One Schoolhouse's May 13, 2020, Academic Leaders Webinar on the technology needed to deliver a great hybrid learning experience with Brad Rathgeber, Head of School, and Sarah Hanawald, Assistant Head of School for Professional Development.
Brad: Today's webinar is a little bit different than we've done in the past in that it will just be Sarah and I talking about technology. We understand that at this point, a lot of schools are wondering if the technology that they currently have is going to be as good as it needs to be to get us into the next school year. Schools are considering whether their learning management systems are effective and comprehensive enough and whether they have enough technology in order to develop a significantly good hybrid learning program going into next year. That's gonna be the focus of today. Sarah and I both happen to be former technology directors and hope to be able to share some of that experience with you and share some of our thoughts from the One Schoolhouse perspective. Sarah, anything else to add here as we go into this?
Sarah: No, I'm really looking forward to this because I love talking about educational technology. This is a fun one.
Brad: Sarah, I think you might have a first question for me on this topic, though.
Sarah: All right, so, Brad, what's essential with technology?
Brad: That's a good question. So what's essential when you're creating a great hybrid learning environment is to make sure that you have a highly functional and comprehensive learning management system, and to make sure that as much learning as possible is done within that learning management system. Sarah why don’t you define what a learning management system is? You probably have a better definition than I do.
Sarah: So I've been looking at some definitions with learning management systems. The learning management system is cloud based software that manages that business of school at a bare minimum. And a robust learning management system is a place where teachers and students live in the online world to do all of what can happen in a classroom.That means turn in assignments, collaborate, communicate all of those values that we hold and independent schools. So, again, it's got to be cloud based. It's got to incorporate all the administrative functions of the school classroom, but also then that extra layer is the collaboration communication teacher created materials, videos, all of those pieces.
Brad: Yes. And so, Sarah, one thing that I know that folks are often surprised to find out is that at One Schoolhouse we require that almost all of our learning is done within the learning management system. That is that we don't let teachers go out and create a whole bunch of usernames and passwords for kids in other systems beyond the learning management system program.The reason for that is that we want to make sure that there is as little friction as possible in the learning experience for students. We know that when we send kids out to other places on the Web in order to engage in learning, it becomes about learning the technology rather than the learning we want them to be doing in the class. So we want to think really carefully about the types of technology that we allow teachers to use and go to and send kids to outside.
We go to kind of the extreme on this end in that any teacher that wants to add something into their class, that is outside of the learning management system, has to be approved by our assistant head of school Corinne Dedini.. And I will tell you that Corinne very rarely approves anything to happen outside of that learning management system. We know, though, that this is a huge challenge for schools this spring because they've tried to experiment in this weird space that we’re all in.
And so, Sarah, I'm going to ask you, do you see this as kind of a big challenge for schools right now to help people rein this back into next school year?
Sarah: OK, you just stole a lot of my phrases that I like to say and I like to say it with love. Right, but it is time to rein it in. And I think one of the ways that schools can think about this is to build a profile of a student or maybe a profile for a family is more accurate, and take a look at what everybody in that family is being asked to manage in terms of technology. And so sometimes in school, we talk about personalized learning for students where we try to find that right match, but sometimes it's about personalized teaching. And so teachers find a really cool tool, they sign everybody up, and they send all the kids to the website to login. That works when you're in person and you can peer over a child and say “oh, no, no you click here and you needed to do this.” But it doesn't work when tech support is at home and maybe it's brother, sister, mom, dad, caregiver during the day. So we've created what you like to call friction. That's a phrase that I think really aptly describes what happens. And you get emails from parents who say, I'm ready to throw the Chromebook out of the window. So that's fair, when we look at hyper learning, we say, OK, we've got to rein it in. Pick a few tools that we're going to use ubiquitously, and we're going to be able to support all of our learners in using those tools.
Brad: It's a great point, Sarah. I know another question that you've been getting from schools and starting to field from schools is should we be changing our learning management system at this point? Given what we've seen this spring, you know, we're worried that our living management system might not be as comprehensive as it needs to be, etc. should we consider changing at this point? I know that often, I'd just like to preface this by saying before I turn it over to you, that often this is like a two year project for a school to take on if they're thinking about changing the learning management system, so we certainly want to go into that with some type of care.
Sarah: Right. So I'm going to say that the answer to that question is probably not. And there's a big caveat that I'm going to put up again later, but changing a learning management system is like moving, right? You do not undertake that lightly and spontaneously unless you're only responsible for yourself and you can get all of your possessions in the back of a pickup truck.
Changing learning management systems is a very big deal. And the first thing that a school that thinks “oh, gosh, I think we're gonna need to change” should do is go back and look at does everybody really know how to use the learning management system? Are there features that we never turned on because when we originally implemented, we thought we'll never use that or we don't need that, that you now need to turn on and start training.
Sometimes it's really a case of I'm going to go back into my moving strategy. Maybe you just need a little addition or call somebody in to rethink your space and make that learning management system work for you. Even if you're looking at it, you're thinking, “OK, you know what? It really is time to change, maybe this isn't the year to do it.” Maybe you can make it work for you now and you know that in a year you're going to start that process because that is a major technology initiative and you're asking a lot of folks.
However, maybe you don't have a learning management system. Maybe you have three or four on campus and that profile that you build up a family at your school, you realize “oh, my gosh, kids are being asked to check into different learning management systems.” They don't know where stuff is, parents don't know where stuff is, and we're creating a lot of tension because you're visible now and you're transparent in a way that you weren't before. You know, a parent dropping into a child's classroom is usually kind of a big deal on a special occasion. Now, you've got parents looking at children's classrooms all day, every day. So that's different.
So maybe you have to narrow down to one. Normally, I'd say you'd spend the year kind of collecting information and then maybe a year doing a side by side rollout. You're going to have to do it fast. And that's going to be a lot of work. The only advantage, I think, of doing it fast in this time is that at least you're going to have some buy in. If you don't have one, everybody on campus is probably going to be all in on.
Brad: It's a really complicated challenge to think about. Again, it's the type of decision that typically schools would take a year or two to make. But as with so many things that were triggered this spring, we're doing these things much more on the fly than with the type of intentionality that we would typically do. So a couple of questions have come in. One of the questions is, do we use extensions with canvas at One Schoolhouse or do you only use the canvas functions? We primarily just use the canvas functions almost almost exclusively, we use the canvas functions. We do add on a couple of extensions beyond that. But very, very little.
Sarah: I want to ask you a question about that, because there are a couple of tools that integrate well with canvas at One Schoolhouse that folks really like. And I don't want to get too much into recommending a specific tool, but I think the idea there is a functionality that you need and something that comes to mind is maybe Flipgrid or something like that.
Brad: Yeah. Flipgrid, it's an interesting one because it can be difficult to manage, which is why we've actually purchased a canvas add on that's built by Canvas called Studio. For any schools that are using Canvas, we suggest that you add on the Studio functionality because the video capabilities beyond that and discussion within videos is significantly better. So again, we'd like to stay within the learning management system, which is why we're using the Studio functionality instead of something like Flipgrid.
Sarah: Great. Thank you.
Brad: Melissa asks, Do you anticipate that schools will need to install cameras in classrooms to manage hybrid learning with some students at home and some students at school next year? So I'm going to take the 30,000 foot view on this one, and then Sarah you might want to drill down to the specific question.
