Reset Emergency Remote Learning Practices: Parents are Not OK

Below are three social media posts from close members of my circle.

Post 1: So for real, I just need some sympathy. Between my two school-age kids, they are expected to use Classroom Dojo, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, 6 Google classrooms, Zearn, Prodigy, Khan Academy, and YouTube. Plus the uploading of all assignments falls on parents, who actually possess the camera phones to take the photos of completed assignments that they have printed out on the home printer. And we get the texts and emails when kids (ages 7 and 10) don’t complete assignments. I call Uncle. I am not Ok.

Post 2: I'm trying to do online learning with kids and parents who have language barriers and my district says I need to document every day what I'm doing so we can show we are teaching. I'm now having to drive into my school to hold a face to face translation session with a family member so it will be easier to go back online soon.

Post 3: Ever been involved in a major pandemic, working from home on sketchy internet and trying to manage children while worrying about getting sick and losing your job. Yeah, me neither. There is no playbook for where we are right now. Just be kind and patient to each other.

The following is also a graphic I grabbed tonight from Scott McLeod's site Dangerously Irrelevant. Scott invited some feedback, and I've responded below with ways we can reset emergency remote learning right now and not kill the parents in the process. Read the graphic first and then proceed to the Phase responses below it.

Phase 1

Let's take a look at check three in the graphic above. Did anyone stop to do a plan, do, study, act cycle on the initial approach? Were parents involved in that cycle? And how was it communicated? Why in the world would schools send teachers out to deliver online learning without proper training? Job 1 is to make sure students and families are ready to communicate in a pandemic. Are they safe? How do you know who is ready to learn? What does your data tell you? I'm not seeing a lot of intervention plans. I'm seeing more dates to start learning online. Who is ready to start learning online? How? Who is ready to teach and learn this way? What parent input forums were given? How do you account for synchronous and asynchronous learning expectations? Have you surveyed parents on the best times for learning given their work schedules? Do you have any understanding of how work submission windows work in emergency remote learning? What are you doing on mobile? Why in the hell are you copying bad practices in the face to face and replicating them online with too much work, short assessment windows, and expectations that working parents text you right back? This is not your teacher's fault. You are setting them up to fail. Take a step back and lead in phase one differently. Hit reset as a leader.

There are several ways to roll phase one out more effectively including ongoing assessment, slower information practices like postcard readiness by mail, television station learning, reading, old fashioned paper, and pencil drop-offs on school buses that are enabled by wifi, at hub locations, or at the schools themselves to get everyone accustomed to a cadence of traditional supports first. Over-communicate in this phase with very specific calls regarding learning on your robo dialers. Spend time developing how teachers will communicate during this time, not teach. You and they are simply not ready. You should be assessing, communicating, training, and providing a regular cadence of information in this phase - offline and online. And this phase needs some time to normalize. I'd recommend 2 weeks to reset right now. And I'd check in on the PDSA with key do steps being - talk to parents, look tiers of communications and needs, post all on a daily web update board. See my blog here for even more academic continuity examples.

Phase 2

Let's address the low-level learning and worksheet line in the graphic. In one district I know middle and high schools are getting notice of work on Monday (text, online, postcard), and there is an expectation that the work is completed by Friday. Teachers make office hours optional and there is no expectation of synchronous webinars. Please do this not just for working parents and trauma-based homes, etc. - DO THIS RIGHT NOW FOR EVERYONE. Back off the web-based synchronous learning expectations except for optional reasons. Parents nor kids should be required to join these. They can be flipped, made much shorter, and be provided over SMS services or placed on a website for later viewing. Parents do not need to be stopping everything they are trying to juggle in this pandemic including their livelihoods to support half-assed versions of online and remote learning. Experts in the field including instructional designers, virtual teachers, online leaders, etc. could have told you this on day one. Get them on your team now and ask them for advice. Use expectations like check in on the website by x day, expect a text on this day, here are scheduled bus route deliveries, drop in and out of a Slack channel when you can, etc. Hit reset.

Agree that modest assessments of learning are going to occur. Have parents log in to something every Friday at a set time to share the learning log for the week online. Have another group of parents send in a postcard to share basic things kids have been doing at home: reading, writing, or working out math problems. DO NOT ask parents in this phase to upload a bunch of evidence to tools they've never used why they are trying to figure out work tools they've never used. The same is true for teachers. Leaders can do more training during this phase but continue to go slow now to go faster later. Leaders can start in this phase to slowly account for learning progression. Stop patting yourselves on the back that you've rolled out online learning. You've announced emergency remote learning, and we're seeing the poor planning every day and every night in our homes. Again, this is not on the teachers. They are trying the best they can to carry about directives. Be better leaders. Hit reset.

Parents do not need multiple adults texting, calling, etc. right now. What parents need is clear, consistent, and supportive communications on what schools are trying to accomplish each week. Designated leaders should also be sending quick polls to families online or via text to assess what is working, what can be modified, and what can be improved as a part of a one-time communication window each week. An additional 2 weeks is the target in this phase.

Phase 3

Deeper learning ain't happening this Spring. Get over that one. What leaders need to do in phase 3 is to continue to work a plan, do, study, act cycle about what they are learning about learners - adults and kids. What can you do each week that you've learned from the first two phases? What solutions are families proposing that make a lot of sense now? What routines have worked as to cars pulling up to download spot on Monday at a school wifi hot spot, and assessment uploads on Friday to a device or phone? What messages are helpful as text prompts or call prompts? Which teachers are emerging as adept at remote emergency teaching? Where are they sharing their practices? How are resources being curated and shared with the public? Which partnerships are starting to emerge that are reliable? Answer these questions and feed them back to your PDSA cycle. The study portion of these cycles makes it much easier to assess what your action and intervention can be each week and each month.

For help on PDSA start at this link or with the graphic below:

Take an additional 2 weeks.

Phase 4

Document everything that you are learning. Make sure parents are a core customer throughout the process. Figure out ways to get to year-end and state accountability expectations, but make sure equity is addressed throughout. There is a minimal viable learning experience we need to shoot for right now to keep kids reading, writing, learning, and reaching for basic mastery in several disciplines. But this is also the time for them to play, choose some other electives, and develop a portfolio of what they've done. They can do this on paper or in digital mediums for evidence of learning. Teachers should spend more time figuring out how to assess appropriate evidence not continuing a similar pace of assessment they would have in the classroom. All will get stronger together in this phase and leaders can start to figure out what now, next, and future learning might look like as to a field guide for remote then online learning in phases.

Take an additional 2 weeks here to start to set-up for year-end assessment. Start the summer with what you'll reflect on in terms of summer continuity programming and Fall rollout of possible new models of online and blended learning now that you've figured out more of how to make remote learning more effective. Have parents review your planning this time on the front end.

Through it all, education leaders need to understand that the parent lift is far different than what it was with a couple of nights of homework and/or an evening to check assignments. This is an initiative overload of a system at its finest. Leaders are rolling out half-baked assessment practices, and teachers are responding to them the best they know how to in a new environment. Parents are being co-opted in a process they've had very little say in on both the work and school front. It is time to fix these challenges.

By reaching out to parents right now and saying we did not roll this out well, you are modeling integrity and vulnerability. Let's hit the reset button a few more times as we learn more about both sides of the emergency remote learning and work life.

The blog post originally appeared on my LinkedIn page here.