Leading in a Crisis: Spotlighting Our School Partners Rising to the Challenge

April 13, 2020

Here at EdTec, supporting charter schools to succeed is at the heart of everything we do, day in and day out. As we navigate this difficult time together, this blog series will address various topics to help school leaders identify the tools, resources, and support they need to lead effectively. This time, we’re providing some inspiration and sharing examples of how our school partners are going above and beyond to serve their communities.  

Across the country, schools are transitioning to some form of remote or online learning due to the coronavirus pandemic. While this is a time of uncertainty for many educatorsit is also an opportunity to find innovative ways to respond to challenges and approach learning. Although schools are physically closed, school leaders are finding ways to keep their school communities connected and engaged. They are making sure students have the appropriate tools to continue learning at home, providing online learning resources, and encouraging students and teachers alike to find time to relax and have fun.  

To provide inspiration and circulate ideas among the charter school community, we are spotlighting a few examples of how our school partners are rising to the challenge, broken into four categories: 

  • Online Learning Curriculum & Instructions 
  • Student Engagement 
  • Community Support  
  • Equitable Access 

This is only a partial list of the many ways our school partners are serving their communities. If you have an example from your school that you would like to share, please click here to let us know 

Online Learning Curriculum & Instructions   

We’ve included a few examples of how our school partners are implementing online learning and sharing educational resources with both students and parents. 

Para Los Niños  

As a way to help parents keep a structured learning schedule for their children, Para Los Niños is sharing practical resources such as example study agendas for each grade level on their website  and Twitter channel. They include a mix of online educational resources, such as Khan Academy, to supplement in-class content or material.   

Language Academy of Sacramento  

The teachers at the Language Academy of Sacramento are creating weekly virtual learning packets that include daily schedules to keep kids on track. 

Creo College Prep 

Creo College Prep is making the transition to distance learning by uploading daily video lessons on their YouTube channel.  

Rocketship Public Schools

Rocketship Public Schools Digital Learning Launchpad

Rocketship created a Digital Learning Launchpad to help families and educators adapt to learning from home by sharing what is working for their organization. Rocketship is sharing continuously updated resources, tools, and advice to support and advance student learning and character development from home. 

Connect Community Charter School 

The school leaders at Connect Community Charter School are providing their students and families easy access to helpful resources. They developed mini-websites for each grade level utilizing Google Sites to share distance learning resources and grade-level appropriate educational resources for parents to explore.  

Elite Public Schools 

To help continue the learning process during school closure, Elite Public Schools is providing family and student resources on their website. The resources include a daily schedule to suit the needs of both parents and students, along with free educational tools to keep learning fun. The website also features a student highlight video that shares what students are learning from home.  

High Tech Los Angeles 

High Tech Los Angeles is making the transition to distance learning by providing daily schedules and live sessions for each grade level. They also have a distance learning FAQ to answer any questions or concerns that parents or students may have.   

Intrepid College Prep 

Intrepid College Prep hosted remote learning webinars for parents in three languages and posted them on their website.  

Lighthouse Community Public Schools 

Lighthouse Community Public Schools is supporting the success of students by sharing learning resources for each grade level on Google Docs. The learning resources include work packets created by teachers  along with online resources to support distance learning. They are also providing free educational online content for parents who are looking for additional support and enrichment ideas to continue learning at home.   

Student Engagement   

Our school partners are finding creative ways to engage with students during the crisis, to both deliver critical information and provide a much-need break or healthy laugh! 

Para Los Niños

Para Los Niños is utilizing social media to keep things fun! On opening day for baseball, they shared an image of their staff on Zoom, all wearing Dodgers jerseys. Although they couldn’t celebrate opening day on campus, they didn’t let it hold them back from showing their team spirit!

Ethos Classical  

Ethos Classical Spirit Week

In an effort to bring joy to distance learning, Ethos Classical announced its first annual virtual spirit week on Instagram, encouraging students to post pictures and stories of artwork, silly outfits, and family photos.  

Rocketship Public Schools

Although these are uncertain times, Rocketship is finding opportunity in the crisis. On their blogthe charter network is sharing how teachers, families, and students are making the most out of distance learning. They are also using social media to highlight how teachers and students are managing to have fun along the way.

Strive Collegiate 

In the spirit of friendly competition, Strive Collegiate Academy hosted a dance contest in their Instagram story in which students could vote for the best of two TikTok videos featuring their teachers! They are also using Instagram to promote their virtual spirit week

Amethod Public Schools 

Student health and safety is a top priority for many schools. Teachers from Amethod Public Schools created a YouTube video that walks students through five essential steps to help them stay safe during the quarantine.  

Élan Academy

Virtual dance parties, pajama day, and college pride day are just a few ways that Élan Academy is making the most of spirit week.  Although students aren’t on campus, they are keeping spirit week alive by encouraging students to participate in fun at-home activities.   

Grizzlies Prep 

This is a hard time for many students, but teachers at Grizzlies Prep are sharing motivational videos on social media to keep students encouraged! In the videos, they are also providing ideas for ways that students can have fun with their families while at home.   