So the 30,000 foot view on this is that we think that this is but one of about 15 different scenarios that you should be planning for this fall. We don't know what this fall is going to look like. We don't know whether we’ll be on campus at all, we don't know if we're going to be a campus fully. I think that it is reasonable to think that we may have situations where some students are on campus and some students are not on campus. So therefore, what we're suggesting to schools overall, Melissa, is to think about designing for a fully online experience that can both synchronous and asynchronous components to it. Therefore, if you are in a lucky position of having some students on campus this fall, you may be able to have some of those synchronous times with some kids in the classroom and some kids online, in which case a camera may be helpful. However, this doesn't have to be, from my perspective, a super high tech thing.In fact, it could be a super low tech thing of a computer setup on a desk within the classroom. Sarah, you might have a little different take on that, though.
Sarah: So there's a phrase that I have been dying to work in a conversation and nobody will let me do it, so now I've got the chance to do it and that's telepresence robotics. I've done a little research into telepresence robotics due in the last couple of months, and I even interviewed an engineer at a company who is doing that. And so here's the thing. It is very unrealistic to expect a child who is at home to watch school happen when he or she is not a participant in the classroom. And so that, I think, is the challenge of setting everything up with mobility. And you've got cameras everywhere, so you think, ok, we're really broadcasting this experience. Well, that's not the same thing as being in school. Telepresence robotics is kind of interesting because the price point for these are getting into where a family could conceivably buy one hand it to you and say, here, this is how my child is coming to school. This year you're going to put this robot in every one of his or her classes. They've advanced a long way. Kids can control them from an app and they can swivel so they can participate in a small group, but what the engineer said is it works well for a couple of weeks for a kid who's got, you know, maybe a broken leg. And he said it's really not how people go to school for an extended period of time.
Brad: I think it's kind of one of those things that you might want to have your technology department at your schools think about. I wouldn't suggest acting on that, though, right now, would you, Sarah?
Sarah: No. And I think it's something that I'd be very aware of so that when somebody buys, because really some of them you can find now even use on eBay for under a couple of thousand dollars, so you want to be prepared to have that conversation if if somebody shows up at school with one, and says, hey, here it is.
Brad: Yeah, that jives with my experience. I remember a number of years ago we had a student who had to be in a cancer center for a number of years. This was probably 10 years ago. And then at that point, we set up a Microsoft 360 camera in the classroom to act as virtual Zoe so that Zoe could tune in whenever she had the opportunity to from the cancer center. And it served her well to have some type of functionality with her classmates.But it was certainly not a replacement for the entire learning experience, which is exactly why I think we're suggesting to schools to plan for next year to be online so that it’ll allow easier toggling than just relying upon some cameras potentially in a classroom.
OK, so there's a couple questions in here and Sarah I’m gonna throw these to you about learning management system recommendations for younger students, either a K-8 or pre-K- 1. And there's a note in here from Becky that they're currently using Seesaw and teachers are overwhelmed with notifications and finding assignments. However, students in these grades can't read independently.
Sarah: Absolutely, and this is one, too, if you've got a tech person who you know and love or if you're a tech person here, I would really recommend suggesting that they make sure that they are connected to the ATLIS community, which is the Association of Technology Leaders and Independent Schools, and on the ISCDL Listserv, because some of these conversations have been going on. I'm going to stay away from recommending a specific LMS because I don't know your school well enough to recommend a LMS as there are qualified folks if it's overwhelming to select one. You can hire someone to help you write an RFP and evaluate the masses. And there are some folks who I think are keen to do that quickly for schools who need to do that, but I have seen conversations about See-Saw and I know that that's one where configuration may matter quite a bit. So if you're looking at younger students who can't read and you want something that teachers are not overwhelmed by, configuration and training may be your best friend there before you say ok this tool isn't working. I know the other thing that folks like to do is have sort of the one LMS to rule them all, which we also recommend. I do get that, especially if you go down to non-readers and students who are needing, you know, really, really simple interfaces, there may be something that you do else that you do with those primary students. Then you're realistically engaging their parents as your partners in managing that LMS for that child.
Brad: Yes, Sarah, can I zoom out for a second, too, and just just note to everybody something that I hope takes a little bit of pressure off of this type of conversation with our youngest learners in our schools. Let's remember that we're totally in the wild west of lower school learning online right now. This was not a topic of research or study, especially in the independent school community, before eight or nine weeks ago. So there are no experts in lower school learning online. Anybody who says that they're an expert in lower school learning online, I would really question that right now. And there are no real best practices because all of these things are emerging practice right now. So we're learning tremendously from each other in sessions like this and sessions like our academic leaders meet ups that we have on Thursday afternoons, to start to figure out what's working really well in that space.
I totally agree with you, Sarah, that we highly suggest that the school has one LMS to rule them all and that the exception to that rule is probably your pre-K through 2 learners who are still learning to read.
Jeannie has a great question about students in China. Do you have any tech suggestions for schools that may be stuck in China in the fall? So much is blocked, we're trying to figure out what to do.
Jeannie, absolutely, this is a huge challenge for schools that are expecting to have students in China. As I think you know, we've had a number of students who are in China learning from us at One Schoolhouse online for a few years, especially over the summertime. And we find that, yes, there are certain things that work OK, there are certain things that don't work, and there are many things that start to work if you have students using VPNs in order to connect to servers outside of China. I would warn you, though, that that is not something that you should ever officially suggest to students to do.
Google products generally do not work beyond the Chinese firewall. And so when you're talking about things like Google Classroom or Google Docs or YouTube videos or things like that, it becomes a real challenge to connect with kids in China. That is one of the reasons that we use Canvas as a learning management system, and it may be a reason to think about changing a learning management system.
You heard Sarah say at the beginning, very rarely would you think about changing a learning management system at this point. One of the reasons to rethink what learning management system you're using.
Sarah: Brad, there's a question here that I want to ask you about, and it's about the transferability of skills, instructional skills. So if somebody has learned how to use one LMS or they've been looking at course design in LMSas how easily does that transfer to a distant, different system, assuming you're going from a fully capable system to another fully capable system?
Brad: Often that transfer is fairly easy. I'm seeing this question too, from Linda “we're sending a cohort to the academic leader session for hybrid learning, we use blackboard on campus. The tech skills and instructional design skills will be easily transferable, correct?” The answer is yes and no in that we're not going to be teaching any tech skills specifically within that academic leaders session for hybrid learning. We're gonna be talking much more about pedagogy and design. Absolutely, that transfers over.
Joe asked, can you speak directly to technology applicable in math classes? This is our most challenging area for assessing and working with students. I totally get it, Joe. That is a challenging area to be assessing and working with with students. This is one of the reasons, again, that you're going to want to have a fully capable learning management system that integrates things like math symbols pretty easily.
There are a number of LMS’ that don't do that particularly well, and there are some that do it a little bit better than others. That said, we also find that a lot of math is going to have to be written out and then have students upload a PDF so that it can be easily graded by their teachers. Again, some learning management systems have the ability for teachers to more easily edit and mark up PDFs than others. Some even go to the level of a way that if a student uploads a PDF, a teacher can click on a particular portion of a screen and put a comment in there via voice or video so that the student can hear the teacher talking about it there. It's one of the things that you'd want to consider and when thinking about your learning management system. Sarah, do you want to answer that?
Sarah: Well, the piece that I'd like to add to that is screen casting is a math teachers friend. And I think one of the things that students can do that is really helpful and math teachers can get excited about is talk through their problem solving skills. And then you can really hear what a student is thinking when they turn in that screen cast. That can be really helpful in clearing out misconceptions, or just really having a student demonstrate their understanding in a way that the assessment itself, if it includes that element, the assessment becomes a learning process, because so often when students hear what they say, then they know what they think and then they may self correct. So it can be a really valuable tool in the math teachers toolbox.
Brad: Thanks Sarah, that's a great point. Jennifer S. says that we use Canvas as well and we have a few LTI integrated apps. Have you explored using the capabilities of Zoom integration embedded in Canvas? We have not, although I would imagine that that would be something that we would look into at some point soon. There are a number of different video tools that you can embed into campus truly easily. Zoom we understand this one, although we don't have any particular experience with that.
