Emergencies and Switching to Online Learning

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Facing an Emergency

Emergencies happen. How we respond to them may be as important a lesson for our students and our school teams as anything else we do.

Over the last few days, I have shared ideas with educators around the world, asking about ways they have approached the challenges posed by COVID-19. I've learned how schools in China and other countries have suddenly shifted to online learning, and how schools, from small independents to districts of more than a million people, are working to prepare their people for something similar.

At core is the question, if the government in your state, province, or area ordered all schools to close, what would you do? How is this emergency something you can prepare for?

Instructional Continuity

Our role as educators is to foster our students' well-being, academic development, and sense of future possibilities.

If we must continue to do these things without the ability to meet with our students in person, do we have what we need to live up to this role?

The short answer is that a wide variety of largely free technologies can allow us to do much of what we are capable of doing as educators in brick-and-mortar schools. In these pages, we will look at these technologies and some of the philosophical framework that can help a school decide how to move forward when schools must close for longer than a few days.

Caring for Our Students

It is important to understand in all components of this preparation that this is likely to be a situation that introduces new social and emotional challenges for our students.

Will students be able to focus on their academic work with confidence that caring, stable adults are within reach online to help them? Not all of our students may have this luxury at home, and being home for long and perhaps uninterrupted stretches in dysfunctional environments may exacerbate tension that attending school normally addresses.

Will we create avenues for our students to share ideas and hopes, and even see each other through video communication tools? Are we educators who can use these experiences to help students see their academic possibilities in ways they haven't before? Emergencies present opportunities.

Caring for Ourselves and Our Colleagues

A sudden shift to teaching and learning online will likely take a toll on teachers, as well.

One story I heard of expat teachers in Wuhan, China, where the virus first began to spread struck me as particularly poignant.

After weeks of largely being confined to their apartments, teachers began calling each other and leaving the lines open, even if they weren't talking. They simply wanted the comfort of being able to speak up and have someone hear their voices.

An emergency in which people are largely (or completely) confined to their homes will mean different things for different people. Some will have family members to be with, and others may find themselves largely alone.

Know that at your school, plenty of the people who make things work may need something that allows them to continue to participate. I am thinking of those in the cafeteria who know which students arrive at school unfed, those at the front desk who may provide the first smile a child sees in the morning, part-time coaches who may find their regular jobs a pale reflection of their work to help young athletes learn teamwork and excellence, and drivers who see students near their homes and with their friends and consequently know much about students psychological well-being.

In these pages, we will look at our ability to keep our work going when so much of what makes it familiar to us is uprooted.

An emergency is a time that calls for us to draw upon the best in ourselves. We are people whose encouragement may be a hidden comfort that keeps the lives of our students and colleagues together.

Look in this and any challenge for what can make you a better educator, colleague, and friend, now and long after the emergency passes.

Go to Initial Preparation.

The writer, Rushton Hurley, is the founder of Next Vista for Learning, the author of three books (Making Your Teaching Something Special, Making Your School Something Special, and Technology, Teamwork, & Excellence) as well as the writer of the blog Inspiring Improvement.