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  • Dr. Stacey Gonzales

Preparing for Virtual Learning

We are fully in the midst of the 4th Industrial Revolution - the high-speed, rapidly changing technological society. While that might be great for agile and flexible organizations, many schools tend to be slow to embrace change and even slower to implement change. While there are exceptions in small, isolated pockets, most large districts, rural schools, and traditional brick and mortar schools in the United States are not positioned for an unplanned emergency which would limit students’ abilities to attend classes in-person at the school location. Towards that end, this article is intended to provide resources to begin to take steps to understand your school's current state, mobilize stakeholders, and create a three phase plan to design digital learning opportunities for students during uncertain times

STEP 1 - UNDERSTANDING THE CURRENT DIGITAL STATE IN YOUR SCHOOLS

In general, K12 schools primary focus is student learning outcomes - not designing agile, scalable technology-rich cultures where creative and divergent thinking is cultivated. Bell schedules, teacher contracts, and public policy are realities that make innovation difficult. However, shifting is not impossible when leaders and stakeholders share a common vision for change. There are three main considerations to help educators understand their current state in order to create internal systems to support technology-rich digital learning environments: the technology, the funding, and the policies.

First, a technology audit is crucial. Most states have this as a requirement for funding; however, many times this is left up to the “technology people.” It is vital for leaders to have a basic understanding of infrastructure, hardware, and applications to determine what can be reasonably implemented immediately and what will have to wait. COSN has numerous resources for school leaders. If your school does not have a technology administrator, consider reaching out to find an expert in the field. LinkedIn is a great resource to locate both local and virtual connections. The gig economy is booming, and there is a wealth of untapped, amazing humans waiting for an opportunity to use their skills and discrete knowledge to help educators. School leaders don’t have time to be experts in technology, but they must have the ability to connect with the right people to help clarify the infrastructure, hardware, and application needed to enhance learning opportunities for students.

The gig economy is booming, and there is a wealth of untapped, amazing humans waiting for an opportunity to use their skills and discrete knowledge to help educators.

It is important to determine funding levels for the development of technology resources. Districts may consider reallocating current school year funding by reopening budgets before year end. While a virtual conferencing tool or moving to a 1:1 digital learning environment wasn't included in the budget this year, now may be a time to capitalize on unspent funds to support digital learning needs. While federal budget cuts hurt public schools this year, the Perkins V reauthorization has allocated funds for competitive innovation grants. In addition, erate continues to be a source of funding to support digital learning initiatives. While some programs are available with corporate partners to enhance connectivity.

To implement virtual learning, educators should review their state’s commitment to eLearning and the policy requirements in order to design virtual learning plans. The Digital Learning Collaborative provides a plethora of resources and is a leading research organization dedicated to K-12 digital learning. Their mission to “help state and federal governments, school districts, companies, and foundations gain insight into the evolution of the digital learning landscape so they can successfully plan and implement digital learning policy and practice” is well-developed and research-based. Each year, they publish reports and planning guides. With the potential for schools to quickly need to move to eLearning as an option for students, their eLearning Days Report (December, 2019) report paired with their highly organized Guide for Starting and Growing a Digital Learning Program serve as a great starting point for leaders to begin to understand how to scale eLearning plans in their schools.

educators should review their state’s commitment to eLearning and the policy requirements in order to design virtual learning plans
STEP 2 - MOBILIZING YOUR STAKEHOLDERS TOWARDS CHANGE

Educators are navigating growing concerns about attracting and retaining teachers, the search for the paneca to ensure student performance outcomes - especially in math. Add growing school safety concerns and mental health issues, it is understandable why many educators feel disenfranchised and alone in their ability to swiftly address growing coronavirus concerns and emergency school closings, potentially leaving our nation’s most vulnerable students unsupported. There has never been a time where a school leaders' ability to ensure transparent and open communication with stakeholders is more crucial. Public perception around the United States education system is under fire, but most stakeholders are positively supportive of the schools their oldest child attends. This is good news. It means parents are willing to partner with educators who interact with their children daily. Local schools by and large have the trust of those closest in their care. In order to mobilize stakeholders to creative solutions, school leaders should consider the following: leading from a place of trust, asking “who” before “how,” and modeling high-impact technology use.

