Mark Barnett, our VP of Education is no stranger to the world of online learning and blended learning, having developed his own online teaching practices as a teacher, Ph.D. student, and tech coach, he is here to share some tips from his own practice and best-practices learned from schools all over the world.
At BSD Education, we have been working with schools all over the globe who are facing uncertain times and big shifts in the way we teach and how students access their education for the upcoming school year. From our discussions with school leaders, and by following best practices, we’ve come up with five strategies that will help educators navigate the upcoming school year.
- Provide avenues for students to develop social connections
- Make time for teachers to connect and collaborate
- Use tech tools that work for you, drop the rest (temporarily)
- Invest in high-quality professional development
- Once things settle, bring back extracurricular activities
Keep reading as we share our insights on how to proceed in a world post-COVID and help you and your students move forward with this new school year.
Provide avenues for students to develop social connections
With most of the world having to cope with social isolation or a complete lockdown, 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 this year, it is imperative that we focus on providing opportunities for them to connect with each other in meaningful ways. One way that you can do this is by setting up small group cohorts of students that can participate in weekly online discussions facilitated through Zoom or similar virtual meeting software that are initially facilitated by a teacher. Once the teacher has set the tone and expectations for small-group cohort discussions, let students take the wheel so that organic conversations and relationships can flourish.
Make time for teachers to connect and collaborate
Never underestimate the ability of a teacher to quickly and effectively solve a problem, so include them in the decision-making process by allowing them to speak up and be heard. Collectively, teachers who are encouraged to work together are able to solve problems in a way that supports the entire learning ecosystem. But in order for teachers to problem-solve, they need to be given the space and means to collaborate, which can be done virtually if done with intention. Instead of leaving teachers to work in isolation in their own classrooms and virtual spaces, make sure that there is adequate time provided in the weekly schedule for teachers to collaborate, support each other 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 to organize all of the course content and assignments, especially for asynchronous work. Then you can use a virtual meeting software to conduct synchronous learning. While there are dozens, even hundreds of other great tools, apps, and tech products that can be employed, consider the cognitive load of just the two main technologies alone and give time for students and teachers to adapt to a new routine. Once an established practice has been adopted, then think about what other programs, tech tools, and apps you can bring in to facilitate learning.
Invest in high-quality professional development
Teachers, leaders, and school staff need all of the support they can get during these trying times, so find a coach, professional development provider, or other professionals who can help you navigate the waters, point you in the right direction and help steer the ship towards calm waters. Start by identifying your strengths and weaknesses and then look for support to help you with the weaknesses that you identified. 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 the areas of digital learning and digital 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, set routines, and get grounded with the new school year, but don’t worry, it will eventually happen. After teachers, students, and staff are comfortable with the new approach, then consider ways to bring back enrichment programs, after school programs and other extracurricular activities. These are sometimes the activities that students most look forward to, especially those that allow for creativity and agency. When you are ready, let us know and we would be glad to help you with technology and digital skills courses, after school programs and enrichment activities.
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.