By Dr. Judith Berry
Over six months have passed since students, educators, families, and businesses were caught unprepared as COVID-19 ravished our lives. Instructional leadership shifted from teachers to family members without warning. Our home base became the classroom, and siblings at different grade levels had to contend with utilizing digital modalities at the same time to work with their instructors. In contrast, many educators had to assist their children while working with their assigned students. News media reported that learning loss for less-privileged students would be tremendous because teaching and learning outside the boundaries of the traditional classroom were inferior. Lessons learned from this dilemma included competing priorities and too much to do. A shortage of computers for students was evident, volatile or no internet access, lack of technology confidence on the part of teachers, students, and parents, and under-utilization of learning management systems to provide any place, anytime, education environment. So what can we do about these predicaments?
Competing Priorities and Too Much to Do
If your “to-do” lists are getting longer while your days seem to be getting shorter, you are not alone. Many of us could be more productive and have more energy by cutting back on some typical time-wasters that lead us to refocus our attention to our families, mostly our children’s digital learning styles. Set boundaries; for example, I read emails twice a day once in the morning and the evening after dinner. When family and friends indicate that they will call me, I ask them to call me after three-thirty each day; this gives me a chance to complete my priority work and tasks for the day. Most of my Facebook friends might have noticed that my posts to them are either in the early morning or at night, which allows me to be present during my communication with them. While I am fortunate to work at home after a long career as an educational administrator, clients can take quite a bit of my time if I do not manage the process. Zoom meetings are routine for my business communication. I plan these meetings carefully with a schedule that outlines topics, time, who is responsible for facilitating discussions, minutes are carefully done and distributed promptly—end Zoom meetings at the scheduled time. Furthermore, I do not call a meeting when a memo will do. Remember, your co-workers, parents, teachers, and friends are busy too.
I work more efficiently when I clean up my workspace and, students can work better in a chaos-free environment. Help students move from a casual setting to a quiet setting at home. This space does not have to be a formal office space. That formal living room space that you are saving for a special occasion can be used for a classroom for your children. A card table or a lap table can hold the computer and instructional materials. A pillow can also hold the computer in the student’s lap. Clean up any clutter in the house that may be a distraction to learning. Model the way for your students; they enjoy doing their work at the same table or space as you. Parents, you would be surprised to learn that used desks and chairs may be able at DTMB Shop Surplus, State of Michigan https://www.michigan.gov/dtmb/0,5552,7-358-82548_13135---,00.html or from MSU Surplus Stor – msusurplusstore.com. Give them a try.
A competing priority is the required instructional time in the online classroom that must mirror the face-to-face classroom periods. I wonder why school districts accommodate only one instructional time when many organizations have different shifts to produce goods and services. I visited a school a few years ago in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that did just that. Instructors and families were happy because this arrangement accommodated their lifestyles. Instructors who are also parents might want to work in the afternoon to be able to be with their children earlier in the day. Parents who work a day shift might help their students better in the evening. Districts can be creative by exploring their options.
A Shortage of Computers for Students
While the delivery of online teaching and learning sounds easy and exciting, not having proper computer technology could be a problem. Some school districts are privileged to have computer loan programs, and some children are lucky not to have to share a computer with siblings. My niece called me recently about her son needing a computer to complete his school work. He is so excited about starting ninth-grade but wants everything to be perfect for his first year in high school. All courses for the new school year will be held online for at least first card marking. With all
the components and software he wanted on the computer, the cost was prohibited. I suggested a refurbished computer for his needs that was a fraction of the cost of a new computer. A Google search will provide you reputable sources for your family’s computer needs. On another note, school districts can be creative by allowing the districtwide technology department to purchase old computers and refurbish them for reselling to families.
Volatile or No Internet Access
Cable companies are cooperative in providing access to the internet at a low cost to eligible families. Some school dis-
tricts pick up the costs of internet services for their families. Over the last several years, problems with internet access continue for families that may live in older homes where the internet is unstable, or overdue cable bills prevent them from having internet service consistently. School district personnel and families must be creative to work alongside their cities toward smart cities to install cell wireless technology. Reliance on wireless and wireline broadband infrastructure is becoming more generous and more significant. As wireless providers rollout of 5G internet service with the connection of new smart devices to the internet, cities must face the reality that to meet the increasing demands of residents, more wireless facilities and infrastructure must be deployed according to the National League of Cities. This implementation would make it easier for stable internet service for families.
Under-utilization of Learning Management Systems to Provide Anyplace, Anytime Education Environment.
Traditional school districts have not utilized learning management systems aggressively to develop and deliver courses that can be accessed anyplace and anytime. Partnering with local community colleges and universities can assist with this effort. While there has been much discussion about online studies not working for younger students, there are plenty of successful schools. Online schools offer a rigorous curriculum, a well-organized online school system, and instruction from certified teachers. The competition continues to offer alternatives to traditional school district students and families.
It is indeed a new normal for all of us.
Dr. Judith K. Berry is a chief academic strategist who continues to facilitate high-impact strategic engagement for stakeholders at all levels of education. Berry has served in such positions as superintendent and deputy superintendent in K-12 and as associate vice president of strategic initiatives and dean at the community college level. Her formal education includes a PhD in Education, specializing in community college leadership, a master’s degree in educational administration, specializing in K12 leadership, and a bachelor’s degree in business education and social sciences, and an Executive Professional Leadership Certificate specializing in superintendent leadership. Contact information: techeduservices.com