Renay has been working with teachers, service providers, and parents across the country and consulting about distance learning. She will be the first to tell you that she is hardly an expert about distance learning. While this seems to be a natural fit because Renay has always liked computers, Renay will be the first to tell you: it probably won’t be enough to handle what is coming in the next few weeks.
While Renay has been managing this, she has been working with many general education teachers preparing them for the upcoming year. Some may or may not have students with disabilities in their classroom, so many of the suggestions are really aimed at general education teachers. However, with this in mind, this helps guide special education teachers and their staff to prepare students for what comes ahead. This really is a joint venture.
But we need to start discussing some things related to distance learning.
What should we think about first?
This round of Distance Learning is going to be a little less friendly compared to what occurred from March through to June (or May) depending on your district. Grade might be going to come into play for the first time.
But the beginning of the year is about two things right away. The first is how to do things and what can a student do, and connections—relationships student to student, teacher to student.
Some of the how to do things will come from administration. Will there be new systems? Will there be a way to connect with students?
What can a student do? The older a student is, the more technological skills they might have. Introducing a student who is still identifying letters to how to type their name might be a useful activity. For a student who is using a communication device, helping the family figure out how much space the student needs to be successful in their distance learning.
For secondary students, new schedules might be introduced. This is going to make the delivery of services for special education much more complex for the districts who are trying 3×3 or 4×4 (a limited number of classes per term, three or four) pushing a full term or near year in one shorter block of time.
Standing on the outside, it might be overwhelming. Paraeducators and parents are both reporting anxiety about the different schedule and the different situation that is coming. Undoubtedly, the students are as well. Which leads us to mindset.
We have had discussions about mindset heading into this academic year, especially schools that might have to pivot from being open, even from partially being back to back to distance. We’ve seen many posts about helping students cultivate mindset, especially a positive mindset about going back to school digitally.
Some thoughts that might apply and might not apply. Especially with older students.
- Start the conversation off that this year is different. And different from what we were doing at the end of last school year.
- Have students write about what worked and what did not work for them and share it with you (and only you). At the beginning of the year students are not quite ready to share with peers and under the assumption many will not have their cameras on—it’s that much harder to make a connection with a student
- For staff have the staff do the same thing. Consider the students by name that just did not work at all. Consider the circumstances you are aware of why distance learning might not have worked. Look at the students who did improve.
We want to talk briefly: it is all right to be pessimistic. We know some folks who are laughing at the idea that we would openly say that. Perhaps you think that Renay influenced this line alone. But we do know that some students are skeptical about Distance Learning. It is all right to believe that things are not equal in the world of in-person education and Distance Learning. They are not truly. What pessimism gives us is the flip side, the side we do not want to venture towards, it gives us our guides to help students manage Distance Learning. And if we know if something does not work for a student, then accept that it does not work for distance learning. Let’s find something that will work.
What pessimism gives us is the flip side, the side we do not want to venture towards, it gives us our guides to help students manage Distance Learning.ParaEducate
We are at another cross roads in education and this was going to happen sooner or later. Embrace technology. It will be the connection we all have. And for better or worse, it is what we will address.
The choice is to accept technology or be left behind. This might have contributed to the large retirement group we have seen in many districts. While technology does not solve all the problems, it certainly provides more gateways than walls. You just have to figure out where the gates are.
What About Equity?
We have mentioned equity before last spring. And the truth is: equity is not going to be in play; we honestly doubt it ever truly was with regards to education. Someone will always have something that someone else does not know. Be it an experience, a kernel of knowledge. The point of education is to connect those pieces for those who do not have those first hand.
While we are on equity, about those cameras….realize that some homes may have four or more people on the same connection attempting to do the same thing. The camera off means that a parent can take their conference call with three different clients. The camera off might mean a student might not want to show their bedroom that they share with four other siblings or cousins. The camera off might mean that student is still struggling from the isolation of sheltering in place. The camera off also might help the student focus on what is going on in class. The camera off might let a younger sibling walk behind the student to get to a drawer of clothes to play dress up. Giving students different ways of being able to show they are interested is key right now.
And a warning: if you did not know in the Spring, expect parents to be there in class with their students. Not just because they might be in another room working from home, but helping a student with a disability login. They might stay the whole time. As long as you remember that there might be other ears with the student, stay the course.
One more tiny piece about equity before we leave to the next talk: especially on the West Coast, rolling blackouts are being re-introduced because of a heat wave. There is literally nothing that could possibly done about a rolling black out. Give students and yourself the means to be able to handle the situation at hand.
Shouldn’t We Be Fixing To Make Things More Equitable?
There are two pieces to this. And it starts with the individual: Are you able to give yourself right now to helping to look at the equitable piece of education? It’s not a small box. Keeping well in mind you are taking care of family, trying to connect with students and their families, and trying to take care of yourself.
Work might be family for you, but it is not the only piece of you that exists. For educators who are trying to work on this piece with groups: please keep working we are excited to hear what you come up with. For the educators who cannot do one more thing: It is okay, don’t worry. We have this we won’t forget about you. We understand you cannot take one more thing on your plate. We know you will be supportive when you see the ideas that get developed.
But I need concrete ideas for what to do
- Find a way for students to introduce themselves to you in a non-threatening manner. We are currently liking a Google Slide template where students type in boxes, their names, their likes/dislikes, record a voice message through their Learning Management System.
- This year it is not about the standards (but it is—just hold off). This year is about relationships, more so than any other year. It is about finding ways to connect to the students that you might not have had before.
- Giving feedback to students is more important than ever. Being very clear about their contributions to class, insights they have, asking if they want to share, but being specific while they are working and how they are working will help keep that student going.
- Teach the students their LMS, especially if it is new. Time lost now will be made up later. It is about making those connections to being better online. Teach the students how to be good citizens online.
- Brain/body breaks: we’ve always found the teachers who are geared to younger students are better at these sorts of breaks. But now we are going to be on a computer for eight hours nearly solid a day. Getting all students to thoughtfully get up and stretch, looking away from the screen is important. Be ready. Certainly, the student might not do all the activity, but giving those moments is very important
There is a lot going on out in the world right now. And education is the small piece of the whole puzzle. We admit, most of what we have talked about this week is not really within most paraeducator’s control, but we know as school employees, paraeducators can influence the messaging, can influence the policies and culture of a campus opening at distance learning. For teachers and administrators, please listen to everyone right now. No one voice weighs more than the next, be mindful that the powers that make decisions clearly can change how one employee responds.
We at ParaEducate know the world right now requires educators who are calm and put together. And it is all right to let students know you might not be 100%. And that is where they will meet you. Yes, even our students with disabilities. Because they need to hear they are not alone. And we will work this out together to make our communities together.
Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online here, here, here, here, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.