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Learning Continuity: Planning Considerations for School Leaders

Published on July 7, 2020

Modified on July 8, 2020

Introduction

During the 2019-20 school year, Michigan schools faced extended closures due to inclement weather. Today, we face the possibility of mandatory closures due to future pandemic outbreaks in our communities. Increasingly, school leaders are recognizing the need to prepare their districts for remote learning in the event of extended closures due to natural disasters, public health emergencies, or any other extraordinary circumstances that might arise.

The following planning considerations offer school leaders actionable advice on how they can leverage digital instructional content and remote teaching practices to provide learning opportunities for all students in the event of unanticipated and extended school closures. 

Shifting to a remote or virtual learning model requires thoughtful planning and coordination, and school leaders are advised that this particular document is not intended to serve as a step-by-step guide for rapid shifts to emergency remote instruction. Rather it should be used to thoughtfully inform the development of an extended continuity of learning plan to be used in the event that their schools or districts experience extended closures in the future.

Interruptions to learning can take a variety of forms and may have wide-ranging impacts on the ability of education organizations to deliver learning services. In this context, school leaders must find ways to simplify the delivery of learning as well as those services that support diverse learners, families within the community, and district operations in a time of crisis.  

Five tenets are used as an overarching lens through which all the following sections should be viewed. These tenets include:

Keep it simple 

Remote learning can present challenges under normal conditions. In the context of interruption to normal operations, these challenges will be compounded both for internal and external stakeholders. In such a situation, it is recommended that leaders keep processes and practices simple and focus on instructional and operational aspects that are most essential to help streamline the planning and communication process.  

Leverage current resources 

When developing plans for learning continuity, it is wise to rely on those resources that are already at your disposal. Situations that result in an interruption of learning can also limit the ability to acquire new or additional resources, so school leaders should plan based on current resources and capacities. This includes personnel. Leaders should rely on those who have experience with remote learning to help guide and support their peers.

Build on micro-level successes

As a school or district moves through the process of shifting to remote learning, it will likely experience challenges along the way. School leaders have an opportunity to provide encouragement and create positive momentum by celebrating smaller, micro-level successes. Building morale and confidence is essential for leaders to maintain momentum in the face of these challenges.

Set and manage expectations for students, parents, and educators 

A successful transition to remote learning hinges on establishing clear expectations for all stakeholders in this new model for learning. The transition to remote learning will shift responsibilities within and outside the organization. Having a clear plan in place for all parties will help all stakeholders plan appropriately. Communicating this plan is critical and most effective when school leaders are thoughtful in the content, timing, and consistency of all communications.  

Take care of each other

Events that interrupt the learning process may have wide-reaching impacts on internal and external stakeholders. School leaders must be mindful of the circumstances segments of the learning community may be in, and they should be prepared to be flexible. School leaders should deliberately lead conversations and the development of strategies and actions that can help reduce stress, anxiety, worry, illness, and financial struggles within the entire school community.

The spirit of the tenets should underpin all decisions made throughout a school leader’s process of planning for learning continuity. The following sections of this document will present leaders with a framework by which a plan can be devised and carried out. Each section will provide leaders with key discussion points as well as actionable steps that can be taken during the planning and implementation process. In addition, researchers from the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute (MVLRI) share some lessons learned from the March 2020 nationwide emergency school closures that are included throughout the various sections of this document.

Specific actions school leaders can take to prepare their schools or districts for remote teaching and learning may be placed into seven general categories:

  • Leadership and planning
  • Technology and technical support
  • Curriculum resources — digital content
  • Professional learning — instructional practices
  • Parent and family support
  • Communication
  • School operations

Throughout the rest of this document, we offer guidance and considerations for school leaders as they create remote learning and teaching plans. As school leaders move to implement such plans, we highly recommend they form a cross-functional team within their school or district to coordinate the various activities required to shift to a remote learning model that is productive for students, families, and staff during extended school closures.

Leadership and planning

Considerations

To maintain effective teaching and learning during extended school closures, school leaders must develop a comprehensive strategy that proactively addresses the challenges and barriers they may encounter throughout the implementation of their learning continuity plan.

A key aspect of such a strategy is the development of a carefully designed execution plan. Similar to the crisis management strategies already established in schools and districts across the state, execution strategies should be aligned with actions and tactics already adopted and practiced by schools and districts.

