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PD in a Time of COVID

"We were shut down with pretty much no warning"
- Andrea Cook, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, Springboro Public Schools

The coronavirus caught most of the United States off guard. By the time the scale and scope of the virus was internalized, infection rates had already begun to accelerate and states had to act with an emphasis on speed. For example, Ohio informed its districts after school ended on Thursday March 12th that schools would be shut down on Monday March 16th.

Districts had to react quickly. Many districts were effectively shut down for several weeks as they determined how to move forward. For some, days turned into weeks. Other districts were able to recover reasonably quickly. Over the past couple of months, we have had an opportunity to speak with four such districts that were able to respond within days to the crisis.

Before sharing their success,  I want to note that it would be a ridiculous oversimplification to state that districts could have recovered more quickly if they only performed "X", "Y", and "Z." Districts around the country continue facing unique challenges and they all have performed Herculean efforts in ensuring that their kids remain safe.

Rio Rancho (NM) Public Schools, Oak Park (IL) Unified School District, Oceanside (CA) Unified School District, and Springboro (OH) Public Schools have shared a number key learnings over the past few months. 

Keep Expectations in Check

This is not working from home, this is trying to support students from home during a crisis.

Without exception, all of the districts we spoke with expressed the need to keep expectations in check. This meant communicating with teachers - although the hope was that teachers were using some of their time at home for professional development versus simply "working from home." Teachers also needed to be kept aware that the district placed their safety and well- being as a top priority.

Choice and Value First

Over and over again, we heard from successful districts that by realizing that the situation was not normal and providing teachers with the learning they wanted (student-led) - rather than mandated (teacher-led) - resulted in better learning outcomes and happier teachers.

As might be expected, the top activities selected by learners in Alludo for March through May were distance learning and coronavirus related:

  1. Welcome to Powerschool
  2. Powerschool Navigation
  3. Powerschool Role Based Training
  4. Screencastify
  5. Google Hangouts Meet
  6. Share a Link
  7. Stay Safe!
  8. Drive: Create a Folder
  9. COVID-19 Background
  10. Preparing for Distance Learning

Alludo for Everyone! is a free course that contains a lot of great activities in support of  COVID-19, distance learning, social emotional learning, and wellness. 

Micro Learning Adds Up

From March through May, Alludo Teachers and Staff completed 92,616 Lessons for 31,113.7 Hours of Learning

Teachers were forced to adopt a working style that was unlike anything they had experienced before. Teachers enjoy being in a classroom with their kids and being forced into a technology-based, remote working environment made it difficult to focus. Forcing long-form, lecture style professional development was poorly received and difficult to do. The districts we spoke with emphasized small increments of learning. This allowed teachers to increase their capacity to support distance learning without feeling overwhelmed.

Shorten The Feedback Loop

From March through May, the Average Cycle Time for Alludo was 1 Day, 17 Hours, 51 Minutes.

In general, a shorter feedback loop leads to faster learning. The districts we spoke with linked faster feedback with greater learner satisfaction. These districts had faster cycle times than the Alludo average (1 Day, 8 Hours, 50 Minutes). With Alludo, learners must demonstrate mastery so feedback from coaches is required and the shorter the feedback time the more learning that can flow through a district.

Emphasize Social Emotional Well-being

We have to tell our teachers to take a break

One piece of "conventional wisdom" that has been widely disproven in the crisis is that if people are working remotely that they will be less productive. Not only was this proven untrue, the opposite seemed to be true: people tended to expend more effort. The reasons are not well understood - undoubtedly uncertainty was a huge factor - but for whatever reason leaders, teachers, and other staff members worked more than before and our districts started to notice burnout. 

The four districts we spoke with noticed that they had to encourage their teachers and staff to take regular breaks. They had to emphasize social emotional awareness and well-being. This is something where leadership really needed to set an explicit expectation.

Lessons Learned

As a whole, the United States responded very slowly to the coronavirus, which resulted in districts being forced to react very quickly. School districts across the country responded amazingly well given the context of these uncharted waters. 

When it comes to their preparation, the districts we spoke with were able to respond quickly by applying five professional development principles:

  • Keep Expectations in Check
  • Choice and Value First
  • Micro Learning Adds Up
  • Shorten the Feedback Loop
  • Emphasize Social Emotional Well-being

How Is Your District Positioned for Next Time?

It seems that most epidemiologists expect a COVID-19 spike in the fall. The timing could not be worse but unlike this spring, we have time to prepare.

What is your district doing to prepare for a potential COVID-19 spike in the fall?  It's time NOW to develop your plan and make sure to invest in the continuing professional development of your teachers and staff.