We'd caution schools to think very carefully about LTI integration within learning management systems and instead think about making sure that their teachers are fully trained up within the standard functionality of that LMS. We find that there are a lot of schools that will have a whole bunch of tools that may be integrated into their LMS through LTI connections, et cetera, that have a teacher or two using that LTI tool and then many of their teachers not using that and many of their teachers still not knowing the baseline effectiveness of their systems. So, Sarah, my recommendation is to really train up your teachers in the baseline expectations and make sure that they're real experts at what the baseline of what that LMS can do. Sarah, anything to add on that?
Sarah: Well, I would just add, I have a saying that I use a lot which is that free is not a feature. But I think the term included, if you have done a big investment into something, looking at the tools that are included in that purchase before you move on to looking for other tools is wise.
Brad: Great. Becky asked a question about summertime P.D. for teachers, she notes that our teachers will be starting for the summer in a couple of weeks. Do you have any suggestions for a PD model or course for pre-K through fourth grade teachers that they can take over the summer? Would you make this strictly voluntary? Would you incentivize it?
So let me talk big picture and then we'll talk lower school. So we know that many, many schools are requiring their faculty to do some work over the summer. We also know that some schools are incentivizing that work and some schools are not incentivizing that work. A lot of that depends upon the contract that they have created with their faculty and the expectations that they have previously set with their faculty for summer time. We know, for example, that some schools have their faculty on 12 month contracts. Some schools have them on 10 month contracts. So schools are thinking about how they might be using professional days differently as well.
We also know, and I think it's fair to say that faculty on the whole right now are pretty burned out from the spring. This has been a crazy, crazy spring for faculty. And the first thing we should do is congratulate any teacher for just making it through the wackiness of the spring and what we've asked them to do. We'd also encourage schools give folks a pause before jumping right into professional development this summer. We know that we're used to having a normal cadence in schools of ending the school year and then doing some PD before faculty go away and then at faculty go away and come back to some more PD and the start of the school year.
Our suggestion is give them time off right at the beginning of the summer and give them some time to recuperate. Maybe make the trade with them instead of doing this during their typical faculty week at the end of the year. We're going to ask you to do this instead.
Now, lower school, as I said a second ago, is the absolute wild west right now. There's emerging practice that's coming about. But there's not real expertise in that area. We've been very clear at One Schoolhouse that the guidance that we've been offering is really for middle school and high school faculty members. Our hope is that we can develop some based on some of these practices for later in the summer for lower school teachers.
Sarah: Yeah, and I just added a link in the chat to our academic leaders listserv because there have been some conversations going on there about lower schools in summer PD that might be helpful for folks.
Brad: Thank you all so much for participating today. Nice to get into this topic and I'm sure we'll be circling back to this later this summer. Thank you all.
One Schoolhouse's May 6, 2020, Academic Leaders Webinar on understanding the hybrid learning course standards and teacher competencies with Brad Rathgeber, Head of School, and Corinne Dedini, Assistant Head of School for Academics at One Schoolhouse.
Brad: Today, we are very grateful to be joined by Corinne Dedini, who is the Assistant Head of School for academics at One Schoolhouse. Corinne does amazing work creating high quality online courses for students around the country and around the world, and has done so for a number of years. Corinne is also the architect of the core standards of teaching competencies that we released last week for hybrid learning. So Corinne, we are very happy to have you join this webinar today and share your many insights with this group.
Corinne: Thanks, Brad, I'm really glad to be here.
Brad: I'm going to start with a question that may seem like even an elementary question to start with, but I think it's important given independent schools engagement with standards to begin with. And that is why are standards important among themselves for creating great hybrid learning courses?.
Corinne: We know that independent school teachers are high achievers by their very nature. They love school; they love learning; they are passionate about their subject area; and they care for students. So what standards do is they give everybody a lane to stay in.
By having a rubric, teachers can see exactly what's expected of them and they can have a really healthy structure to follow. I know sometimes standard seems like a dirty word in independent schools, but that's not true. For years, many different disciplines within our schools have relied on standards. There's great external metrics, for example with languages that help them know when students are on track and the different levels. And many of our schools offer AP classes or have the IB program. So we're not unfamiliar with how to use a tool like this in order to guide our development.
Brad: Corinne, one thing that I've heard you say as a follow up to that is that in the online world, we have to be significantly more intentional with our build, how does standards help us create that intentionality?
Corinne: This is where I think independent school teachers go off the rails the most Brad, because we love what we do and we're so steeped in the knowledge and the practices of our discipline. We have to take a deep breath when you're going to design for online or hybrid learning because you need to define backwards from what you value most.
When we designed these standards to release to you all, we took our decade plus of practice in separating how you design, from how you build, from how you teach. It's really important to pull those elements out because otherwise teachers wind up in the middle and they will end up with what our backwards design friends called the “car parts” curriculum -- where you have all of the car parts there, but if you're just teaching car parts, then you're training mechanics when you really want to be training safe drivers. So by designing backwards from the design elements, the build elements in the LMS, and then the teaching facilitation elements for how the year will go in this online/in person toggle, we force teachers into the structure that allows them to really honor their discipline, but still make sure that they're building towards the most important elements they want students to take away by the end. That they're safe drivers instead of mechanics.
Brad: So let's dive into those components a little bit, Corinne. Can you describe the types of things that we're expecting teachers to do as they're designing, building, and getting ready to teach or facilitate great courses this fall?
Corinne: The rubric is really designed to help teachers find efficiencies and effectiveness. We know that independent school teachers tend to always look to find the very best thing, and sometimes they can get mired in a myriad of decisions. And, you know, we know there's so many things available to them right now. We wanted to provide a tool that helped them narrow down what decisions do I need to make in order to build these hybrid courses? That's the design portion of the standards. It starts with the sufficient practices that help teachers hone in on what should be the ultimate outcomes. And independent school teachers aren't always used to thinking that way, but we know that in a hybrid environment, they need to start with who you are as a school. So those design decisions that are made early on in preparing for next year are really about how do we bring our school culture to life and infuse that into our courses.Then it drills down into what are the pedagogical elements that we want to present in all of our courses. So the design pieces, I think, is the right place to start.
We've all worked for years on designing backwards from what's most important, but we've never separated it from the actual activities and how we plan those out in the classes.That's what this rubric is designed to force teachers to do, so then the second piece is where they get to make their curricular decisions. What things are they going to build into their LMS? How are they going to when they have the hybrid toggle? What are they going to reserve for in person? How are they going to ensure that students have a meaningful connection? How are they going to make sure this is sustainable? We're in this situation for a year. We want to make sure that no one's worn out. We don't want anyone feeling next May the way they feel this May.
Then the third piece is really for the long haul and in the teaching standards, what you'll see there might be a little bit different from some of the expectations that you lay out.There will certainly be overlap, but you’ll also see some reminders about communication has to be different and it has to be more intentional because if something goes off the rails in terms of communication in a hybrid environment, you can't be right there to clean it up so it can get bigger before an administrator can step in. So some of those teaching standards, I think, will really help you and to your faculty know how we make sure we're doing this well so that everybody, families, students, teachers, administrators are all having a smooth experience. Try to get rid of some of the bumps, make sure that you're thinking about the safety elements and the pieces that need to happen quickly or they're not going to be done well.
Brad: That’s a great point, thank you Corinne. So another question I have for you is that you designed these standards so that schools could add to them. The idea being that these are kind of baseline set of expectations, but that we'd expect the school to think about adding one or two to each one of the design, build, and teach standards. Can you talk a little bit about that thinking and what what a school might be generating in there?
