Upcoming Virtual Learning Day

Last month, I proudly posted that our Board of Education approved West Rowan Middle to pilot Virtual Learning on Inclement Weather days [here – Teach from Home]. Our B.O.E. created an option for teachers to work at home on snow days by making them optional teacher workdays. We extended that thinking and proposed, and they approved, to allow West Rowan Middle to continue learning, instruction and creating, while teachers were at home and students potentially never got out of bed. Our teachers, students and community were all over-excited to be able to participate in this and not have to make up instructional days at the end of the year or lose any work days.

55b5bf6117cb4721980afbc6cd0b72b8But no one could know that this would be one of the hottest Februarys in recorded history!
We use more AC than space heaters this winter.

#visionaryleadership

Instead of embracing missed opportunities and what could have been, our visionary leader, Dr Lynn Moody, helped create an opportunity for our school to put in place the preparation for virtual learning we’ve been planning for these past couple of months and the overall next level instructional practices we have been engaged in since our 1:1 iPad dive 3 years ago.

March 17th is an early release day for the district. Students are already scheduled to be released 2 hours early making this the perfect day for virtual learning, teaching and learning from home. As soon as we got approval for it, we began communicating with parents, teachers and students about our plans for March 17th. With about a 3 week heads up, we made it an imperative to share our goals for the day and what we are planning on students to stay home to receive instruction and support from teachers through virtual means.

#innovationtrend

This will be a move more and more school districts begin to experiment and implement. Edtech integration has been an priority for districts and schools for years but with the proliferation of 1:1 deployments, create more options for educators. Just this week, Minnesota lawmakers are discussing this possibility with H.F. 1421. This is current proposed legislation that will give LEAs the option to hold ‘school’ for  up to 5 days on snow days. It requires advanced notification at the beginning of the year and when the snow day begins. [Read more of it here- Session Daily Article].

To my knowledge, we are the first school in North Carolina to try this. Given more districts are moving 1:1, including some of our larger districts, this will likely be shift many. The North Carolina Legislature controls the calendar of LEAs and this restriction significantly affects what we can and can’t do if we need to make up days. This is a great step in being able to save professional development days reserved for our teachers that they likely lose when a measure like this isn’t available.

Some Big Ideas

  • The Best of Blended Learning – Since our 1:1 deployment, our district has made a concerted effort to help educators and parents understand how technology integration can enhance learning and blended learning is a core concept of ongoing talks. Several of our schools have become models of blended learning and the growing efficacy is evident district-wide. There will be a modification given for this day but we have been talking to teachers about the critical role blended learning will have that day in delivery and connecting with students at different levels and needs. We have done a good job this year with blended learning support and continued training. We were fortunate to have hired a blended learning coach from a nearby district to serve as our assistant principal. Bill Brown [I’m working on his Twitter profile] has done a lot to enhance talks and capabilities in our school. His next level PD talks have helped fill in gaps in understandings and enhance skills our teachers need for blended learning in our brick-and-mortar setting and in this new venture;
  • Dispelling Notions of Disconnectedness – Our school board, and many parents, have a legitimate concern that technology does not inhibit connecting with students. Our ongoing work is to show and assure that technology enhances, not replaces, the relationship in the classroom. In school, we use it as a critical part in our guided instruction. For this virtual learning, it will be used to connect with groups of students or one-on-ones, to provide support or differentiate instructional efforts. We cannot and will not sacrifice relationships for technology;
  • Communication – There is always advance notice for snow days, its only a question of how much notice. Whether its two hours or one day, this is critical opportunity to communicate with families our work and goals for the day. When I first communicated this with the community, I personally invited every parent to call me directly with concerns and questions. With almost a week past, I have had less than 10 calls, emails and messages about what to expect that. I’m proud and glad that parents have had questions and not complaints – to me, this illustrates that our parents get it. They understand this is a new day in learning and education – we can do more so we should do more. One message from a parent was only to communicate how in favor she was of this move. This shows the power of the positive messages from our school and district these past years;
  • Overcoming Access Limitations – We are the most rural middle in our district. Some of our students are on the bus for the full 90 minute state limited bus ride set by North Carolina. Living in remote areas there are sometimes problems with households not being able to secure reliable wifi and/or sporadic cellular service. This is a common problem with #ruraled schools. Our workaround is the opportunity for advance notice. On any given inclement weather day, teachers will have some time to prepare and send work assignments to students. The assignments, design and delivery, is not the real work or concern [relatively speaking]. The real work comes in creating opportunities to connect with students, answer questions, fill in gaps, feel out their frustrations and coach them through immediate obstacles. This will be the challenge we will have conversations about with staff as the day approaches.

What’s been most interesting to me is the conversations with students. Overall, this is not a big deal. On our previous inclement weather days, they have used that time to catch up on work or even connect with teachers to get a head start on upcoming work. This is a digital native norm. More support has to go to the adults who have to unlearn and relearn skills and understandings to function in a changed education landscape.

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