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Reimagining Our Schools 1.2

We need to get serious regarding our reimagined schools. They will be different, they should be different, from the schools we closed but a few weeks ago.

In an instant, instruction in our public schools went from being a personal enterprise to a distant, seemingly impersonal, one. Where we once found solace in having kids seated in classrooms in front of knowledgeable content specialists, we suddenly see our children sitting in front of all manner of screens hoping that the treasured relationships with their teachers might somehow still be available.

Educational leaders across the country are in the process of sorting through a huge list of logistical issues as they look forward to bringing their students and staffs back to their campuses in the, hopefully, not too distant future. While they straddle educational priorities along side safety, they will have to decide how to maintain adequate social distancing, while making effective use of existing facilities. They’ll need to decide how to feed and transport children. Issues of staffing in a climate of economic decline will be a reality in many areas. It will be a daunting task as they weigh the question, how do we do what we need to do? However, what must not be lost in these deliberations, is the question: how do we do what we need to do when in comes assuring a quality educational experience in our new normal.

We can complain and pine about what we’ve lost. (We don’t have to search too far to discover countless examples.) Or, we can search for the silver lining in what we are experiencing. More specifically, we can embrace the lessons that this catastrophe has placed before us. If we’re paying attention, there is a lot we can, and should, learn.

Is the glass half empty or is it half full?

Hybrid Instruction

Due to the complicated logistics associated with maintaining the safety guidelines for students and staff, I doubt that we will be looking at a 100% on site reopening of our schools anytime soon. By the same token, a continuation of distance learning as it now exists is an unsatisfactory solution. Public education’s unexpected thrust into the arena of distance learning was, and is, a bumpy experience for many teachers, parents and kids. I know from my conversations with teachers and school staff members that this has been a frustrating challenge. With technology being the only tool available, Zoom has become synonymous with access. Despite the valiant efforts of our nation’s educators, we have seen up close that this remote style of teaching, as a singular approach, leaves a lot to be desired. To continue exclusively along the path of distance learning into the future would be a huge (hear the Bernie Sanders inflection) disservice to kids.

What we should consider is a hybrid model of instruction moving forward, an approach that taps into the best of two worlds: utilizing the power of technology for discreet remote instructional functions, balanced with essential opportunities for meaningful on site, face-to-face, learning.

Bear with me here. I do not have a prescription of how a hybrid instructional model would look and function for every school across the nation. Rather, what I am presenting here is an exercise of what I call “what if?” thinking; brainstorming, really, to get some ideas on the table. It is my hope that a result of this the will be an onslaught of other “what if?” ideas from readers of this post. So, with an open mind and a curious spirit, join me in considering some ideas.

I’ve long held the notion that we waste a lot of precious time in our traditional delivery models. Imagine a typical secondary classroom.Tthirty students seated in rows, facing a teacher. Frequently, the teacher will conduct a lecture or some form of activity to “push out” key ideas and concepts as the students attempt to capture the important nuggets in their notes. With students playing the role of passive receivers of information, this one-way exchange frequently occupies a considerable amount of the available learning time.

What if these lectures were recorded by the teacher and were made available to the students to view remotely? This isn’t a new or novel idea. Sal Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, has promoted this idea of a “flipped classroom” for years, where students receive new background information that will be key to upcoming learning outside of class and prior to actually engaging with the new content. (I’m sure we’ve learned from our recent experiences that technology is a great tool for one way communication.) There are several benefits to considering this approach:

  • It represents a reasonable and effective use of technology.

  • Rather than experiencing the limits of a single, “real time” opportunity to assimilate the material, students could choose when to view the lecture, and would have the opportunity to review it as many times as they need to make certain that they have a confident understanding of what is being presented.

  • Parents would have access to the material, as it is presented, to better support their children’s understanding.

  • Any questions students submit electronically would be key formative information as the teacher plans for, and makes necessary adjustments to, their lessons.

  • Think of the instructional time that could be gained, time to invest in personalized learning! (More on that in a moment.)

What if initial assignments and tasks are completed at home, while being monitored by the instructor? Rather than spending precious time on seat tasks, the teacher can effectively oversee the trajectory of individual students, observe trends among groups of learners and become armed with important data on what they kids need, both individually and collectively.

What if class time is spent on one-on-one or small group tutorials when the students are physically in school? With all of the background activities being done remotely, class time can be spent on overcoming misconceptions, constructing deeper understanding, guiding student initiated projects or tasks that interest them, and facilitating a learning community that finds joy in their discoveries.

What if there was actually time and opportunity to build vital human connections, relationships that are powerful and meaningful for everyone in the room? What if we could use the majority of the available instructional time to engage in meaningful discourse about our collective experiences, rather than falling victim to the clock running out before we can engage in a discussion?

What I am suggesting has four significant advantages and opportunities.

  1. The uses of technology in a hybrid model are appropriate applications of the available tools.

  2. A hybrid instruction model promotes greater student engagement, moving them away from the role of “sponge” toward more active participants.

  3. The quality of human interactions, those relationships that we count as being vital to effective teaching and learning, are enhanced as the impersonal tasks are completed outside of the classroom.

  4. The application of a hybrid instructional model, by its very design, reduces the number of students who are physically on school campuses at any given time. This should be a huge benefit in finding solutions to the logistical dilemmas school leaders face.

Reimagining our nations' schools will require vision, creativity and innovation. More importantly it will require the courage to learn and act on what we are experiencing, while providing every child The Education Kids Deserve.

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