High-Touch At-Home Learning? That’s the Plan in Indianapolis School

by | April 10, 2020

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett, April 10, 2020

When Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) closed its school doors due to COVID-19, Jeremy Baugh, principal of Lew Wallace Elementary and a 2018–19 Opportunity Culture® Fellow, moved quickly with his staff to keep their students learning and connected to their teachers.

“Our Lew Wallace staff, in general, and the IPS community has just gone above-and-beyond for our kids. It’s been incredible to see the connections that they’ve made with them and how hard they’re working to produce high-quality instruction for our kids even in a difficult time,” Baugh said in a recent interview.

“There’s no reason in today’s world with the technology resources that we have that we can’t provide the same high-quality instruction, maybe even a little bit better, to be honest, because we can take away the barriers of certain grade levels, dropping kids into different groups, and having teachers do things that are a little outside of their normal scope of work,” he said. “We should be able to put technology in the hands of all of our students, and once they have the access and the connectivity in their home then there’s just really no stopping. I think we are positioned better than most because of our multi-classroom leader roles to support teachers and students in learning.”

When we spoke, Baugh’s staff was preparing for the return from spring break and their new routine: On Mondays and Fridays, staff professional development and planning; on Tuesdays through Thursdays, online, videoconferencing learning for students.

“Our vision for it was we want as much business as usual as possible,” Baugh said. “We want to continue the teaching and learning, and that will be our expectation—we don’t want to just kind-of set kids loose and wish them the best with a packet. We actually want to provide direct instruction.”

So the Tuesday-Thursday schedule will be:

—60 minutes: Live teaching for each grade, with 30 minutes of reading and 30 minutes of math instruction. Each grade is assigned a different hour of the day, to accommodate students who have to share devices with siblings. (The entire district will also receive mailed instructional packets.)

—20 minutes: Breakout rooms for further support, with teachers, assistants, and specialists leading rooms.

—30 minutes: Leveled literacy groups. Using the entire staff, the school will provide 30-minute literacy groups each day, with one section at 4 p.m. and another at 4:30, for a total of 26 groups.

—Additional evening team-building time: Activities for fun, such as trivia games.

“We’re hoping that there will be at least one to three touch points every day with our kids on those Tuesdays through Thursdays,” he said. Those days were the district expectation when we talked; Baugh said the school may expand this to Monday and Friday once they see how difficult it is to get students online and engaged consistently.

Baugh is planning ahead for the possibility of long-term at-home learning, and says schools should:

—Think big: “I would say the biggest tip that we’ve had so far is to just think big. … Let’s first think about, what does the map look like if we laid out the ideal home learning situation?” Baugh said. “The first thing people say is, ‘Well, my kids aren’t going to be able to get on, they’re not going to be able to do this.’ But if we say, ‘Don’t think about any barriers right now. Just pretend that every single kid is online, they’re going to show up to your class when they’re supposed to show up—what exactly would that look like?” That has allowed us to dream bigger and to create a better environment for home learning.”

—Have a distributed leadership structure in place: “Number one, as an Opportunity Culture® school, is to engage your leadership team early and have the distributed leadership process in place. Getting lots of input and viewpoints is really important; having your MCLs continue to stay well-connected with their teachers and try to maintain that role as much as possible will do many things. One, it will support the MCLs; two, it’ll support the teachers, because they’ll have that one-on-one connection with their MCL; and then three, it’ll help the MCL to make sure that they are staying on top of student data and student growth, because they’ll be involved in all aspects of the instruction.”

—Maintain team routines: Multi-classroom leaders continue to meet weekly as a team for planning and student learning data analysis, and in one-on-one meetings with each team teacher. They will also continue to help provide direct instruction through co-teaching, modeling, and leading small groups. Baugh and Assistant Principal Jessica Smith (also an Opportunity Culture® Fellow, who first served as an MCL) also continue to provide support and coaching to the school’s MCLs.

—Help students learn at their own pace: Even before the move to at-home learning, Baugh said, students were using some online, individualized instruction that let them learn at their own pace, so they can continue that at home, helping teachers to track their progress.

Many teachers felt somewhat disheartened, he said, by the cancellation of year-end tests that would have allowed them to show strong student learning growth. “That’s the overall impression, like, ‘Oh man! We really had a chance to show what impact we made this year,’” he said. “But we’re still looking for a-year-and-a-half growth, so we’re trying to look at our pathways or tools to show mastery for kids.”

—Consider looping teachers, to maintain student-teacher relationships: Baugh has begun conversations about whether they should keep students assigned to the same teachers next year if school closures continue into the fall. Teachers may need to learn new content to move up a grade with their students, “but we’ve got MCLs to help with that, so we can overcome those barriers,” he said. Then, he said, they could “completely reset when we return—that first in-school, brick-and-mortar day, start your new grade level, new classroom. I think there’s a couple of different ways we could potentially handle it.”

—Stay connected to learn new ideas: “I think the other thing that’s really important for our educators is we all have to stay connected, more now than ever…hearing about ideas just like we’re doing now [in interviews with Opportunity Culture® Fellows] is really powerful, because it’s going to allow us to kind of grow and expand in what we’re able to offer very quickly, as opposed to trying to figure it all out on our own,” he said. “The ability to stay connected with each other and share ideas remotely is probably really important going into this next step of the new normal.”

For more on Baugh and Lew Wallace Elementary, see: Teachers Kept Quitting This Indianapolis School. Here’s How the Principal Got Them to Stay; Set Clear Expectations for Support to Reach Goals; How Opportunity Culture® Helps Schools Retain Teachers; How Opportunity Culture® Principals Lead Change and Develop Leaders

This column is one of a series of interviews about the COVID-19 shift to at-home teaching:

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