We may have thought that we had COVID-19 beat but unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. One recent look at the news headlines shows rising infection rates, more travel restrictions, and yes, more schools returning to online learning. Whether we are parents, educators, or students, we can all agree that this is the last thing that we want to see happening. When schools reopened after the last round of lockdowns, even the students were happy to go back to “normal” learning and regular social interactions.
The reality is though, that schools are facing rising infection rates and are being forced to revisit the options for remote instruction. One principal with whom I spoke last week told me that the infection rate in his high school had jumped up 40%. He said that there are currently more students testing positive now than there were during the height of the last lockdown. None of us want to move backwards but if the current trends continue, many schools may find themselves back online. There is one major difference though between this time and last time. Now, we have a lot more experience to consider. So, it is time for schools all over the world to wake up and to get it right this time. Successfully transferring learning to an online setting does not happen automatically.
Here are three important yet simple steps to make sure that online learning time is not wasted….
- Train the Teachers! – This sounds so obvious. If schools are expecting teachers to transfer their classrooms to the online setting, they are going to need some help. Ask any trained online teacher and they will tell you that there are clear differences between classroom instruction and remote instruction. It is unfair to expect teachers who were trained to teach in one way, to all the sudden be able to transition to remote learning. During that first lockdown, Edu-Together’s staff trained more than 2,000 teachers around the world. Schools enlisted our services to prepare their faculties and to guide them through every step of their transitions to online instruction. It won’t happen overnight, but now is the time to get prepared. As a parent, and as an educator, I cringe when I see some of the mistakes being made. It is not the fault of the teachers. Even the best educators are going to need more than a Zoom account to make it happen. Almost all of these mistakes are totally avoidable, with some basic training and support. Start this training now so that you are ready when/if your school needs to go back to this model.
- Use the Experts – When I first started teaching almost 20 years ago, I learned early on, that as confident as I may have been with my content and my ability, I did not have all the answers. I was lucky to start my teaching career at a school with mentors and experienced teachers who could show me the ropes. Teaching online has in many ways, become its own field. There are teachers today, who have spent their entire careers as online teachers. They have perfected the model and have seen the potential of online classes. Most schools do not have this resource in-house. Even the ed-tech experts in the schools were not trained in how to teach online. Why should they have been trained in this field? Up until COVID-19, there was no need. Well, here we are in 2021, battling a pandemic that just doesn’t want to go away. We saw last time that teachers need some help. Training is the first stage, but if your school does not have the expertise to guide the staff, find some help outside. There are organizations and companies that will support your efforts. There is no shame to asking for assistance. You will be helping teachers, students, and parents if your teachers have the support they need to succeed.
- Remember the Reality – As a teacher, this one is tough to admit, but the reality is that COVID-19 has not done our profession any favors. Thousands of teachers have left the field, and there just aren’t enough in the pipeline to make up the difference. Some geographical areas are seeing the effects already, but even those schools who have not had to deal with this issue, will have to face the music at some point. I spoke to a colleague of mine who works in the admissions department of a well-known university. She said that the number of applications to the school’s education program has fallen almost 45% over the past 3 years. The numbers were already declining before the pandemic, and now, the situation has gotten worse. So, what does this mean for schools and students today? Online learning is not going anywhere. Schools across the globe are being forced to rely on remote teachers to help solve staffing challenges. The fact is, that if the global educational community can learn how to successfully use online learning, it will only strengthen the system. More and more students will be turning to online schools, and more classes will be taking place remotely. The better we can prepare both our existing teachers and our students, the more successful the transition will be.
It is tough to be in this state of limbo. I had a friend who used to tell me to stop reading the news, as there was never anything good. It would be really nice if we knew what the future holds, or if we had a way to eliminate this terrible pandemic. The truth is though, that even with vaccines and medical advancements, the world is forever changed. The education of our children cannot be compromised, even as we find our way forward. Our future relies on the next generation of thinkers, innovators, and pioneers. It is our job to make sure that the members of the next generation have a fighting chance. The path forward may need to be altered, but positive outcomes are still possible.