Corinne: I love that component of the spread. This is a living document. It's steeped in 10 years of research from both the research that's out there on best practices in teaching and learning and it's also steeped in the work of Peter Gow, and the Independent Curriculum Group, and how to create culture through your classes. It's also informed by a decade of One Schoolhouse running online classes and gathering, intentionally gathering heaps of data from our teachers and our students. So I consider this very much a living document. Those are the ways that we add to our own teaching and learning standards every year. And so this version is paired down. It's not everything that's important to us at One Schoolhouse and therefore, there's space for you to make it your own.
I would think that when you are thinking about the design standards, the most important element for you to pull in are what are the pieces of your mission that need to come to life in your classes this year? And how are you going to support your teachers in making sure that culturally your school climate is reflected in all of your classes? So the design standards I would focus in on the mission alignment.
In the build standards, I would think about structurally what the student experience going to be like when they're in the online portion of the hybrid environment. So, for example, here at One Schoolhouse, our teachers have a template and they have to build in that template. I would suggest that you think in terms of what will all of our students experience when they go into a class and if one teacher’s in one system and other teachers are in another system, that's going to be confusing for families. So you want to think about the design elements that you want across the board.
Then in the facilitation of the teaching standards, the elements, you might add, there could be something around your own policies. What is it important that everybody do? This is a practice we have at our school and everybody has to meet this expectation or it could be something that is a little bit broader and is maybe an initiative that you're working on in your school that you want to see play out. I've been having a couple of conversations with different schools, who I know are using this opportunity to move a few pedagogical initiatives forward that they've been working on building towards and now they're going to take the next step. So they're going to be adding some of their own pedagogical values where they fit in.So there's definitely space.
Brad: Corinne, to that point, I think because the Independent Curriculum Group's work has been a formative place that we've drawn from for these standards, they do align pretty well to initiatives that independent schools have been taking on over the last number of years.
Corinne: Absolutely. As schools have been thinking about putting the learner at the center and making sure that the course outcomes really align to the most important practices of the discipline or the school. Those ideas all come from the Independent Curriculum Group. And I know a lot of you have been working towards more competency based practices. I also know that there's been a lot of work in independent schools in recent years on social emotional learning and making sure that we're creating policies and practices that help our students be healthier and focus on self care. And as we came to the end of this year, everybody is pretty worn out. So those are places, independent curriculum values that I know you're going to really want to emphasize with your faculty as you think about design and development for next year.
Brad: Some of you I know have seen this, but Sarah Hanawald, our Assistant Head for professional development, wrote a great blog piece last week about this and the tenants of independent curriculum and how they got infused into the hybrid learning design. I encourage you to look at that blog post when you have a chance.
A couple of questions have come in and so I want to start to get to those questions. Corinne, can you talk about why the design standards are different from the build standards? Often we tend to blur that line
Corinne: The build standards are really all of the decisions that need to be made for how students, and teachers too, will spend their time. So if you're in an extended online experience and if you're toggling between online and in-person, we just don't know what next year is going to look like. So our recommendation to schools is that you build for the online environment and then prepare to be able to pull different elements into the in-person.
In my experience with independent school teachers, they aren't always good at seeing the activities that they choose and so how students will actually spend, let's say, eight hours a week for a course, how students will spend that time. Teachers are not often targeted at how many of those hours or those minutes are spent accessing new material versus doing things that are more active learning. I think if you don't separate out how you're going to build, it's very easy to fall back on more teacher driven practices, whether that's lecturing why or whether that's putting up screen cast lectures. And there's certainly a place for teachers to draw up what they are learning, but you’re going to students to be more active in their learning in the online environment.
I think that was a challenge for a lot of teachers this year and so these standards are designed to help teachers really think about those eight hours a week. We don't want them either in person or watching a video for five or six of those hours. That would be tough. And it's hard to replicate some of the exact in-person active learning scenarios, so the build standards are really separated out so teachers can say this is how I'm going to set up active learning in the online environment. This is how I'm going to make sure the pacing will work to keep students on track.
Another piece that I think is really intentional in the part of the build standards in edu jargon is it will help teachers separate teaching their course specific skills from executive functioning skills, because we have to also scaffold students to learn well in a more autonomous way when we're building for the hybrid environment. The teacher's not over their shoulder all the time and keeping everyone on track and so our build standards are set up to really help teachers scaffold those self-management skills that also have to be taught in an intentional way.
Brad: Thanks Corinne. Another questions asks, Can we present these standards to teachers as a self reflection inventory so that they can hone in on areas of professional growth? Perhaps even broaden that out a little bit Corinne to talk about how we use standards and teaching competencies as a way to hone in professional growth with One Schoolhouse. That might give a good example for folks.
Corinne: OK, sure, I can do that. We built standards originally because we wanted teachers to grow. We wanted the teachers who came to work for One Schoolhouse to say this is the best professional development I've ever had. When a teacher says that to me, then that's a marker of success for me, because it means that I created the kind of structures they needed in order to set goals, recognize deficiencies, decide what they can and can't work on because you can't get better at everything all at once, and figure out how we scaffold growth for kids really well, let scaffold growth for teachers. So these standards really were designed originally in the One Schoolhouse version to promote teacher growth.
I would say the answer to your particular question is something that is an important practice here at One Schoolhouse. It may or may not be implementable at every school, but here at One Schoolhouse we separate teacher growth and coaching from teacher evaluation. And the reason that we do that is that we want to promote an environment where teachers can measure their growth, they can acknowledge and ask for support when they need help, and that they can feel like they're also being celebrated. They have metrics to warrant a moment in the sun at the end of every school year. And so when we think about teacher growth, we do separate growth from accountability. While we use this, we use our standards, and these standards could certainly be used as a binary checklist, our practice is that our teachers complete our standards break. They fill it out. They put in all the evidence. I don't review teachers by filling this out for them, nor does our instructional designer.
We help them identify where they're doing really well and where they want to grow. So I would say if you're going to use this as an evaluative tool, make sure that the reflective component for the teachers is really robust so that they don't see it as an external metric that is being imposed upon them, but so they see it as a useful tool to help them expose their strengths and deficiencies.
Brad: Our next questioner notes that teachers have not been trained to think/plan like designers. What are some of the most important curriculum or online hybrid design principles that they should know as they embark upon building hybrid courses?
Corinne: That's a really important question. And we know that teachers have found widely varying degrees of success and coming off of this school year. Some teachers are going to feel like, wow, I did good things out and maintain that quality learning environment, my kids had fun, they learned what I needed them to do. And other teachers are having a really tough experience.
I actually think that the question you asked, I would actually back it up and say this is a culture question for your school and how do you promote growth amongst your faculty? And that is probably something that's really important for your administrative team to tackle this summer. It's not that there's some secret sauce about how to build well online or how to build a hybrid. We've given you some structures here that will definitely get you moving in the right direction, but the heart of any independent school is who you are and what you value and how you support your faculty growth.
So I heard you asking kind of what are they? And I don't think it's the what, I think it's more the how. I'm backing up and make sure that your teachers feel supported? Do they know what to do in order to get started? Do they know where to go when they get stuck? Do they know how to not let it all become about the technology and have that be overwhelming? Do they know how to build solid relationships with students in person so that they can also do that online? And so I would take your question and I would back up to asking about real school values and how you promote and support teachers. Then you can dive into the standards and really see that I think the bones are there for you.
Brad: Another person asked a question that we also might want to kind of back up a step on. And that is he's wondering what some of the rules of thumb are for deciding what's best taught live and what's best taught online in a hybrid environment?
Corinne: Yeah, the standards are designed to be school wide and so if you're asking that question for French that's going to be a different answer than if you're asking that question for chemistry. I bring up those two examples because I think those are the teachers who have asked the most questions about what do I do about that precipitation lab that involves those hazardous chemicals? So there are some things where there's an easy and obvious way to do it online.
