Many are depending on you for their frontline mental and emotional support. Be sure you have the energy you need to serve them well by tending to yourself first. These big ideas can help you stay strong.
Do I focus on their attitudes and beliefs about online instruction? The practices that best support online learning? Student results? Which comes first in the change process?
Thomas Guskey notes that most professional learning follows this order:
Change teachers’ attitudes/beliefs about a practice or approach.
Then, implement the new practice.
Then, get results.
However, little success derives from trying to change peoples’ attitudes and beliefs. The key is in changing the experience.Leaders need to identify which practices, adapted to their context, will be most successful in increasing learning for their students as evidenced by research or other success stories. Using evidence or research-based practicessignificantly increases the likelihood of success in each context, which contributes to teacher efficacy. When teachers see their work has resulted in positive change in student learning, they believe more strongly that their efforts matter. They grow in their confidence to try additional new strategies and practices.
Change produces anxiety—the fear of not knowing for certain that this new way will work, and it feels threatening. Taking a risk means I might fail, which runs counter to teachers’ commitment that every student learns. Consequently, they hold fast to what they believe has worked in spite of evidence that shows another approach would likely work better.
This is why it's so important to avoidimplementing new practices that are not correlated to success and impact. Unproven practicesincrease the possibility that teachers will see their efforts as disconnected from student learning. Such practices contribute to low self-efficacy—teachers’belief thattheir work doesn’t make a difference. This does not mean that schools should not innovate. It means that leaders should be aware of their teachers’ sense of self-efficacy and collective efficacy. The stronger the teachers’ beliefs that they make an impact for their students, the greater flexibility in being able tochoose among promising practices.
In our current context, many teachers who have not experienced online or distance learning are feeling anxious, threatened, and uncertain—some to a greater degree than others. More experienced teachers have spent years teaching in ways that they believe has resulted in success. For them this new context is even more unsettling. The leader can help in several ways:
Identify evidenced based instructional practices to support online learning—the higher the rate of success with a particular approach, the likelier the teacher will experience success sooner and begin to grow his/her confidence in incorporating other strategies for engaging students online.For example, morning meetingshave been shown to strengthen relationships, build community, and set the stage for learning in a face-to-face environment; they can serve this same purpose in an online space.
Discuss what adaptations might be needed in your particular context. Be aware of the teacher’s workload and the demands of the new practice. What key components of the approach are necessary to maintain the fidelity of implementation in order to get the expected results? For example,finding ways to connect students to you and each other is fundamental to the morning meeting—how can that happen in this online space? Can Seesaw or Flipgrid help?
Provide the teacher regular feedback. Help him/her to notice and celebrate successes. For example, join the teacher’s morning meeting. Affirm the efforts even when only 15 of 25 students are online. Notice what’s going well. Discuss challenges he/she is having and support him/her in brainstorming.
Encouraging and expecting teachers to take small steps and then celebrating their victories builds their confidence and subsequently their willingness to take another step into the unknown. Behavior precedes change in attitude and belief.
Discussion questions for mentoring partnership:
What do your teachers currently believe about online learning or learning through multiple mediums?
How do you currently lead change?
What expectations do you have for teachers to engage their students in learning face-to-face? Online?
Connect with any of these resources to better understand anxiety and how to support your students and teacherswho suffer from it, particularly in our current context.
No one-size-fits-all treatment will address all those who suffer anxiety. This makes it especially challenging to serve their needs; however, these practical resources can pave the way to better understanding anxiety and strategies to support both students and staff.
How do we support ALL students in continuous learning in the midst of the coronavirus? Three national experts’ opinions converge around several key suggestions.
“Schools should: provide services to students as soon as possible; worry more about making progress than following the letter of the law; and understand that much of federal law wasn't written with online education in mind.”
Selene Almazan, legal director, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, encourages schools to focus on families and to work together to determine what kind of learning will be accessible to their child with an IEP. She is encouraging families to gather and document (via video or other) their own data about their student's progress (or lack thereof) so that when students return to school, the IEP team can meet and determine appropriate supports moving forward.
Julie Weatherly, attorney and founder of Resolutions in Special Education, notes IDEA wasn’t written with this current context in mind. She advises schools and families to work together to establish and document informal agreements so they can move on to answering the questions: 'What can I do right now? What can we do right now for your child?'
Weatherly says, “For the most part, the IEP itself is not going to be able to be implemented as written, but rather than amend those documents or anything like that, I think most parents would be amenable to agreeing that, 'Hey, let's keep that intact for now. But what are we going to do in the meantime?'”
Perry Zirkel, professor emeritus at Lehigh University College of Education, encourages leaders to worry less about procedural issues and more about getting as many services as possible to students—being as effective as we can in light of the unprecedented circumstances. “The ultimate priority is on making good-faith, reasonable efforts to deliver services to eligible children under the IDEA. And whatever else you can do procedurally is a bonus. It's gravy,” argues Zirkel.