Familiarizing Educators with the Building Blocks of Equitable Remote Learning

Mark Rekutin is a rising sophomore at Duke University and a DukeEngage intern at LearnLaunch.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, school leaders have been working night and day to transform emergency remote instruction into thoughtful planning for the upcoming school year. To learn more about this work, I attended a workshop on Monday, July 20th, where district leaders from across the state of Massachusetts studied setting priorities for learning, using the Building Blocks of Equitable Remote Learning developed by LearnLaunch.

The Building Blocks of Equitable Remote Learning

Has your school district found it difficult to adjust to remote learning due to COVID-19? Are you an educator or school leader that needs help preparing for the fall term? Is there a particular area in which your school could benefit from guidance?

The Building Blocks of Equitable Remote Learning is a project combining an online planning framework, carefully curated resources, and highly interactive workshops to help education leaders transform emergency instruction, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, into high-quality, equitable teaching and learning practices.

Developed by LearnLaunch, a national nonprofit dedicated to connecting, supporting, and investing in the education innovation ecosystem, this tool offers the ability for school districts to use an online planning framework designed by educational leaders for educational leaders.

The framework highlights 10 of the most critical elements for achieving equitable, high-quality teaching and learning amidst the challenges brought about by the pandemic. In this workshop, we focused on the Set Priorities for Learning building block, which LearnLaunch considers a foundation for moving forward.

Workshop Overview

To familiarize school districts with the Building Blocks of Equitable Remote Learning and its many features, district and school leaders are invited to attend a series of workshops that highlight the importance of each Building Block in separate virtual, highly interactive workshops. This is an opportunity for district leaders to engage with the Building Block content that fits their team’s needs in a virtual setting.

The Set Priorities for Learning workshops have kickstarted the series, with emphasis on setting a vision (or ‘guiding principles’), establishing actionable goals, and implementing or operationalizing and monitoring progress.

Leaders from over two dozen Massachusetts districts gathered to review the Building Blocks tool, explore the Setting Priorities for Learning Block with Dr. Karen Shakman, learn from peer examples, and collaborate in breakout groups to develop their plans.

Using The Tool

First, Dana Ansel from the LearnLaunch team took us through the online tool. With the tool, educators are able to follow a simple, streamlined planning process to quickly find the solutions and resources they need to meet state requirements for learning standards.

 The Building Blocks are an opportunity to evaluate key areas for exploration under each Building Block (‘essential elements’) and to consider those through a self-reflection process that rests on the school district’s assets, while also analyzing the gaps of the district to arrive at concrete, actionable next steps. 

It also provides the opportunity to access curated resources and peer examples for each essential element, and develop, manage, and save the planning process all in one step. All these features of the Building Blocks tool serve to facilitate the creation of an efficient process for developing a solid school district plan for a return to instruction in the fall. District leaders simply access a particular Building Block (in this case Set Priorities for Learning), with each one containing three buckets, divided into several elements within each bucket. Building Blocks never contain more than 10 elements as one key feature of the tool is to synthesize and make sense of the complexity of the planning process for education leaders. You can easily access one of the buckets and read through each element, with guiding questions attached to each. When answering them, you are able to record your strong-suits, weak spots, and goals for the future, all saved in one convenient location for future use.

Expert Reviews

Next, we heard from Dr. Karen Shakman, an expert on logic modeling and continuous improvement, who reemphasized the importance of following the outline in the Building Block tool. She explained that by following the three buckets under the Set Priorities for Learning Building Block, as outlined below, school districts can more effectively plan and implement guiding principles for the upcoming school year:

  • The first bucket is to set your vision: establishing a set of guiding principles, precepts that remain constant regardless of circumstance, they are able to guide an organization’s work regardless of who, or what, the organization is currently doing. For example, a school pivoting amongst three district plans for remote learning (all in-person, all remote, or hybrid) requires distinct principles that are applicable regardless of the classroom setting. As she details, companies and organizations that endure and succeed through significant change are those that adapt accordingly without losing their core mission and beliefs.
  • The second bucket is to establish actionable goals: based on these guiding principles, these actionable goals move school districts towards a concrete implementation plan and make clear the kind of resources, training, and structures districts must have in place.
  • The third bucket is to prepare to implement and monitor progress: by addressing all the ways to think about employing data and information to support school district’s efforts to meet goals, and synthesizing school or district strategic plans, annual learning goals, and Massachusetts curriculum frameworks and standards, with the pre-existing core principles, districts are able to continuously improve their plans for an effective school year.

Example: Amherst Public Schools 

Then, Dr. Shakman referenced how the Amherst Public Schools moves from a guiding principle to an actionable goal in their reopening plan: 

  • Set out a guiding principle: we will teach in ways that engage all learners. 
  • Ask questions to guide work, which are provided under each Building Block bucket. Some questions include: what does this look like in different learning models? What are the expectations for engaging learners remotely or in a hybrid context? What kind of resources and support do teachers need to engage students in these different contexts?
  • Examples of responses: articulate the specific number of hours of synchronous learning per subject, which provides a concrete, actionable direction about what the expectations are for engagement.

Patrick Larkin, Assistant Superintendent

We then heard from Patrick Larkin, Assistant Superintendent in Burlington Public Schools, on how they are setting their priorities for learning for this coming school year. 

Under the Set Priorities for Learning Building Block, the district first set a guiding principle – focus on the health and safety of students and staff – in order to outline how they will approach the reopening of the schools. The following sub-elements were created for a more effective plan in setting learning priorities under this principle:

  • The more independent the learner, the lower the negative impact of remote learning.
  • Students who require specialized support to reenter school will have a different reentry process to meet their needs.
  • The district will prepare to seamlessly move between in-person instruction and remote instruction, in preparation for possible school closures.
  • Commitment to provide technology for all students that can be accessed at home and at school, expanding the 1:1 learning program for home use.
  • Collaboration between grade levels and subject areas within and across schools will be prioritized for consistency and coherence.
  • Special subject areas, such as art, music, physical education, library, and computer science will continue to be an important component of learning.

 Break-Out Sessions

After hearing from Dr. Shakman and Patrick Larkin, we joined with colleagues in small break-out sessions to create actionable goals and set guiding principles for teaching and learning that are consistent with state guidance. District leaders were first prompted to assess whether they needed help setting their vision or establishing an actionable goal. They were then prompted to enter break-out rooms, where educators bounced ideas off of each other, debating what qualifies as a guiding principle, and the goals that each district needs to achieve in order to be successful for the fall. 

  • One of the urban districts spoke about setting one of their guiding principles to emphasize disadvantaged students. By focusing on students that are facing hardship during remote learning, responding to their needs first will allow for a more equitable remote learning system.
  • A suburban school district shared their vision as not getting stuck in crisis resolution, but rather creating an equitable remote learning plan that is thoroughly thought through.
  • Districts used things such as conferences and 5-year strategic plans as assets, but detailed a few roadblocks, such as lack of communication with students, as gaps in their ability to implement a more equitable remote learning experience for all.

Join an Upcoming Workshop

Set Priorities for Learning was just the first of a set of workshops that LearnLaunch is offering for school and district leaders this summer. Join us for an upcoming workshop on engaging learners, ensuring equitable access, and more.

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