One of the things that we realized really early on at One Schoolhouse, is that introverts don't always participate in on-campus discussion based classes very well. It may be they struggle around the Harkness table, for example. Well, they can be class leaders online because everybody's pausing between every discussion board post and they have time to think and prepare what they want to say. So there are certain things that once you get your toolbox up and running for how to build online, you're going to find go really well and really draw out some of your kids and create community maybe in a way you haven't seen before.
Then there are other things that are admittedly always going to be harder. It's just not as fun to have the Cinco de Mayo Party on Zoom as it is to go to a little taqueria down the street with your class. When we think about the hybrid environment, we are recommending a full build, so prepare for just about everything online. And so how do you simulate all of your practices, but then be prepared that when, and hopefully the when is often, you get to be in person next year you're prepared to do those types of increase driven activities. Those types of things that the shoulder to shoulder collaboration in real time really is what makes the activity. So some of it's the tradeoff. Since some of it is just building up your tech toolbox so that you can replicate some of the best practices online. My question is, I guess, my answer is it depends.
Download the One Schoolhouse Hybrid Learning Course Standards & Teacher Competencies, here.
One Schoolhouse's April 29, 2020, Academic Leaders Webinar on what academic leaders need to know about independent school finance and operations in the face of COVID-19 with Jeff Shields, President & CEO of the National Business Officers Association. Topics include the business model’s heavy reliance on tuition and enrollment, including a breakdown of the operating budget and percentage allocations, as well as challenges emerging with our financial and operational models in this new normal.
Brad Rathgeber, Head of School & CEO of One Schoolhouse: I'm joined today by my good friend Jeff Shields, the president and CEO of NBOA, the National Business Officers Association. Hi, Jeff.
Jeff Shields, President & CEO of NBOA: Hi, Brad. How are you doing today?
Brad: I'm so excited to have you here because it's really important for academic leaders to understand school finances in order to create solutions that can really fit within the means of schools. Yet we know that historically, the academic side of the house has typically tuned out the business side of the house and the business side of the house, historically tuned out the academic side of the house. And I know you and I have both been working for a long time to help change that quite a bit.
Jeff: That's correct. I really think what's changed is that the head of school has really seen how understanding the business model, developing their financial chops, et cetera, has been really not only valuable, but really expected by the trustees at this point in time. Not to let the business officers off the hook. You know, they can't just shrug their shoulders and say, I don't need to know anything about the program or I don't need to know anything about student learning or I don't need to know anything about anything other than the numbers. I do think those days are long gone and the most effective schools, I think, are led by heads of school, other academic leaders, and the business office working together in partnership.
Brad: I couldn't agree more. Jeff, can we just dive into a couple of questions?. So, Jeff, as we head into this kind of new normal or new whatever-we-want-to-call-it, I think it's important for academic leaders to understand the state of business and operations in independent schools prior to the COVID-19 crisis.
Jeff: There is no denying that the business model for schools already had numerous challenges even before COVID-19. I still think back to ten years ago and the impact that the economic downturn had on independent schools. Not a whole lot changed over the last decade. I would say until last year, and I'll get to that, but I do think as we went into this pandemic, most schools are very reliant on tuition. I'd go further and I'd say most schools are very reliant on fundraising and that's a real challenge. That was a challenge for schools this past year and going into this environment.
I think some other characteristics I'd share with the folks are that we were seeing steady enrollment overall, but really very little growth. Now, of course, I'm talking about across the board nationwide and certainly in independent schools, enrollment experiences could vary. Some have seen decline and some saw modest increases. However, the overall number of students enrolled in independent schools, in our schools, hasn't really grown much over the last several years.
I already mentioned fundraising. We saw that softening, so that was challenging for schools and filling that gap. There is a gap between how much we actually charge net tuition, how much we collect net tuition per student, and what we need to do to keep the school running.
A little good news, endowment performance was actually pretty strong again before the pandemic. It's been a rollercoaster ride ever since, but it was relatively strong.
These factors combined, what I thought was really interesting was over the past year, really helped drive schools to experiment with new tuition models and different financial aid models. And these have included tuition reset. We saw a really bold tuition reset by Southern New Hampshire University where they've reduced their tuition $39,000 to $10,000. Independent schools have been doing that as well. We saw the Kiski School, an all boys boarding school, do a significant tuition reset. One of the first boarding schools that I was aware of doing that. Montgomery School also did a tuition reset to be more competitive in thier particular market. Then, of course, there’s indexed tuition. I'm just going to clarify that I don't believe that index tuition is just a fancy new way of describing financial aid. Of course, it involves financial aid, but schools that are really doing it well are really doing it strategically so they can offer a wide variety of tuition price points and offer their students and families lots of flexibility while still honing in on the net tuition revenue that they need to collect.
All of these things were ways of opening the funnel and expanding our market. Of course, boarding schools were under tremendous pressure and still are. I think one characteristic, again, pre-pandemic, that I found most troubling was the data showing us that families even with the means to pay our tuition were still not selecting our independent schools. And that was really challenging. Again, it goes back to how can we open that funnel? How can we bring more people in? I think this was most evident and probably most people on the call would be able to observe that we saw a softening in lower school enrollment and yet, at the same time, for some schools, depending on your program, we did see much stronger demand for high school. So I think those are the key characteristics that I was observing and I'm sure many schools were discussing even prior to the onset of the pandemic.
Brad: So, if at least nationally, we were not talking about the rosiest of pictures heading into this, although we were talking about schools innovating on that whole variety of levels. What challenges are now emerging to our financial and operational model in this new kind of COVID-19 environment?
Jeff: Yeah, that's a great question. Obviously, we've been thinking a lot about it. NBOA has been working really diligently with partners like NAIS and EMA and state regional associations. I actually haven't seen a coming together of all of the different associations serving in schools before, including One Schoolhouse certainly.
First and foremost, business officers and everyone is concerned about the safety and health of our school communities. That's top of mind. And frankly, I'm relieved that today I'm not aware of any major outbreak within any school community that we've seen in other types of communities, in other types of workplaces. There have certainly been some positive cases and there's certainly been some exposure, but no outbreak that we’ve heard of. Schools reacted and were really on top of it.
I think what's happening right now is, as you well know better than anybody, schools are managing whatever distance learning solution that they've implemented, whatever they've put in place. Now they’re making decisions about the status of bringing students back to campus next year, which I think is really challenging and hard.
I think about my daughter who’s an eighth grader and the move up ceremony that we realize she's going to have in a virtual way and not an in-person way. I think of any high school senior with all those milestones and not being able to really experience a traditional graduation or other ceremonies. Schools are weighing those decisions heavily and also being creative about how to serve the community and serve those students in different ways. We're making a decision about summer programs. And, many heads of schools and many trustees and business officers are grappling with the PPP loan application process.
Brad: Can I stop you for a second? What is the PPP loan for those that are not aware?
Jeff: Yeah. I appreciate that question. It is a new program, a federal program administered by the Small Business Administration. The Payroll Protection Program, or the PPP allows schools, who choose to do so it's up to the individual school to apply work with their bank, to access resources funds that can be forgiven depending on certain circumstances. I don't think it's helpful to go into the details now, but it's really to help schools support the teachers and all the administrators and everyone who's on the payroll.
So I think what's important for your audience to know is that 75% of the funds, if a school was going to secure those, at minimum would have to go towards payroll. That means we keep everyone employed, which is a good thing, and then up to twenty five percent can also be used for facilities, which we're still paying for as our facilities. We're still maintaining them. We're still doing a lot of things around our facility. A lot of trustees, boards, and business officers are all grappling with it and I just think I'd be remiss for not mentioning that this is going on the backdrop, although it does not directly impact academic leaders at this point.