The MI Ready Schools Emergency Planning Toolkit is a widely recognized document that contains guidance and advice for school leaders on how to develop and execute a learning continuity plan. In particular, some of the recommendations from the U.S. Department of Education in this document highlight key characteristics of an effective emergency management plan (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Characteristics of an Effective Emergency Management Plan

Characteristics of an Effective Emergency Management Plan:
Establishes Crisis Response Team (CRT) with National Incident Management System, Demonstrates collaboration with local community, Reflects an "all-hazards" approach, Obtains and documents School Board approval, Aligns with federal, state, and local emergency management plans, Contains specific plans for accommodating individuals with disabilities or special needs, Provides a timeline for maintaining/updating the plan
Source: Michigan Department of Education. (2011). MI Ready Schools Emergency Planning Toolkit.

Using a strategic and operational planning process within a school setting makes it possible to manage an entire life cycle of implementing a remote learning model. Within a multi-phase strategic and operational planning process, priorities are established and the expected levels of performance and capability requirements are determined. A sound planning process provides the standard for assessing the current organizational capabilities, helps define further organizational essentials, and delineates the needs of all stakeholders affected by a remote learning model. 

Taking action

When making a rapid transition to remote learning, normal systems and functions of departments and teams are likely to be interrupted. School and district leaders may need to realign or create new teams to ensure a smooth transition to the new learning environment. A rapid transition to remote learning can come as a shock to the system, so these leaders will need to narrow the focus of the organization to provide stability and to ensure selected operations can be maintained. 

Generally, a school or district will use its senior leaders for strategic and operational planning related to learning continuity. School or district leaders should begin by developing a comprehensive list of the people they need on their cross-functional team who will not only make the necessary decisions that enable remote learning, but who will also be accountable for executing the action plans associated with these decisions. Please see Appendix A for a document format that can be used to develop this list.

When designing a remote learning program, school or district leaders should consider using a three-phase approach to program design and implementation. These phases are: Planning, Executing, and Evaluating

In the Planning phase, the leadership team should begin by discussing the intended outcomes of their remote learning program. Once these outcomes have been articulated and documented, the team will need to identify the essential conditions — or critical success factors (CSFs) — that must be established to execute the plan. These CSFs should account for specific requirements established by state-level agencies as they pertain to state-approved e-Learning or continuity of learning days. In addition, specific action plans will need to be identified for each CSF. Developing CSFs and action plans around core aspects of school or district operations is typical. 

The Execution phase is triggered when an extended school closure occurs. It is during this time that school or district leaders put the learning continuity plan into action. The duration of this phase will continue until the school closure ends. 

While ongoing evaluation should occur throughout the execution of a remote learning program, the formal Evaluating phase should occur soon after the school closure ends. The purpose of this phase is to allow school and district leaders to debrief on the successes and challenges experienced during the school closure and to make adjustments to the learning continuity plan in an effort to increase the overall effectiveness of the plan.

Developing the list of CSFs for a learning continuity plan requires significant thought and collaboration by the entire cross-functional leadership team. CSFs identified by the team are likely to include the areas of technology; curriculum, instruction, and assessment; professional learning; parent and family support; communication; and processes related to operational logistics. All CSFs developed should be documented and written in a way that all relevant stakeholders can understand. In addition, the identified CSFs should be measurable and time-bound, meaning the targeted establishment date for each CSF should be identified.  

Once the CSFs have been documented, attention needs to turn to the development of action plans for each of the CSFs. Each action plan should identify timelines and activities, including specific benchmarks or milestones, to help ensure the CSF establishment process maintains momentum and stays on pace. Please see Appendix B for a template that can be used to document the identified CSFs and related action plan.

Key action steps

  1. Identify members of the learning continuity cross-functional planning team.
  2. Identify intended outcomes or goals of the remote learning program.
  3. Identify the critical success factors (CSFs) that affect the attainment of program outcomes or goals.
  4. Develop the action plans needed to address the CSFs — establishing the essential conditions for success.
  5. Develop the protocols and execution steps for the learning continuity plan.
  6. Develop the process for evaluating the effectiveness of the learning continuity plan.