There has never been a time where a school leaders' ability to ensure transparent and open communication with stakeholders is more crucial.
STEP 3 - FOSTER A CULTURE OF TRUST

Every day, school leaders feel the weight of caring for our nation's students. Most educators have a profound love and commitment to human beings. But in uncertain times, with heightened anxiety levels, fear can easily creep in to the educator’s hearts and attitudes. Never before in public education has leading with trust been more important than it is today. Given the above challenges school leaders face, it is imperative that school leaders build collective efficacy in their organizations and build trust. According to Paul Zac when leaders build a culture of trust within their organizations, employees are “more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance.” Starting now, school leaders must ensure individuals in the organization foster a greater sense of trust. They should assess their own ability to lead and develop a culture of trust. Kevin Kruse, CEO of LEADx, provides great tips and reflective questions that can be used by all stakeholders in the organization to create norms, reflect on practices, and develop a greater sense of trust. Survey data can be collected by using a research-based survey for a more formalized approach. School leaders have a great responsibility to protect, serve, and support all individuals entrusted to their care. It is imperative that stakeholders trust the school leader will make good on that promise.

educators have a profound love and commitment to human beings
STEP 4 - IDENTIFYING WHO BEFORE HOW

Great school leaders understand the unique strengths that staff members possess, many times before others recognize those strengths. While understanding an individual’s strength is intuitive at times, it is not a reason to make assumptions, especially when there are heightened levels of anxiety. School leaders must be able to clearly identify, in an explicit manner, who their staff are verses how they get work done. Equally important is the need for staff to know who they are before they can provide support to leveraging technology for student learning. It doesn’t have to take long, but it is in a leaders best interest during uncertain times to leverage a strengths-based approach to a novel situation. One way to do this is by allowing staff to take a strengths assessment. This can be done simultaneously while doing the other parts of the planning. There are numerous approaches to determine the individual strengths of each staff member and how that can contribute to the whole. A paid service like The CliftonStrengths Assessment provides data points with words in order to empower others to better understand their strengths. While this may be an expensive ask, school leaders can leverage free online tools such as The Wiseman Group's strengths survey based off the best-selling book Multipliers. Identifying strengths will place the right people in the center of the right work.

While understanding an individual’s strength is intuitive at times, it is not a reason to make assumptions, especially when there are heightened levels of anxiety.
5 - START RIGHT NOW

Snapchat. Stories. Videos. A digital society requires digital leadership. Educators have a responsibility to utilize technology tools to enhance understanding, especially when leading the change to high-impact technology. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter where a school leader is today on Roger’s (1962) Diffusion of Innovation Theory which defines an individual’s ability to embrace innovative change. What does matter is making the choice to become an innovator RIGHT NOW! That will look different for different leaders. It will look different depending on the school’s resources. It will look different depending on the ability to lead change. School leaders must take a proactive approach and start. Do something low-risk, high-reward. Host a webinar. Record a video. Create an infographic using canva or visme. Schedule a twitter chat. Engage with me and other thought-leaders and educators on LinkedIn to help support designing virtual learning during uncertain times.

A digital society requires digital leadership...make the choice to become an innovator RIGHT NOW!

In conclusion, The Fourth Industrial Revolution is calling educators to be brave and stand strong. There is a whole digital community just waiting to provide support. LinkedIn’s mission is to “connect the world's professionals to make them more productive and successful.” It seems there is only a small percentage of our nation’s educator’s on LinkedIn right now. We are on the ground floor of an opportunity to disrupt traditional education systems. These are the innovators who understand this work can’t be done alone and through meaningful connections awesome things happen!

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There are many k12 school districts across the nation who have worked on virtual learning plans. I started the work with my CTO, John Connolly, in June, 2019. We were ready for implementation in December in the event of an emergency closing. You can view the public facing website at www.d230.org/elearning.

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