By Sharon Kebschull Barrett, June 11, 2020
As educators end the school year and look ahead to an uncertain fall, districts report that their Opportunity Culture leaders helped smooth the transition to at-home learning and set up structures that will help next year.
In Arkansas, middle school multi-classroom leaders (MCLs) in Lincoln Consolidated Schools made the transition easier by creating structures other schools could use, and producing instructional videos that could be used now and in the future.
In the few days the district had to plan its transition to at-home learning, Lindsay Bounds, Lincoln Middle School’s math and science MCL, worked with her principal and fellow MCLs to create a digital plan outlining what every person in the school would do. The district’s high school quickly adapted the plan for its own use after the superintendent shared it.
Bounds also set up the structure for online communication with parents, to ensure consistent and streamlined messaging, and created a parent survey on the school’s digital learning, which received overwhelmingly positive responses.
On the instructional side, MCL Yvette Townsend took the lead in making videos for her team to cover the final focus areas of the school year.
Creating Structures to Maintain Routines
The digital plan Bounds created with her principal, Michele Price, and refined with the school’s other two MCLs helped both the middle and high school staff “continue on as normal—as normal as it could be,” Bounds said.
She, Townsend, and literacy MCL Tyler McBride focused on relieving their team teachers’ stress.
“It varied from week to week in terms of what we did—just trying to keep all of the parts working, and if teachers hit a road bump, we were still their go-to person,” said Bounds, who led a team of two math, two science, and one social studies teacher, and a paraprofessional reach associate.
For Townsend, communication and schedule flexibility were two keys to the support she could give her team of five fourth- and fifth-grade teachers. She continued one-on-one meetings with each teacher, but left the timing up to them. She and Bounds stressed the importance of making sure teachers continued to feel supported emotionally and instructionally—part of why she took on recording instructional videos for fifth-graders, which will prove useful next year as well.
Bounds found her teachers appreciated her joining their Zoom instructional times just as in the regular classroom. She helped with technical glitches and keeping students engaged and learning—such as sending students private chat messages when she saw they needed attention, and getting online individually with multiple students and parents each day to answer their questions or help with instruction.
The school created a weekly schedule of live instruction, with two days each in literacy/social studies and math/science and offline work on the fifth day. Because it already used the Summit Learning platform, making the shift seemed easier than in other districts, Bounds said. They also recorded the live lessons, Townsend said, to accommodate students with multiple siblings trying to log into classes at the same time, or who needed parental help to review a lesson afterward.
Being mindful of the stresses at home mattered, said Jana Claybrook, Lincoln’s learning services director. “I think that they’ve done a really good job fine-tuning what timeframe the kids are on as they Zoom—what they are supposed to be doing, when they’re supposed to be doing it—so it’s not so overwhelming to parents,” she said.
Summit requires that each student be assigned a mentor within the school, which helped maintain relationships with students.
And although MCLs ordinarily focus on their small teams—a hallmark of the difference between an MCL and instructional coach/facilitator roles—Bounds also tried to provide support to others during the transition, such as art, PE, and gifted specialists. “Our specialty people really wanted to put things out there, because they know that their classes are oftentimes the ones that kids love the most.”
In the survey Bounds created, parents requested more communication about students’ assignments. Students would see the next day’s work posted each day, but parents wanted lesson plans emailed to them directly. The school plans to adjust that in the fall; meanwhile, the principal and MCLs created grade-level Google Classrooms to provide easier access for everyone, on which only the MCLs posted things for consistent, clear messaging.
Bounds also worked to directly support parents. “A lot of times in my mentor meetings, I would ask for their parent to come in the screen, and I would say, ‘Mom, what do you need from me?’”
If a parent was struggling to get a child to work, she would schedule standing Zoom times to work with the student individually. “I was trying to just let the parents know that this isn’t your responsibility to teach them—it is my responsibility.”
Despite the end-of-year stress, the district was pleased with the middle school’s first Opportunity Culture year, Claybrook said. She attributed the smooth shift to at-home learning to its MCLs’ leadership, and that leadership throughout the year seems to have led to a drop in teacher turnover, she said.
As they begin communicating about next year, Bounds said, they continue to think about how to best use the collaborative team structure to support all students.
“We are very upfront with telling teachers we do anticipate having to close at some point next year again or blend at some point [with some students at home, some at school]. We know some kids won’t want to come back,” she said. “So maybe we video the teacher teaching, but then I take the uploads and I’m the contact person for the parents, to help teachers manage that—because you don’t want to say, ‘here’s 120 kids that you’re teaching in the classroom, and don’t forget, there’s five of them that you’ve got to check in with over here [online]’.”