For our final “Distance Learning Diary,” we tagged a team of instructional coaches to share their new routines and considerations for continuity planning. Alex Worozaken and Lucretia Anton are Instructional Coaches for Arcadia Unified School District in Southern California. Their entry provides collaborative district-wide perspectives and wellness tips for at-home working families.
How are you adjusting to distance learning?
We are TK-12 instructional coaches; time management, prioritizing, being flexible, communication, and collaboration are all things we know are needed to be successful in our line of work. In the past, these qualities were valued and appreciated, but nowadays these qualities and skills are more critical than ever. They are survival skills, a must when adjusting to distance learning and even when managing our own families.
For some reason, time seems to fly by even faster during the current school closure and distance learning. Where is the time going? Between virtual meetings, emails, developing content and tending to our families, the days flash by. We understand that to feel successful in our day we need to be flexible and open to creativity in finding solutions. It’s no longer about settling with our everyday routine; we now have to be more flexible than ever. We must be open to receiving various choices that might not be our first pick. We also understand the importance of offering various choices to best meet the needs of the learners we serve. Perhaps by providing choices we are also allowing ourselves and others to feel as though they are in control, especially during such an uncertain time.
We know our schools are physically closed and there are new adjustments every day, but we are reminded daily of the importance of our personal and professional relationships. Our district’s current motto #SchoolsClosedHeartsOpen couldn’t be more true during this time.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
As we brainstormed what our biggest challenges were, we quickly realized we were in the same boat. Time, balancing home and work schedules, and technology were our biggest challenges. We both commented how time is flying by when having to work from home and also tend to our families. It truly has become a 24-hour job. Fridays feel like Fridays now. Before distance learning, we occasionally worked on the weekends and we did not mind, it was part of who we were. Now, Friday afternoons have officially become the end of the work week, and the weekend is for unplugging, shutting down our work devices, and recharging.
Another challenge has been technology from home versus the luxury of having a sustainable technology network from work. In the classroom, it is easier to troubleshoot issues as they arise when using the same network and devices. However, emergency distance learning has brought us into a new territory of navigating different networks, devices, and becoming our own experts in our home technology. You love it when it is functioning properly and it provides so many moments of joy and learning opportunities. But when it does not work, it becomes a moment of panic and reacting quickly to plan B and even plan C. There have been numerous times when technology has failed us during distance learning, but we have to move on and find a work around. We have no choice but to persevere and find the right solution.
What best practices have you uncovered?
We both agree that one of our best practices has been building connections and sustaining relationships. This has to be your first priority! Now more than ever, our human connections are key. Video calls and screencasts help provide opportunities for all learners and families to feel connected to educators from afar. As we connect with others, we continuously hear how learners miss their peers and educators. So, hearing familiar voices brings a sense of security and comfort. It also provides a balance of synchronous and asynchronous communication, so that all learners can pick up where they left off or rewatch a concept they may need to see again.
Creating a physical and virtual space to be successful has been another best practice. A physical space where you can work from home is important. This allows for others in your home to respect your work boundaries and allows you to be most efficient. Another space to consider is our virtual and technology space. It is important, so make sure it’s reliable and that it is enhancing our productivity. For example, knowing that you may need to use multiple devices during an interactive meeting is helpful. Or using headphones while listening to a webinar so that you can be hands-free while taking notes or preparing lunch for your kids. These are our realities now, and how can we leverage technology to help us work smarter, not harder, is favorable for everyday accomplishments.
Another best practice uncovered has been the importance of various forms of communication (i.e., screencast, virtual meetings, choice menus, newsletters, recording virtual meetings, emails, and much more). In addition to providing various forms of communication, it is also key to have one place where you can archive all the different forms of communication. Currently, our school district has developed a distance learning website where information is being housed for various stakeholders (administrators, teachers, parents, students). Having a website dedicated to various resources for distance learning has been vital in our success during this time.
Here is a snapshot of how we spent our week:
Check out our full Distance Learning Diary here.
What were your top 3 learnings this week?
Take it Day-by-Day: The daily challenge is how to maintain a work/life balance. Prioritizing the major to- do's on each family member's list can structure your day so that everyone can accomplish their goals and have a clear expectation for what needs to be done.
Communication in Different Forms is Key: If we gave you an article to read or a video to watch on the same topic, which would you prefer? Does your answer make a difference in how you understand the information? All learners, adult and young, vary in the way they prefer to learn topics and share with you what they have learned. As educators, our call is to proactively plan for variability and provide resources that honor each individual's strengths, current situation, and agency.
Empathy Leads to a Place of Vulnerability: Vulnerability leads to empowerment and a world of possibilities. As we navigate emergency remote learning and the current shifts in education, we must take the time to listen to each other's stories of successes and failures. Listening to one another creates a connection and builds trust through our common failures and successes. Trust allows us to be honest and vulnerable, which can empower us to seek new possibilities that meet the current needs of our learners and community.
How are you considering any continuity planning for the next school year?
In thinking about considering continuity planning for the next school year, we can't help but come back to the same reflection question: "How might we use what we have learned today to move forward for tomorrow?" We have all attained new skills and insights about our learners. The learning curve has been tremendous for all of us.
Our newfound insights can be used as a guiding light to new possibilities for the coming school year. These newfound opportunities will create a better learning environment for all. However, before we begin the next school year, it will be valuable to take the time to reflect with learners, families, and colleagues. This will provide the opportunity to proactively plan to remove barriers, test and revise ideas, and sustain more powerful next steps that will make an impact over time.
Stay healthy and safe,
Alex and Lucretia