sends a voice that we are all in this together.

Continue to provide and use quality district vetted resources and not fall into the trap of “trying” new educational resources.

Lastly, school leaders should reflect every day to assess current practices that connect all stakeholders, especially our students.

Source: eSchoolNews

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