Over the past few weeks, schools have closed, living rooms have transformed into classrooms, and kitchen tables have become desks. Many parents who typically receive an update on their child’s daily school progress by asking the question, “How was school today?” have been flung into the role of teacher, as districts have moved to various versions of remote learning. In addition to taking care of the kids and routine work, this has them checking assignments, monitoring take-home tests, and coaching their students. More and more, they are leaning on technology for support.
This sudden shift is having a profound impact on education and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Educators and parents are asking themselves the same question: How do we keep children safe, healthy, and connected during this crisis?
Without the ability to meet in person, many schools have arranged for teachers to hold classes via video conferencing and for students to complete assignments and projects online. Although a great deal of students still lack devices and internet to accommodate virtual learning, schools that leverage technology to drive connection and meaningful learning are transcending the walls of traditional classroom settings. Technology is allowing students to maintain, and even strengthen, their relationships with their teachers and fellow students, demonstrating that not all screen time is created equally.
Take Westchester Torah Academy in White Plains, New York, for example. From their own homes, students are holding a virtual courtroom experience as part of their seventh grade English language arts project about “The Outsiders.” A lawyer from their community will serve remotely as the judge in their trial. This activity, planned prior to closures, was able to continue because the school, teachers, and students were prepared to pivot and deliver education despite challenging circumstances.
At Charette High School in Providence, Rhode Island, students are continuing to join one-on-one mentoring sessions with their teachers via videoconference. “We are engaging in meaningful dialogue with no distractions. Our students really appreciate the opportunity to continue to complete checkpoints and projects. The level of engagement is striking,” said Kathy Vespia, Executive Director at Charette High School. Continued mentoring is providing students of all backgrounds with the one-on-one support they need to navigate school and life during closures.
Parents are also seeing firsthand that not all screen time is created equally, and that technology is best leveraged when teachers are continuing to drive learning, just as they would in the classroom. When technology is used as a tool to enhance human connection, particularly during times of stress, fear, and uncertainty, students are better able to continue learning and exercising the skills they’ll need in life after graduation.
“With the world rapidly changing around us, many parents are put into the position of now homeschooling their children, or at least partnering with the school and teacher to deliver content in the home environment” said Nicki Chase, the parent of a student at Classical Academy High School in San Diego. “Our students aren’t concerned about a disruption to teaching and learning. They still have access to the college preparatory curriculum, they know they can work their way through the resources to learn the material, and they know the teacher is available to answer any questions they might have. Mentoring conversations are now via the web rather than in-person, but they still happen.”
Simply put, for students to achieve significant outcomes—including lifelong skills and social and emotional learning—at home, they need more than a laptop and an internet connection. They need a school that has committed to preparing them for life’s challenges, teaching skills like self-direction, agency, and resilience. They need teachers who truly know them, and who foster a sense of belonging that helps them overcome obstacles. Most importantly, they need to have been bolstered by their education system with the confidence that they are capable of leading their own education, even outside of the walls of their classroom.
At Summit Learning, where I am Executive Director of T.L.P. Education, we partner with hundreds of schools across the United States who have been preparing their students with the skills they need to persevere for the future, including challenging times such as these. In our program, students learn valuable skills like self-direction and resilience that help them thrive after graduation and throughout their lives. We have heard from many of our partner schools that, because they had already been utilizing technology with a purpose and empowering students with these skills, they were better prepared to quickly pivot to remote learning when school closures were announced. These schools are not having to make do with scattered resources pulled together from the internet. They are able to continue implementing key parts of their education vision because they have been participating in an outcomes-driven program.
“The transition has been made much easier for our students because we have been teaching them real-world skills to adapt to unexpected challenges,” said Tynetta Harris, a teacher at Henry Snyder High School in New Jersey. “We’ve focused so much throughout the school year on teaching our students how to set goals and actively incorporate feedback, and this is an opportunity for our students to demonstrate their ability to be scholars and for us as educators to expand our teaching skills.”
While nothing can replace in-person instruction from teachers, schools across the country are finding ways to continue to connect and engage students in meaningful learning using technology. Remote learning looks different in different places, but the concept is the same: Technology is the thread that is keeping humans connected and students on track to reach their goals. Human relationships—between students, teachers, and families—are carrying education through this unprecedented time.
Editor’s note: This article was first published by Summit Learning.