The Future Is Not What It Was

We are an excellent school, and will remain one. The habits that made us great will keep us great.

We started by asking, and answering the following: What has worked for us in the past? Why has it worked? What has worked, but can be improved? How do we improve it? What has not worked well for us at all? Why didn’t it work?

We are excellent because we successfully connect with our students. We understand that we must successfully address the Maslow stuff before we can effectively address the Bloom stuff. We also recognize that the environments of teaching and learning have forever changed, in dramatic ways. And we acknowledge that it will never again be what it once was.

How do we continue to work on the Maslow stuff remotely?

We know that we will not see the same students who left us a short time ago. As they were shaped by their home environments at the time of the last dismissal bell, they are still shaped by their home environments today. But they have changed, and we have to change with them.

We will see more of them with parents out of work, and stresses at home will increase. More of them will qualify for free-reduced meals, many for the first time in their school careers, and that will be a monumental challenge for them and their families. Even though the “official” numbers will not be known until after school starts next fall, the impacts are very real today.

We recognize that “poverty” impacts learning, and we realize that what worked well with kids in the past may not work as well with them today.

Broadband access and appropriate tools for remote/online learning have taken on new significance. The “poverty” of students who have never had them, or who will now lose them has also taken on greater significance. While the concept of “digital native” is a myth, the inequitable access of the digital divide is very real.

The inequities of food, shelter, safety, health, and access to technologies cannot be seen or felt through the screen.

But we will address them through our new professional development/training programs. Because we have found that while google apps, You Tube channels, and Kahn Academy work, they will not keep us at the levels of excellence we have grown accustomed to, and those that our parents, teachers, students, and communities continue to expect. We understand that they do not adequately address the 3 C’s of Educational Technology and Instruction; Connect, Collaborate, and Create. And we know we can do better.

Many things that we have taken for granted will have to be re-evaluated and modified as we work through the impact of COVID-19.

Schools are both political and social institutions. This disease will not “go away” soon, if ever. There will a second wave later this spring/summer. And another wave in the fall.

So we will take a look at where we must maintain an appropriate physical distance. Those include, but are not limited to: start/dismissal times; student transportation; assemblies; passing periods; grading practices: custodial services; cafeteria services, including preparation, serving, and eating; class sizes and seating arrangements. Changes in Food Service, Transportation, Instruction, and Maintenance all have significant budget considerations. And all of these can have a profound impact on teaching and learning.

We are excellent because our communities tend to trust us, and the decisions we make. In order to maintain excellence, we will have to propose some significant changes. Do we have the political capital to pull them off? Our decisions will be evaluated through a political lens as well as an educational lens. We should expect to bear the brunt of parent and community frustrations over many factors no longer under their control. Recognize it, and respond accordingly, empathetically, and appropriately. Where do our school leaders fall on the “trust scale” with national, state, and other local leaders? Do people trust us, and our messages? How do we know?

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR ALL

All stakeholders/constituent groups MUST be included. We cannot assume that we can make the needed changes without the involvement, and support, of all. To be most effective, the trainings must be tailored to the unique needs, interests, and agendas in each group. A tall order, but we are excellent because we individualize for the needs of our kids. Now, we will expand that practice to include everybody. Not every district will pull it off. And not every district will transition successfully to the “new future.”

Back in the day, we helped “invent” a lot of what people are trying to do today. We didn’t have templates to follow, we had to create them as we went along. So professional development agendas on the topics of teaching in an online/blended format was pretty much “by guess and by golly.”

But now we have things like National Standards for Online Teaching, which we helped create. They follow: A. Teacher knows the primary concepts and structures of effective online instruction and is able to create online learning experiences to enable student success. B. Teacher understands and is able to use a range of technologies, both existing and emerging, that effectively support student learning and engagement. C. Teacher plans, designs and incorporates strategies to encourage active learning, application, interaction, participation, and collaboration in the learning environment. D. Teacher promotes student success through clear expectations, prompt response and regular feedback. E. Teacher models, guides, and encourages legal, ethical, and safe behavior related to technology use. F. Teacher is cognizant of the diversity of student academic needs and incorporates accommodations into the online environment. G. Teacher demonstrates competencies in creating and implementing assessments in online learning environments in ways that ensure validity and reliability of the instruments and procedures. H. Teacher developers and delivers assessments, projects, and assignments that meet standards-based learning goals and assesses learning progress by measuring student achievement of the learning goals. I. Teacher demonstrates competency in using data from assessments and other data sources to modify content and to guide student learning. J. Teacher interacts in a professional, effective manner with colleagues, parents, and other members of the community to support students’ success. K. Teacher arranges media and content to help students and teachers transfer knowledge most effectively in the online environment.

Nothing new in these topics, we covered them all in traditional teacher preparation courses. But doing them in an online environment is a totally different set of processes and skills. It is an entirely new way of teaching, which explains why the Virtual High School training capstone is a supervised student teaching experience. The rubrics are in place for those who have the desire and commitment.

But if you believe you already know everything you need to know about online/blended teaching, and you can’t can’t admit that you don’t yet know what you don’t know yet about it, none of this really matters.

We are facing immediate challenges never before seen in American public education. But we are excellent in part because we know that challenges are nothing more than opportunities to succeed in new and different ways.

What can we do now that we could not do before? What else to we want to accomplish?

We have the opportunity to expand our work beyond the Sacred Goals of the Holy Strategic Plan.

Alternatives are now on the table. The same alternatives that were previously overlooked because what we were doing was working. We are still creating schools designed to prepare our students to be successful when they are our age. But our blueprint has changed. We have some precedents to copy, templates have been created by the online pioneers of our profession. While we can turn to them for guidance, they were not working with our people in our communities. Let us have the humility to recognize and honor their work. And the confidence that we can emulate it for us.

Here and now, we face a dawning of a new day. What we bring as individuals, and as a whole, is a body of knowledge and experiences gleaned from all that has gone before us. The struggles, the setbacks, the victories. There is no history lesson more crucial than this: “Yesterdays lessons can only yield yesterdays results.”

That’s why we must focus on new growth, new opportunities, whole new dimensions in quality, productivity, and the absolute satisfaction of our customers.

From the certainty of all that has been, we must launch into the not yet discovered, the not yet achieved, the not yet mastered.

What the future holds is a shiny new destiny for those with the courage to embrace change, to seize the opportunities of the here and now, and to welcome the dawning of a new day.

And so it goes…

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