Over the winter break, our district (finally) committed to using our online learning platform during school closures, so that instruction could continue and days wouldn’t have to be made up. It came after years of pressure for this sort of thing–some of which was from me–as a no-brainer solution for continuing instruction when it wasn’t safe to meet at school.

Of course, that meant we ended up having three of them in January, including two consecutive days for a snow event. Even though we really wished for time to meet with the staff and present the plan ahead of time, we were ahead of many other schools in that at least we had a plan. We had to scramble, but we knew what we wanted to do.

Although things have been busy since, I’ve had a little time to reflect on how our first three days went: what we can do better, and what we did well.

What went well…

  • We had a plan. It wasn’t communicated as efficiently or as directly as I would have liked (had these days occurred in Feburary, we would have rocked it), but we had a plan, we knew what we wanted to do, and we executed it. Having made the inclement weather plan two years ago gave us a strong advantage in that we only needed to make minor changes to the plan. This meant we could skip right to helping teachers plan instruction, which helped a lot.
  • Teachers were willing. This isn’t always the case. But it was easy to make a case for Digital Learning Days, since most teachers at our school remember several years ago, when we used more weather days than we had. We were forced to stay 30 minutes late for a month–with students–to make up the lost instructional time. It was miserable, so teachers were unusually willing to jump right in and make this work right.
  • We were consistent. Part of the plan included the need for consistency. Some of our parents and students would be engaging with the online learning platform for the first time–we needed clear directions for them. We asked teachers to post their lessons in the same places, with the same naming convention, and with a similar announcement on their pages directing learners to the activities. We believe it was very helpful.

What needs some love…

  • The lessons. For our first time up to bat, we did a great job posting lessons that kept instruction going and were mobile-friendly for those students without computers. Nobody criticized our lessons as being too simple or not enough learning (the opposite–some said we gave too much work). But I think we can do better moving forward. Some of the lessons were basically uploaded worksheets, to be completed on the student’s own paper. I think we can do better. It’s possible to develop lessons that are instructionally sound and rigorous which students can complete at home. Some of our teachers tried discussion boards with their students–that might be a logical next step.
  • The accounability. The district’s directive states that students must be held accountable for the lesson, just as if it had been a regular day of school. But they didn’t say more than that, nor did we spend a lot of time on this piece. What should accountability look like for lessons completed at home? Should we mandate that they be taken for a grade? What’s the plan for students who lose power? This is a key area we must develop further.
  • The expectations. Our decision was to have teachers create lessons that could be completed on a cell phone, under the belief that even families without a home computer or home internet would probably have a phone they could use to complete the lesson. That’s not a bad idea. But based on our sky-high participation numbers, I question how true this assumption is. It might be worth testing this next time around, by having some teachers post lessons requiring a full computer, and seeing what happens with the students.

The winter weather season is nowhere near over yet, so some of these discussions need to happen fairly quickly, but I was completely blown away by how well it went the first few times out! I hope we can continue this positive momentum, and find a way to carry it through to new initiatives.