Community Support 

We’ve included a few examples of how our school partners are supporting their community with access to teachers and counselors via phone or video chat, as well as other resources families need during this difficult time and transition to at-home learning. 

Creo College Prep 

Creo College Prep Distance Learning

Even though the school campus is physically closed, Creo College Prep is making sure that both parents and students have access to teachers.  The school posts schedules and office hours on their website so that parents know what their children should be focused on and when they can video chat with teachers for support. The school is also hosting a daily community chat where the whole school comes together to connect and share gratitude.  

Memphis Merit Academy  

The school leaders at Memphis Merit are committed to making sure families have access to a teacher or administrator during the school closure. Parents and students can call a virtual teacher hotline for assistance with coursework.   

Alpha Public Schools

Alpha Public Schools fundraiser

To support their school community during this crisis, Alpha Public Schools is providing access to remote learning resources and family support resources. To make sure students have access to the internet, they are offering mobile hotspots to help students connect to the internet so that they can complete coursework. The organization is also offering counseling check-ins for students who are in need of additional support. To help parents who may be experiencing financial hardship, they have established an emergency fund to raise money to provide financial assistance and other resources. 

Oxford Prep Academy  

To keep parents informed about the crisis, OPA developed a COVID-19 Resources and Information page where they are sharing information on many topics including local meal service locations for all K-12 students, available childcare locations, and a COVID-19 hotline staffed by local nurses.   

Nevada Rise

School leaders at Nevada Rise created the Families of Nevada Rise Facebook group and shared instructions for how to join to encourage families to connect and support each other during this time. They also created a YouTube channel with fun videos. 

Buffalo Creek Academy 

Buffalo Creek Academy

Buffalo Creek Academy plans to open this fall, but they’re already very active in their community. The leadership team recently set up a table at two grocery stores and handed out school supply bags to families to support students learning from home. They’re also holding professional development sessions online in preparation for the upcoming school year.  

Equitable Access  

During this challenging time, it’s important that schools provide equitable access to the technology and training needed for students to continue learning at home. Here’s a few examples of how our school partners are committing to instructional equity as they transition to online learning. 

Amethod Public Schools / Oakland Charter High School 

Oakland Charter High School recognizes the importance of ensuring all students have access to the appropriate technology to continue learning at home. They are distributing Chromebooks to students in need and providing internet services to families who lack access.  

Solare Collegiate  

Solare Collegiate is loaning Chromebooks to students who do not have access to a computer at home, and their website includes information about free access to community hotspots. Solare is also helping to make sure all parents and students are prepared to participate in student learning by providing detailed instructions about how to sign into email and Google Classroom.  

Alpha Public Schools 

Alpha Public Schools put together a one-pager with information about free or low-cost home internet options for families, including instructions for how to sign-up.

 

During these uncertain times, it is inspiring to see how schools are going above and beyond to provide their students with quality online learning and make things fun along the way! We hope the examples provided here will provide ideas and inspiration for school leaders across the country to try something new or different. If you have an example you would like to share with other school leaders, please click here to let us know.    

Leading in a Crisis: Four Tips for Effective Online Learning

March 24, 2020

Here at EdTec, supporting charter schools to succeed is at the heart of everything we do, day in and day out. As we navigate this difficult time together, this blog series will address various topics to help school leaders identify the tools, resources, and support they need to lead effectively.

A vast majority of schools across the country have closed in response to the rapid spread of COVID-19. For at least a few weeks but possibly an extended period, school leaders are challenged to rethink what day-to-day learning looks like and are scrambling to come up with alternative solutions.

Schools vary in their knowledge of technological tools and abilities to provide their educational services to students online. As a school leader, regardless of whether your school is ready for online learning, preparing to take on this challenge is overwhelming. These are indeed difficult times, but by working together and sharing resources we can keep our kids engaged and learning. We’ve put together four tips for school leaders to help manage the transition to online learning and support teachers to deliver effective instruction.

Tip #1: Be Realistic and Provide Support

The harsh reality is that classes have been disrupted and we aren’t sure when normal school operations will resume. As the leader of your school, it helps to be realistic with expectations. Introducing online learning in a time where it is no longer “business as usual” will have many challenges. Realize that everyone is stressed and scared of the uncertainty ahead. The anxiety produced by the crisis impacts everyone involved.

Try to take a humanistic approach to your leadership and focus on the mental health of your staff and students. Like some of you, your team members may be juggling multiple roles, such as having to provide childcare or adult care. Promote the well-being of your teachers by making sure they have the tools and training they need to be effective, and check-in with them periodically to make sure they are doing okay.

Teachers will also benefit from access to practical resources that help them to plan, maintain structure, and meaningfully engage with students. As one example, Success Academy Charter Schools, the largest public charter school network in New York, hosted a webinar to discuss its plans for taking classes online, and included information about helpful resources shared with teachers, including suggested schedules and examples of questions to ask students when checking-in with them throughout the day. In today’s uncertain environment, actionable recommendations go a long way in helping to maintain some form of normalcy. Ask your teachers where they could use the most help, and work together with other administrators to put together resources that will help guide your teachers in this new environment and enable them to focus on teaching.

