Mark Barnett, BSD VP of Education, is no stranger to the world of online learning and blended learning. Having developed his online teaching practices as a teacher, Ph.D. student, and tech coach, he is here to share some tips from his training and the best practices learned from schools worldwide so you can have a successful academic year.
At BSD Education, we have been working with schools all over the globe facing uncertain times and significant shifts in the way we teach and how students access their education for the upcoming school year. We’ve developed five strategies from our discussions with school leaders and following best practices to help educators navigate the upcoming school year.
Provide avenues for students to develop social connections
With most of the world having to cope with social isolation, it’s no surprise that we are all craving the valuable social connections that make up the fabric of our collective shared experiences. When students return to school, we must focus on providing opportunities for them to connect in meaningful ways.
You can do this by setting up small group cohorts of students that can participate in weekly online discussions facilitated through Zoom or similar virtual meeting software that a teacher initially facilitates. Then, once the teacher has set the tone and expectations for small-group cohort discussions, let students take the wheel to flourish organic conversations and relationships.
Make time for teachers to connect and collaborate during academic year
Never underestimate the ability of a teacher to quickly and effectively solve a problem. Include them in the decision-making process by allowing them to speak up and be heard. Collectively, encouraging teachers to work together can result in problem solving that supports the entire learning ecosystem.
For teachers to problem solve, they need the space and means to collaborate. Instead of leaving teachers to work in isolation in their classrooms and virtual spaces, ensure adequate time is provided to collaborate and share best practices.
Use tech tools that work for you, drop the rest (temporarily)
The two main tools that will help to facilitate online learning or blended learning are a Learning Management System (LMS) and a virtual meeting space like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet. Using an LMS like Google Classroom helps organize all course content and assignments, especially for asynchronous work. Then you can use virtual meeting software to conduct synchronous learning.
While there are dozens, even hundreds of products that can be employed, consider the cognitive load of just the two leading technologies alone and give time for students and teachers to adapt to a new routine. Once an established practice has been adopted, think about what other tools you can bring to facilitate learning.
Invest in high-quality professional development during the academic year
To all teachers, leaders, and school staff struggling, there are many coaches, professional development providers, and other professionals who can help you navigate the recent changes. Start by identifying your strengths and weaknesses, and then look for support to help you with your identified deficiencies.
Next, work with professionals and professional development providers who seek to help you with the philosophy of “teach them to fish instead of selling crates of fish.” Here at BSD Education, we are happy to support you in digital learning and skill development, and we won’t sell you a crate of fish either.
Once things settle, bring back extracurricular activities
It may take a few weeks or even months to build habits and routines, but it will eventually happen. After everyone is comfortable with the new approach, consider bringing back enrichment programs, after-school programs, and other extracurricular activities. These are sometimes the activities that students look forward to, especially those that allow for creativity and agency.
When you are ready, we would be glad to help you with technology and digital skills courses this academic year.
Remember that we are all in this together, so don’t be afraid to reach out as you embark on the new academic year. We look forward to hearing from you all about how your first few weeks of school went.