This year’s return to school has been unlike any other. Educators across New Jersey are working through extraordinary circumstances as they reengage students amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As the virus continues to force the need for remote and hybrid learning models of instruction, educators find themselves in uncharted waters as they work to ensure effective teaching and learning.
While much of the local conversation has focused on “closing the digital divide” and ensuring our students have the necessary devices to participate in remote learning, this shift is not solely a technological endeavor.
Success in remote or hybrid learning requires schools to closely examine teacher readiness and preparation for remote instruction. The shift to digital delivery causes a pedagogical conundrum — a fundamental change requiring significant adaptations in the way teachers teach. Traditional instructional strategies do not work and new skills are required. Most teachers have not received any formal training on hybrid or remote instruction through their preparation programs or continuing education classes.
This fall, it is incumbent upon state and district leaders to provide the means and resources through which teachers receive the training and support necessary to ensure consistent, engaging, and standards-based instruction for their students.
A strong professional learning program for hybrid and remote instruction must go well beyond how to use the district’s learning management system or how to use a web conferencing platform. It must also provide teachers with strategies and tactics for meaningfully engaging students, facilitating self-guided learning, and teaching concepts and skills in a remote setting. Consider the following as guideposts for designing professional learning on remote education:
- Students will not care what teachers know until they know their teachers care — even more so in a digital world. Ask any teacher what the most fundamental element of good teaching is and they will say relationships. In a digital environment, building teacher-to-student and student-to-student relationships will be challenging. School leaders should consider providing their teachers with training on how to establish a sense of community and build relationships with their students, as well as how to best use technology to facilitate and encourage peer-to-peer and student-teacher interaction.
- Lesson design is not just what it looks like — lesson design is how it works. Building upon Steve Jobs’ notion that Apple products were designed first and foremost to meet the needs of the user, training on hybrid and remote instruction should focus on best practices for designing quality, engaging remote lessons that meet the needs of all learners. This means school districts should train their teachers on how to assess student learning virtually, evaluate the best method for instruction for each remote lesson, effectively communicate and provide feedback in an online platform, integrate principles of Universal Design for Learning, and differentiate for remote students with diverse learning needs.
- Students learn best when they feel safe and supported — keep their social-emotional learning needs in mind. While there has been a significant focus on the academic regression following the spring school closures, a growing body of evidence is revealing the toll the pandemic is having on student mental health and emotional well-being. An unprecedented number of students have experienced additional stress during this public health crisis, including social isolation, economic strains, family conflict, and personal loss. Schools must respond to this need using a framework that supports not just academic achievement, but also the social-emotional needs of students. Teachers need training on actionable strategies to embed social-emotional learning and programming into virtual lessons and how to identify “look-fors” when children are struggling with their emotional and mental health.
School leaders know firsthand that significant issues remain in addressing the educational inequities that occurred during the immediate transition to remote education in the spring and are still occurring today. While closing the digital divide is one piece of the puzzle, in order for our students to have access to a robust, engaging, and rewarding learning experience, school leaders must also focus on providing teachers with a comprehensive professional learning program that delivers effective strategies to teach in a digital environment.
About Public Consulting Group
Public Consulting Group, Inc. (PCG) is a leading public sector solutions implementation and operations improvement firm that partners with health, education, and human services agencies to improve lives. Founded in 1986 and headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, PCG has over 2,500 professionals in more than 50 offices worldwide. PCG offers education consulting services and technology solutions that help schools, school districts, and state education agencies/ministries of education to promote student success, improve programs and processes, and optimize financial resources. To learn more, visit http://www.publicconsultinggroup.com/education/.
Our work reflects deep educational expertise and the capacity to implement change within schools. Our products and services help school and district leaders improve outcomes and equity for all students and help educators make effective decisions by transforming data into meaningful results. Click here to learn more about PCG’s remote education professional learning curriculum.