Ways to Think about Emergencies

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Switching to Online Learning

Ideally, you'll have at least a few days for the team to develop materials and fine-tune strategies ahead of beginning full-scale online instruction.

When the Japanese government announced the closing of schools across the nation on February 27th, the Nagoya International School set the first three days of the following week as a time the staff could meet to prepare for online instructions beginning that Thursday.

In addition to gathering content to copy and make available to students, final practice with online tools, and decisions on what meetings and support will be provided to the team, it is worth using the time to think more broadly about what the emergency will mean longer-term for the school community.

An Ever-Expanding Set of Tools

First, it is worth remembering that no teacher is perfect, helping every student be optimally successful with their learning. Given that we are all always trying to learn what we can do to reach the next student, an emergency can be a time for added focus on new possibilities.

Most teachers are quite stressed about how much time they have to cover the content required and provide meaningful feedback to students on how to show they have mastered that content. This often makes taking time to learn a new tech tool a challenge, but with an emergency reordering our priorities, it is good to remember that what we learn through using collaborative, storytelling, and other tools may well make us stronger teachers for a long time to come.

In the next two pages, we'll look at different tools, how to use them, and how to learn more, even when no one else is available to help you.

Knowing Your Focus

As was discussed in the Concordia EdTech Roundtable podcast on their sudden switch to online learning, a key need for teachers is to simplify.

You are not likely going to cover everything you normally would, so decide with your peers what the most critical pieces of your courses are and what might be trimmed if the emergency continues long term.

One way to think about this is to consider any given class or learning period, and ask what the two minutes of material are that students absolutely have to have in mind as a result of the learning. This is a good practice under normal circumstances, of course. If you as a teacher have trouble pointing to the key elements of a class, it's a safe bet the students will be hard-pressed to do so.

If creating video material that students will return to repeatedly as they learn and review, emphasize these most important pieces at the beginning and end of your videos. Planning upcoming lessons will be all the easier with an outline in front of you.

Calm and Encouragement in an Emergency

We know when doing fire drills that calm adults are more likely to get students to do what is needed to be safe. When thinking of a long-term emergency, displaying calm and giving encouragement will also be what many students need to keep frustration at the new circumstances at bay.

Practices that are useful in normal circumstances will be useful in a switch to online learning.

For example, keep students oriented toward a growth mindset by regularly asking where students might next take good work they have done. Completion is an important part of a school's system, but a willingness to explore other possibilities is more likely to help students develop strengths that can take them where they want in life.

It can also be helpful under stressful situations to give people powerful stories to watch and reflect upon together. In the resources section of my nonprofit's website, one can find Sources of Inspiration, which is a collection of dozens of wonderful videos I have been collecting for years.

The very first one is about Kelvin Doe from Sierra Leone, and how he managed to create a radio from spare parts scoured from trash bins and became the youngest person invited to MIT on the university's Visiting Practitioner's Program.

A story about someone who overcomes challenges has obvious benefits for students facing challenges. What may not be so obvious, though, is the value of the creative exercise of having your students draw connections between elements of these encouraging stories and what they are learning.

You may find that they see something in your subject that you haven't seen before, and those are moments that can energize us for our work, even in difficult times.

Go to What to Do Now.

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.