Then obviously the big question in all of this is, how is this going to affect our enrollment? And if enrollment is impacted, I think everyone on the call knows that budgets are impacted. The correlation between our tuition revenue and our salary and benefits is undeniable. If we do experience enrollment challenges, we will have to respond budgetarily..
Brad: So let's let's pause there actually for a second. Let's tie together two things that you just said. So when I asked you the first question, you talked about how schools have become more reliant upon tuition, which now makes us reliant upon enrollment during this time significantly more than we might have been even a generation ago. Just to give folks a sense for a bit, to make sure that we're kind of understanding the landscape on this. About how much of a percentage of schools annual revenue is coming in from tuition these days?
Jeff: Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, according to our BIZ data, most recently for the most current fiscal year, I would say you can ballpark it between 70 and 80 percent, depending on the school. Could be a little higher, could be a little lower. It depends, but most schools fall into that sweet spot.
Brad: You also mentioned that so much of a school's expenses are in faculty and staff between benefits and salary. What does biz data tell us about that?
Jeff: I would put that number around 60 to 70 again. It varies, so it's slightly under, but you can see the relationship is clear. It's the same for many, many non-profits across the country. That relationship between your primary revenue stream and your primary expense, which is investing in your staff.
Brad: Right.So that kind of leads me to my next question, which I think is very much related to these two things. And that is what actions can the academic leaders consider taking that can help their school thrive both during this crisis and then as a follow up to the crisis?
Jeff: I want to acknowledge that this is slightly out of my lane because I don't I don't often give advice directly to academic leaders, but since we're talking about business and finance and operations, I feel comfortable doing so. I also just want to acknowledge that I've had the privilege of serving on the One Schoolhouse Board for the last seven years, serving side by side with academic leaders from across the country that are innovating and I've learned so much from that experience. So I feel a little bit more firmer on the ground with venturing into this area for you and the folks that have dialed in.
We've been put on notice about our need to transition from an in-person, face-to-face learning environment where all of our students are in the classroom together to some kind of distance learning environment. We didn't know how to do that before, but we know how to do it now. So I think that if the need arises again, schools are going to have to toggle from opening to distance learning again sometime in this next school year. Is it the fall? Is it the winter? I don't know, but from where I sit, we're going to have to do it better and even faster than we did this year.
I want to say we did really well. Schools responded and I'm hearing that again and again and again. It's really exciting to hear that story being told how well the faculty responded, how well the students have responded, and how we demonstrated how agile we could be compared to some other offerings that are out there, some other K-12 options that are out there. I think schools have been remarkable in this regard. At the beginning, we were understandably a little flat footed, but ultimately delivered. I think that's something we should all be proud of.
I do think next year we have to be even more prepared and the transition has to be even more seamless. I know, as you and I have discussed, it could even mean opening distance, learning, opening again and then distance learning. Toggling back and forth throughout the year is not out of the question. I think supporting students and families with this kind of potential environment, as not only the school circumstances demand but as their family circumstances demand with parents who are working or trying to work and trying to help their students. That's on the horizon and absolutely something we have to be prepared to do.
I really want to say a big thank you to Edmund Burke School in Washington, D.C., which is where my daughter attends. She's an 8th grader, at a sixth through twelve school in D.C. You know, I have a focus group of one with my eighth grade daughter who is attending an independent school and it's amazing to me how resilient she's been in this environment. It's really inspiring and it's all because of the support of great teachers. As we all know, everything happens because of great teachers. The engagement she's having in this environment, the agency (I know we talk a lot about at One Schoolhouse), the expectations, it's just really great. It reminds me yet again that students are ready to step up to the challenge. You know, as we talk about potentially toggling back and forth, I believe that schools will be able to meet them again if they make the right decisions now.
Think about the number of faculty that now have had direct experience with distance learning. That's just incredible to me to think about that. But you know what? It's been almost entirely on the job training and it's been almost entirely under a lot of pressure in a time constrained moment. Think about the opportunity we have to help our faculty be more planful, be more reflective, and prepare for that type of learning for this fall. I think that's really exciting and I think that's what I believe we have the opportunity to leverage from an academic standpoint at this moment. I know that schools will be concerned about expenses just like anyone else, but you know, I'd really like to have the conversation or encourage schools to have the conversation that it's really doubtful we'll be spending a lot of PD money on travel, hotel or airfare in this next year. Let's not abandon our professional development budgets, but really shift those investments to online opportunities for our faculty to really get up to speed and advance their skills and abilities that, like I said, they learned in not the most ideal circumstances. Those are some of the initial thoughts I have.
Brad: Yeah, happy to hear you say that too Jeff. I know that NAIS last week did a SNAP survey of heads of school. In that SNAP survey, somewhere between 50 and 60 percent of schools said that they're considering cutting their professional development budgets next year. What I'm hearing you say is that might not be the best course of action, or at least school should be thinking about reallocating their professional development budgets differently than they had previously.
Jeff: Right and I really think it's I really think it's an opportunity, because I think if we do if we want to prepare for some difficult circumstances as it relates to enrollment, well certainly there might be an opportunity to reduce PD. Like I said, sometimes the most expensive part of professional development is getting on a plane and paying for that hotel. It's generally not registration fees onto themselves. I think obviously One Schoolhouse is one great resource, but I really think if we're going to leverage this opportunity and we're really going to ask our communities and our faculty to rise to the occasion, we really have to support it.
I mean, kind of the same subject, but different. One of the most frustrating things I think a business officer can experience is investing in technology and then going into a classroom and still seeing it sitting in the box in the corner. And you know what? That’s no one's fault. It’s very often not about the faculty not wanting to use the technology or the business officer not dedicating the resources. It really comes down to the additional training and support and sometimes we shorthand that and I don't think we can in a scenario like this one. I really believe, given how well schools performed in this environment, I think it could be a real key differentiator for schools going forward if they leverage what they've already done and invest in it.
Schools who want to be adept and agile are going to need the training and support to do that.
Brad: That's a really good point. Can you talk for a minute or two about a webinar NBOA hosted last week about safety and operations for this fall? It has been the talk among independent school administrators all week long.
Jeff: There were a couple of webinars that happened last week that were important for this topic. McLane Middleton really brought some really expert medical advice to the NBOA community last week that I think really helped give folks pathways to think about. It really was expert advice on topics from transportation to food service to obviously the health and safety of our faculty and staff. It gave the folks on the call, that was way beyond business officers, a lot of clarity around that. We also did a webinar last week around facilities and preparing our facilities for the next reopen and what that looks like.
Brad: Jeff, thank you so much for sharing these insights with academic leaders. I know that sometimes it's difficult for academic leaders to really want to jump into those business operations conversations. I think you've made this accessible to folks and given great information.Thank you.
Jeff: Thanks for the opportunity, Brad. And thanks to you and all the great work that One Schoolhouse and your whole team is doing. I know many, many schools appreciate it.
Projections from public health authorities strongly suggest that schools should be prepared for an unsettled learning environment in the academic year 2020–21. Significant impacts to schools’ calendars and weekly schedules could be widespread or localized, should outbreaks occur and school-closing or stay-at-home orders be put in place. The right approach for finishing the school year was to minimize academic change to assist students and teachers in the enormous and unanticipated disruption in their lives. Now is the time to pivot and recognize that we can now anticipate the need to sustain academic programs for a longer time period. Schools need to develop a hybrid learning model to be nimble when circumstances change. What does this term mean in the complex educational and operational situation in which schools will find themselves?
