The abrupt, widespread school closures this spring thrust educators and students across the country into a sustained virtual environment with little time to prepare or plan. As we look to the coming school year, it’s clear we’re still operating in the shadow of the pandemic—even as some school districts plan to bring their students back to the physical classroom. Other districts are planning to keep their students home on full-time distance learning plans, while many others are looking at blending the two approaches.
Still, none of these plans can be set in stone—we know that conditions are volatile and could dictate another abrupt closure of schools to contain the spread of disease. This year, more than any school year in our lifetime, administrators know they have to be ready for anything.
Resilience and agility will be the cornerstones of success for students and teachers this school year. Here are some trends I see unfolding as district leaders prepare for students to return this fall.
Agile, integrated classrooms
Part of what made this spring difficult was having no time to train or prepare students and educators on how to translate the physical classroom environment to distance learning. It was a bumpy road for most, and the education of millions of kids across the country was interrupted, with many now falling behind. We must promote educational resilience going into this coming school year so our kids thrive in any setting.
Even for districts that return to in-person instruction, I look for schools to maintain their virtual classroom environments in creative ways, such as allowing students who may be physically unable to join their classmates to participate remotely and be part of the class dialogue. I’ve also spoken with schools that are planning to reduce exposure by keeping students in a homeroom, where single-subject teachers dial in to teach their class.
Schools maintaining at least some engagement with distance learning tools will see the dividends if there is a return to a sustained virtual environment. Their students and educators will have fluency with them as a classroom tool, just like the smart whiteboards or tablets they used every day pre-pandemic.
Expanding opportunities in times of shrinking budgets
In addition to creating educational resilience, I look for schools to leverage virtual classroom solutions as a means to mitigate the reverberations of the economic crisis on schools.
School budgets are always tight, and they’re growing tighter due to decreasing tax revenues. But the pressure to offer innovative classes and diverse curriculum has never been higher. Compounding this unfortunate situation is a projected exodus of teachers in the face of continued pandemic-related uncertainty and challenges in the classroom.
While it cannot erase either of these critical issues, a robust virtual classroom and collaboration solution can help districts optimize the resources they do have. For example, specialized teachers or students with unique requirements may access educational opportunities that aren’t available at their school via a virtual classroom solution. This solution reduces the need for hiring those teachers for each school, and also cuts down on time and resources for busing kids to other locations.
E-learning is here to stay. Ready to take it to the next level?
We all recognize COVID-19 as a fundamentally disruptive event, and it’s critical we respond to the needs of our students with a plan to maintain the familiar cadence of learning, no matter what. District leaders must prepare for this school year by implementing solutions and protocols that promote agility to quickly act in the interest of safety and learning continuity for our nation’s youth.
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