Moving from In-Person Learning to Remote Learning at the Flip of a Switch

Zoom, Google Hangouts, Jitsi Meet, Skype, yes we have heard of them but who would’ve thought we would have used these so extensively for teaching?

Let’s rewind back to February of 2020.  During this time we were just learning more about COVID-19 and its invasion into North America. As we were moving through the winter of 2020, school children across the country were excited at the thought of seeing their friends and teachers each school day.  Schools at this time were full in-person and students were learning as they had been since the start of education in America. Then March came and that’s when it all began. At the start of March we had a major uptick in the amount of cases here in America and we were getting more information on the effects and transmission of this new virus.

As soon as states started to experience an increase in COVID-19 cases, school district administrations began working on plans for the possibility of the school systems shutting down. By the end of March, many schools were closing down for several days in order to finalize remote learning plans.

Many school districts were ill-equipped to run a robust remote learning model.  This was a hectic time for school administrators, teachers, students, and parents.  Schools faced many uphill battles on this quick abrupt shift from in-person learning to remote learning.  Unfortunately, here in the United States not all students have the same accessibility to computers and the internet.  Those low income students risked falling further behind as they did not have a way to learn from home when schools were closed.  Other students faced internet outages as their service providers were being maxed out on a daily basis.  Teachers had to change things on a dime in order to continue their instruction.  To say this was a monumental task was an understatement.  At the end of the 2020 school year, parents were exhausted, students melted down, teachers were leaving the profession quickly, and administrators were trying to figure out how the school year would start up in the fall.

In July, as school districts prepared for the new school year, many administrators heard from parents and community members about how poor the spring remote learning experience was.  These parents complained that their children didn’t learn anything and feared that their children would be left behind.  Other parents pleaded with administrators to try and get hotspots for the internet, 1:1 devices, and better infrastructure in order to avoid what happened in the spring.  Teachers were extremely anxious about getting back into the classroom as COVID cases were exploding.  Of course teachers were concerned about their students learning as well.  Let’s not forget that we had teachers in the spring print off packets of school work and hand deliver them to their students.  Yes, these teachers are miracle workers and would do anything for their students.

Fast forward to August of 2020 and the start of the school year.  Schools around the country were starting either in-person, fully remote, or a hybrid of the two.  The remote learning has been tweaked to make it a more robust learning experience, but no matter what, students may still suffer learning loss this school year.

Now, as we head into winter, other issues have begun to pop up with remote learning.  Students are becoming more and more checked out as this “pandemic fatigue” continues to overtake communities.  Teachers are seeing less and less participation among students as each day passes.  Some students are barely mentally present even if they physically click the link for class that day.  So how do teachers reach out to students who don’t attend or who aren’t engaged in learning?

Teachers are amazing, creative individuals who will do anything for their students.  Not being in person with their students makes it extra hard for teachers to motivate them. It’s hard enough to motivate students while they are in person.  Factor in that maybe mom or dad are at home working, or maybe there are other siblings in the same home on Zoom at the same time tying up the bandwidth of the internet.  How about those students who are online but whose camera is turned off?  Or the students online but who are also playing video games?  How do teachers compete with those distractions?

Unfortunately, the 2020-21 school year could just be a wash as we look forward to the fall of 2021 with maybe some semblance of normalcy, or at least something better.  So once again, how do teachers motivate students sitting in front of a screen for 7 hours a day?  And don’t forget about motivating teachers to sit and teach in front of a camera for 7 hours each day, wondering if they are reaching anyone in the void.  Unfortunately, there is way to know. All we can do is to work together to do the best we can possibly do as administrators, teachers, parents, and students.  In the end everyone has one goal, to be healthy and safe.