Hybrid learning is an environment that allows for maximum flexibility between online and in-person instruction. There may be some days when a school’s physical campus must be closed and others where campus is open. When campus is open, only some students may be physically present. Some students may primarily receive in-person instruction, while others receive most of their instruction online; there will likely be movement between these two groups. There may be faculty who teach primarily in one modality or another.
Highly functional hybrid environments are based on a few solid principles. At a foundational level, a robust learning management system (LMS), used by all faculty, provides a common platform for housing and delivering instructional materials and, even more to the point, offers a consistent user experience for teachers, students, and families. At the instructional level, all faculty must develop a shared set of skills in conceptualizing and building courses and teaching in multiple modalities (in-person, online, and blended). With a common platform as well as common principles underlying instruction in an effective hybrid environment, student learning continues seamlessly even as modalities change.
While preparing for this scenario is daunting, it is essential. The upcoming summer break provides schools with time that we haven’t had in the spring of 2020 to line up ideas and resources. With thoughtful planning that begins with identifying key needs and aligning these with the right resources to meet them, a school can face a hybridized ’20–21 not as a time of acute disruption but as a modified but mission-driven and effective way of doing school—of delivering programs and student support at accustomed levels of quality and intensity.
Principles for Hybrid Learning
Hybrid learning is an environment that allows for maximum flexibility between online and in-person instruction. There may be some days when a school’s physical campus must be closed and others where campus is open. When campus is open, only some students may be physically present. Some students may primarily receive in-person instruction, while others receive most of their instruction online; there will likely be movement between these two groups. There may be faculty who teach primarily in one modality or another.
The principles of hybrid learning are predicated on the assumption that the school already has a strong, effective, and mature curriculum and culture of learning and that the school’s engaged community can thrive across modalities.
These principles draw heavily on both the Principles of Independent Curriculum and The Pedagogy of One Schoolhouse.
Congruent With The Mission And Values Of The School
A hybrid learning program aligns with the stated mission, values, culture, and strategic priorities of the school.
The Student–Teacher Relationship Forms The Foundation For All Learning
A hybrid learning program keeps students and teachers in community whether online or in-person. Teachers are equally responsive in any learning modality.
Responsive To The Interests, Capacities, And Aspirations Of The Students Being Taught
A hybrid learning program serves the actual students in each class, regardless of modality, and is designed and implemented to meet students’ interests, abilities (both developed and developing), aims, and requirements in all dimensions.
A Sufficiency Of Technology
A hybrid learning program relies on robust, ubiquitous, and curated technology tools that empower the delivery of the program but do not dictate teaching or learning.
Multiple Modes Of Assessment
A hybrid learning program supports the measurement of student mastery of articulated competencies and standards through a full range of assessment tools and techniques, both formative and summative.
Structure And Organization Are Essential Operational Elements
A hybrid learning program provides predictability and consistency in uncertain and fluctuating circumstances.
Inclusive And Just
A hybrid learning program recognizes the variety of students’ multiple perspectives, fluctuating situations, experiences, and access to resources.
Wellness And Balance
A hybrid learning program relies on a deep understanding of the developmental, social-emotional, and physical needs of learners and educators alike.
One Schoolhouse's April 22, 2020, Academic Leaders Webinar on fostering diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the online space with Gene Batiste, chief diversity office at St. John School in Houston TX and chief catalyst with Gene Batiste Consulting. Gene discusses: the biggest DEIB challenges facing schools in the midst of COVID-19; new boundaries and expectations for learning from home; and, embedding your school's values throughout your crisis response.
BRAD RATHGEBER, Head of School & CEO at One Schoolhouse: So, Gene, first, actually, can you tell us a little bit about your background in this work so that everybody has that sense of it?
GENE BATISTE Ed.D., Chief Diversity Officer at St. John School in Houston TX and Chief Catalyst with Gene Batiste Consulting: Thank you. So I've been involved in these DEIB work or diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging almost since birth. Having been born and raised in a military family and living overseas, I had the benefit of going to Department of Defense Schools and being in a multicultural setting. My parents were from Texas and Louisiana, so I would have gone to segregated school. That's where my passion for DEIB began.
In the early 90s, I worked in my first independent school. There, I really began to see the connection between academic learning and the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. So I was at St. Mark's School of Texas for nine years as a teacher and as a mid-level administrator of a scholars program and in diversity work. At that time, I was connected with NAIS through some committee work. I presented it to people of Color Conference and after spending a year in St. Louis as an Assistant Head and Director of Upper School, I joined NAIS for 13 years, serving as Vice President for Professional Development first and then for leadership development in equity and justice.
While I was at NAIS and working at the national level on things like the People of Color Conference, on developing and implementing an assessment of inclusivity multiculturalism called AIM, I went back to school and got my doctorate at Penn and started my own consulting work and actually started consulting with the school where I'm currently serving as chief diversity officer here in Houston, Texas. And that's what brought me to where we are.
BRAD: Your background is just amazing. And it's so helpful in helping us think through these challenging times that we have right now. From where you sit, Gene, what are some of the challenges that you've seen just emerge perhaps differently during this time of COVID 19 than you've seen previously?
GENE: I think the first thing that's coming to mind is the very impact of community has been thrown on its ear in the wake of COVID-19. And the other thing I'm thinking about involves all the gains and the progress that schools have made and diversity professionals and school leaders have made in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging either are lost or they are being put on the back burner. And that's for understandable reasons to some extent, because we need to be about still being school and still focusing on teaching and learning in this new way.
I think that as I hear from diversity professionals around the country, some of them are feeling that they're not being consulted or involved in contingency planning, which is very ironic because these very diversity practitioners have been trained in crisis and trauma management. And so that sense of disconnection between the very expertise in how to be community from these individuals and not involving them or consulting them in this process. I'm concerned also and I'm hearing concern about this “getting back to basics” approach to teaching and learning in schools, particularly independent schools.
And then finally, there's a stark impact of socioeconomic and class diversity that is very much apparent in this space with virtual learning, particularly synchronous learning, where teachers and students and other adults in the community are seeing each other in their home space. And so we are seeing very obvious signs of socioeconomic and class diversity in how backgrounds are presented. Some folks are actually camouflaging their real background with a screen or something. That's a reality. One of the blogs I'm following is a teacher is suggesting actually seeing a benefit of a particular comes to culturally responsive teaching, allowing her students to see her in her home space, but not just doing one static background, but actually doing her lessons from different parts of her home so that her students can see her real lived experience.
And then a final challenge, I think, is around assumptions -- just all of the assumptions that are coming will be challenges for our schools. Assuming that you have Wi-Fi connection, assuming that you know you're OK and assuming that students can thrive when they're dealing with trauma and crises and by extension, that adults are OK. And so I think that school leaders and diversity professionals are really going to need to confront the assumptions that are coming to surface because of COVID-19.
BRAD: There is so much to unpack there, Gene. Can we follow up on a couple of things you said in there. The first one is that you're hearing from many DEIB practitioners that they're worried that it's taking a backseat or completely out of the vehicle kind of at this time. What message does this convey about our school values and how might we be able to embed those values more fully into the way we respond to this crisis?
GENE: What is that age-old adage from Maya Angelou, “when people show you who they really are, believe them.” I think diversity professionals and school leaders that are passionate about DEIB are wondering if the words that are very impactful in our statements of community and inclusion or in DEIB are simply words. Now is the time where we take a look at those words and we try to engage with them again.
I think that this idea of extending grace and leniency is very important. We recognize as diversity professionals that schools need to run in this new and present reality for us. Diversity professionals need to be mindful that school leaders are trying to see how schools are going to survive when it comes to tuition. I know that Jeff Shields is doing a session next week on this.
Once a rhythm is in place for that, then we need to come back to looking at our statements, looking at our commitments and principles to DEIB and make sure that those are actionable and not just flowery speech.