Tip #2: Collaboration and Training Are Critical

Implementing online learning requires collaborative planning from school leaders, administrators, and teachers. Create a leadership team that will inform the vision and assume responsibility for your school’s online learning plan. This team should start by asking relevant questions, such as, what tools and resources will be required to best support students’ needs? What tools are we already using that will serve us well, and where do we need to bring in new tools? You may find a few ideas on the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ list of COVID-19 resources, which includes links to learning platforms and additional resources.  Your team will also need to ask, what kind of training and support do our teachers need to ensure smooth delivery?  What can we encourage parents to do at home to support student learning? What is our plan for students who do not have access to a computer or internet at home?

The leadership team should take care to include teachers in the decision-making process when determining how existing tools will be used in the new learning environment, as well as in the selection of new tools or resources, as teachers will need to use them daily and understand their own comfort level with various technologies. Teachers also have valuable knowledge regarding what works best for their students and families, and their input is critical to getting buy-in for your school’s online learning plan.

It’s not enough to provide tools; you’ll also need to make sure everyone is comfortable using them. It is important that school leaders have a plan in place to train teachers to effectively use existing and new tools, as well as to provide extra support to those teachers who do not feel comfortable with technology. These training efforts can be led by your technology team, or in the absence of one, by administrators, teachers, or other staff who are technologically savvy. Training can be further supported with online resources such as video tutorials. As one example, Google recently launched Teach from Home, a temporary hub of information, tools, and tutorials to help teachers during the COVID-19 crisis. These resources should also be made available to parents as they will play a critical role in students’ learning during this time.

Tip #3: Commit to Instructional Equity

The reality is that there are drastic disparities in access to computers and internet outside the classroom.  As schools transition to online learning, they should continually evaluate if their learning plans exclude certain students, and then adjust and/or prepare supports accordingly.

The first step to take when putting together an online learning plan is to audit your school community’s technology needs and capabilities. What kind of access is there, and what level of familiarity do your families have with educational technology? Understanding your community will help to guide the actions you need to take before learning can commence for everyone. If your school has computers and internet hotspots to distribute to students, a distribution plan will need to be organized. If the school lacks these resources, there will need to be a plan to distribute hard copies of materials. The California Department of Education published guidance on distance learning that includes considerations to ensure equity and access for all students, including assessing a continuum of options depending on access to computers and internet.

Our commitment to equity should also include accommodations to serve students with disabilities as well as English learners. School leaders should work closely with the appropriate departments and coordinators at their schools to ensure these student groups are provided with tailored lessons and adequate supports. You may also want to read through the guidance recently shared by the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools as well as the U.S. Department of Education on COVID-9 and students with disabilities. During this challenging time, we need to do everything we can to make sure all students have equitable access to continued learning opportunities and that no one is left behind.

Tip #4: Be Thoughtful with Communications

This time of extreme change requires forward-looking leadership and thoughtful communication.  You can start by providing meaningful engagement with your team through supportive, personalized communications. Actively check-in with teachers as they transition to online teaching to ask how they are doing and how you can best support them.

Your school’s teachers will need to focus on effective communication with students to improve learning. Communicating online with students will be very different than traditional classes and in-person meetings. The more effectively teachers can communicate, the stronger the learning process will be in this time of crisis. The 7 C’s of Effective Online Communication shared by Southern New Hampshire University as a resource for universities amid the current crisis, includes advice for online instruction that may serve as a helpful guide for teachers to convey their lessons to students in a way that is:

Concise: Convey all necessary facts

Courteous: Be open and honest, friendly and warm

Complete: Balance brevity and message requirements

Concrete: Provide precise and specific direction

Considerate: Maintain the emotional well-being of students

Creative: Increase the potential for retention and support collaboration

Clear: Provide accessible language

Lastly, school leaders should establish regular communication with families so that parents and caregivers stay up-to-date and informed. We are all overwhelmed with information right now, and you can help to manage your community’s stress by establishing a consistent communications schedule so that parents know when to expect to hear from you. Since the transition phase has just begun, you’ll likely have daily news to share; try to gather important updates throughout the day, compile them in an organized, easy-to-read manner, and send a newsletter after school. After a few weeks have passed and processes are well established, you might be able to space these out a few days. Teachers will likely need to communicate with parents every day; you can encourage them to do so at a consistent time and to limit communications to one per day so that parents do not feel bombarded and overwhelmed as they struggle to balance work and home demands.

It’s also important to make sure that when your school shares updates about local, state, and federal government actions, you commit to citing official sources such as departments of education or charter support organizations. You want to make sure to only share reliable information with your families and avoid the spread of misinformation.

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Education is not a place; it is the interactions that students have with their teachers and each other. Taking a thoughtful, positive approach to the current crisis can lead to creative opportunities for online learning. School leaders can encourage this by working with teachers to make sure they have the tools and support they need and by maintaining consistent communications with parents and others in their school communities. Although this is a time of extreme disruption, it will be exciting to see what we discover about different approaches to learning.