Tuesday, August 18, 2020

4 Focus Areas For Successful Remote Leading

The whole reason we are even talking about remote learning is because science tells us the way we stay safe is to stay home. Some will disagree with that decision but ultimately it can (and will) save the lives of students and the passionate educators who have been working tirelessly to provide them an education in the middle of a pandemic. 

Sure the word of the year in education has been "remote learning." 

But it's more than that. 

It's really remote leading

Teachers are having to blaze new trails, figuring out how to teach in these remote circumstances. Principals, Curriculum Leaders, Superintendents, all leaders really, are attempting to do the same while keeping everyone safe and ensuring equity and access at the same time. 

This is what leaders do. They are faced with what might seem like overwhelming circumstances that can not be overcome and yet somehow they find a way to be successful. 

Here are 4 focus areas to ensure successful remote leading: 

Focus on Empathy, Grace and Relationships-The most important thing to do in times like these is focus on empathy, grace and relationships. Many of us are under great strain mentally and emotionally. Our parents and students are no different. I want my daughters to be back in the classroom with their teachers. I think many parents feel strongly about that as well. Equally so, I believe many teachers and leaders want to be back in their buildings. But the reality right now is that it's not safe for us to do so. So we play the hand we are dealt. 

No one said remote learning or leading would be easy. If it was we'd be doing it, pandemic or not. Device access, internet connectivity issues, child care struggles, just generally staying healthy are all complications we have to handle with a tremendous amount of empathy, grace and understanding. 

Relationships are the way we do this. These relationships with parents and students, other educators, leaders, community members can all be forged online. And the time we take at the beginning of the school year to focus on these vital relationships will help with empathy and grace as additional problems arise (because they will). And if we do get back in to school buildings that transition will be that much easier and quicker with the already established relationships in place. 

Focus on Learning and Pedagogy-Hopefully, the summer provided an, albeit brief, opportunity to catch our breath we can look forward to creating learning opportunities for students that focus on a new year of learning. Many educators and leaders have never had experience teaching or leading remotely let alone trying to plan and assess in this situation. The emergency learning done in the Spring was essentially building the airplane while trying to fly it. Now we have the chance to consider the types of learning opportunities we create for students and do it in a way that honors research, strong pedagogy and ways for students to "show what they know" in new and innovative ways.

  • Students don't need hours of face-to-face video instruction. The research is clear, less is more. Expecting students to sit on video for hours will only cause fatigue and resentment to the learning process. Morning meetings, check-ins, and short videos are far more effective. 
  • We want to change learning, now's the chance. For years we (myself included) have been calling for a focus on learning soft skills, rather than the rote memorization of facts and figures. Remote learning provides all sorts of opportunities to this and you don't even need technology to make it effective. 
  • Formative Assessment has always been important. Now it's essential. With students working remotely it will be vital that we understand where they are in their learning, the challenges they face and the gaps in our teaching. If we weren't doing formative assessment on a daily basis before, now is the time to change that. Using exit tickets, edtech or just a brief video chat can all be effective at ensuring students are progressing as we anticipate and how we can refine our teaching, even if its done remotely. 

Focus on Communication-Another area that needs a great deal of attention and focus is communications. Remote learning is a complex and completely different situation than the majority of students and parents have dealt with before. Having clear and consistent lines of communication will be key to successful Remote Leading. 

  • Pick A Platform And Stick With It- Inform parents and students the methods you will be using to let everyone know what's going on. In the classroom it might be the LMS, email or another program. For the leadership team it might be the mass notifications product. Whatever it is, use it but don't change it unless you give plenty of warning and explanations as to why. 
  • Consistency Is Key-The worst mistake I've seen teachers and leaders make during these challenging times is thinking that "we've got nothing to say." Under communication is a fatal flaw in the overall building of positive relationships. Make these communications as consistent as possible. And even if there is nothing new to share, share something. Tips, tricks or maybe a meme can be a great way to keep everyone engaged. 
  • Make It 2-Way-Situations will arise and problems will happen that will need a conversation. Choose those methods that allow for 2-way conversations so that open lines of communications can be maintained. This will make lives easier for everyone. A free Google Voice phone number is a great way to do this. You can give this to parents as an option to text or call and automatically forward the messages to wherever you like. And you can set up do not disturb hours as well. 
  • Office Hours-Both teachers and leadership teams need to set aside time to be available to answer questions, provide assistance or just to listen to students and parents. You don't have to provide time every day (unless you want to) but once a week for a hour or 2 can go a long way to building and maintaining positive relationships. 

Focus on Continuous Reflection-One of the things we learned with the first round of remote learning and leading back in the spring was that there were many opportunities for improvement. It's not that any of it was a failure. Quite the contrary. Educators and leaders did the best they could with what they had. Now that we've had some time to think we can make improvements. However, this round in the Fall will still be filled with successes and failures we can build upon for both students and parents and teachers and leaders. 

Focus efforts each day to reflect. Just as we would if we were face-to-face and not in the midst of a global pandemic we would meet with our PLC or grade level teams to discuss, digest and plan. And leaders would meet to do the same. And parents would attend conferences and we would all plan for improvement. 

Remote learning and leading demands a greater emphasis on reflection. What's working? What's not? Where are we going? How are we preparing for situations unknown? Spending time reflecting, individually, as a group, with parents, students and other leaders will be critical to success.