BRAD: Are you finding concerns with kids in impacted socioeconomic terms, older siblings taking care of little ones while parents need to work? Thus those kids' difficulty in managing synchronous learning opportunities at schools.
GENE: Right. Particularly synchronous learning that I am hearing about because, parents are either working in the home or if they're not, if they're essential, particularly we're seeing that here in Houston with our medical staff, our medical parents as well. That is a concern. Again, grace and leniency really needs to be in place here. I know that a number of schools are modifying not just their expectations for learning, but also they're modifying their school schedules so that it's not an 8-5 or 8-3, but it's perhaps only a 9-1 or they're doing 30 minute classes and providing an opportunity for modifications as needed given the home circumstance. This is what the core of culturally responsive teaching is all about, where you set up a trusting relationship with your students, where you're mindful of their lived experience, what they're bringing to your virtual classroom, and making adjustments as necessary.
BRAD: Any ideas about honoring transition's traditions and farewells, particularly in this space?
GENE: Yeah, whether it's graduating from kindergarten, going from middle to upper school, or graduating high school, schools are asking: “how do you do that in a virtual space?” I'm hearing some very innovative ways of doing this. First, just honoring the difficulty of honoring those rites of passage and those transitions, I think is key throughout all of this. My core message is communication and transparency are going to be so important and then finding novel ways. I heard one example a few weeks ago in a Zoom conference that the Glasgow Group sponsored about a school that is honoring their graduating seniors with “graduation in a box.” They're including their cap and gown and the diploma, a letter of congratulations from the head, some confetti or noise maker, and putting it in a box and just shipping it to every graduating senior. Just, you know, just as one example. While not the same as face to face can be, it is a short term kind of solution. But I think it's also important to realize we're simply postponing these important transitions. We may do them later rather than cancelling them outright.
BRAD: So, Gene, I also want to follow up on something that you said earlier, because it relates to a topic that we've discussed in these webinars previously, and that is that schools should think really inclusively and expansively around the talents that they have in the building. So a previous example was understanding that an athletic director is almost always somebody who is amazing at operations, and can help leaders think through some of your operations on campus a little bit differently. You talked about DEIB practitioners as having a really interesting, expansive set of competencies that leaders might not necessarily initially gravitate towards. Can you expand a little bit on that?
GENE: I think that because DEIB professionals are working with classroom teachers on curriculum. They're working with your division heads and with your associate head or your head of school when it comes to hiring and retention. They're asking those key questions about culturally responsive teaching and they're asking those key questions and offering resources for cultural competency, which is going to be another very important thing to promote during this time of COVID-19. And so I think just making sure that you include their voices and it may not necessarily be the answers they have, but the questions that they ask that can help in managing and thriving within this new reality.
BRAD: Do you have any suggestions for teachers or administrators on how to connect, reach, support students, and families who aren't responsive or who are disengaging in this distance learning environment?
GENE: I'm reading and hearing a lot about that happening, particularly in the public school sector. I haven't heard about it quite so much with independent schools, though, that that's not to say it's not happening. I would recommend that we be proactive and that we consider every avenue, including using email, using text. But if you need to get in your car and do a drive by in a little bit of a honk on your horn to say hi; that kind of face-to-face kind of connection may be important. I've heard from both my undergraduate school as well as a former school where I taught from their advancement office just reaching out to say we don't want any money. We just want to connect to let you know that we're concerned about you. Every avenue that you already use to communicate, continue with those but also consider a new way, including a drive by to let those that are disengaging or are reticent to engage that you're still there.
BRAD: I've heard of that, too, I've heard of teachers taking their homeroom list to just doing drive bys around neighborhoods and saying hi to kids through their windows. Are there resources that you found particularly helpful to share with families to help them navigate this time at home.
GENE: Yeah, a lot of great stuff. I know that NPR and public TV have a lot of great resources. Scholastic is offering a lot of great resources as well. For those that are particularly concerned about diversity, equity, inclusion and blogging or social justice, Teaching Tolerance offers a lot of great resources that can be modified and used by families as well as by educators for keeping that culturally responsive space in mind. NAIS has extensive resources they make available on their website. I would recommend that diversity practitioners and leaders seek out the Zoom and Google conferences that are available because they too are curating resources. NAIS is doing it, the Glasgow Group is doing it as well. And I'm noticing that more and more state and regional associations are responding. I think utilizing the expertise of others in the field through virtual meetups is a very present and very helpful resource.
BRAD: It is wonderful to see, Gene, how the whole community is trying to come together and starting to maybe figure that out. Are we getting to the place or where we're starting to figure a new reality out?
GENE: I hope so. I think that, again, as schools are getting into a rhythm of synchronous and asynchronous learning, they are trying to rethink community. One tool that I would recommend for diversity practitioners and school leaders is to use something from organizational development called reconstructing questions. I use this a lot in my consulting work too, take your statement on community and inclusion or take your principles around DEIB and ask four questions:
1. What are we doing now that we can do more of that promotes DEIB in our school given this new reality?
2. What are we doing now that we should do less of what we are doing?
3. What aren't we doing that we should be doing?
4. What are we doing that we need to stop doing in order to, you know, not just maintain but thrive in community and inclusion in DEIB with this new space?
Using these for reconstructing questions that have served me and served the schools I serve very well and reimagining and rethinking a number of important things, including your DEIB work.
BRAD: You know, that's a nice transition, that leads us to a question from a participant “What we need to be thinking about as DEIB professionals going into the fall of 2020?” I know that a lot of schools that I've been working with, Gene, have started to shift from “OK. We can get through this year” to “What the heck is the fall going to look like that?” That shifting conversation seems to be happening right now.
GENE: One thing is to think now about the new ways that diversity professionals and school leaders that are passionate about these DEIB will do their own professional development this summer. I'm seeing that a number of organizations and institutions are moving to virtual PD for DEIB. Seek those out and continue with your own development in this area. I know that in my own case we have community inclusion associates at St. John's and we're going to have a spring retreat virtually.
And part of that is going to be to start our planning for 2021. Those faculty forums and those other ways we're going to involve our faculty associates in doing professional elements. Start working on your calendar now, realizing that you want some flexibility to it. Make sure that your PD is in place and make sure that you're thinking strategically now about plans. Do this in a co-creative way.
This is an opportunity in a virtual space to involve school leaders, to involve students and to involve parents in reimagining DEIB work and how to deliver it. What a way to get buy-in from your community if you say, we really want to rethink what we are going to do in DEIB come join us and be part of this effort!
BRAD: Are any other things that we should really be thinking about as academic leaders in our schools, particularly, I guess, focus towards not just completing this school year, but understanding that we may be in a very different environment heading into this fall?
GENE: I think that in teaching and learning and even simply being in a school, understanding the crisis and trauma created is very, very important. We haven't talked about social emotional learning, but there is a strong link between striving to be a school and the impact of social emotional learning for students and making sure that you have SEL in place not only to finish off this year, but for next year as well.
Adults in the school community need as much grace and leniency during this time as we are affording affording students. Use this time to collaborate with other schools, use NAIS, use Glasgrow Group, reach out to others that you know and share your ideas and share your struggles with DEIB and COVID-19. One of the good things we are going to get out of this is that we’ll be collaborating more and see a level of interdependence moving forward.
I think that's basically it. I'm always available to answer questions beyond this. I'm just so grateful that One Schoolhouse is realizing the importance of this conversation for school leaders.
BRAD: Gene, we all appreciate the expertise that you bring to this conversation and the care and thoughtfulness that you bring to everything that you do. So thank you so much for joining today and for offering your guidance for academic leaders.
GENE: My pleasure. Thanks so much, Brad.
Brad Rathgeber, Head of School & CEO