Lessons learned 

Failing to plan is the same as planning to fail

Inadequate planning for remote learning has a direct negative impact on the level of effectiveness of the teaching and learning process during times when schools and districts need to shift to this type of learning environment. Having a well-defined and actionable plan not only provides specific steps to implement remote learning, but it also gives the students, families, and school staff the confidence to be successful.

Involve the right people

At the core of successful planning is the active engagement of a cross-functional team representing the various functions within the school community. Omitting key stakeholders can significantly decrease the possibility of proactively addressing possible areas of concern.

Focus on people, processes, and technology

Relationships are at the heart of our school systems, and maintaining the relationships between students, families, and school personnel may very well determine the level of success of any learning continuity plan. Processes and procedures often leverage technology in this type of learning environment, and school leaders should consider the interplay among all three factors when designing their learning continuity plans. In addition, school leaders should focus on what they can control and not on those things they cannot control related to these factors.

Resources

The following resources produced by Michigan Virtual will be helpful to school leaders seeking to use digital content and online learning methodologies to support their remote learning efforts:

Additional learning continuity resources can be found on Keep Michigan Learning.

Technology and technical support

Considerations

One of the primary challenges of creating an effective remote learning environment is providing adequate levels of technology access to all students and instructional staff. Specifically, the following aspects of technology are needed for students and instructional staff working at home or in some other non-school location:

Access to computing devices

For students to work consistently in a remote learning environment, they will each need to access digital content and related web-based technology systems on a regular basis. Schools and districts are advised to use discretion regarding the amount of screen time required of students to complete their course work. Ideally, it is recommended that each student has a dedicated computing device available to them; however, students can also be successful in situations when they need to share a computing device with other members of their household. In addition, instructional staff members who will be interacting with students through a web-based platform also will need this same level of access to computing devices. Although a smartphone may suffice in some instances, it is not the preferred type of device to be used in most remote learning environments. Instead, a laptop computer or a Chromebook is recommended. In some instances, tablet computers (e.g., iPads) may also be a sufficient option; however, there are some limitations and incompatibilities that may be experienced when using this type of device.

High-speed internet access

Since remote learning frequently relies on digital content that contains multimedia, high-speed internet access for each student working at home is highly recommended. This access may be in the form of broadband connectivity from local internet service providers or through the use of cellular networks (e.g., mobile hotspots or tethering to smartphones). If using cellular networks, school leaders must recognize that restrictions on individual families’ wireless data plans may need to be adjusted, and they should account for this need as they plan guidance for families.

Web content filtering

Most schools receive federal E-rate funding, which means schools will need to provide some degree of web content filtering for all school-issued devices (for both students and instructional staff) to maintain compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). While it is likely schools and districts have such filtering in place on computer networks within their physical school buildings, individual student devices may not be configured to be filtered when taken home by students and staff. School leaders need to be sure the appropriate web content filtering occurs for each school-owned device used offsite.

Technical support for students and staff

In addition to providing computing devices, internet access, and appropriate levels of web-content filtering, school leaders also need to develop and implement a remote technical support program to help students and staff when they experience technical issues with their devices and network access. 

Among the primary solutions a school’s or district’s technology staff could provide include traditional, synchronous, real-time communications by telephone. While this method may be beneficial, it should be coupled with additional channels for two-way communication with students and staff. Such channels could include the use of instant messaging or a text-based chat feature included as part of the school’s or district’s web-based technology help desk ticketing system.

The communication methods described above will help address most technical issues students and staff may experience. There may be some instances, however, where technology staff members may need to log into a computing device remotely to adjust the settings or reconfigure the device. To accomplish this, the school’s or district’s technology staff will need to have the technical ability to remotely access student and staff devices through reliable software and secure network connections.

Taking action

In the transition to remote learning, it is essential to consider the role of technology in the plan.  While the desire may be to move all students online, this may not be logistically possible depending upon the resources at your school’s or district’s disposal. When developing the teaching and learning portion of the continuity plan, school leaders should include technology professionals who are responsible for devices, safety and security (filtering), software, other associated hardware, and technology integration. Though these individuals may not normally be a part of decisions within the school or district, their expertise will be necessary to ensure devices and software will be compatible with anticipated teaching strategies. Furthermore, their input can be helpful in identifying and avoiding potential issues that may arise due to use of specific platforms or programs.

To make use of digital curriculum, students and staff will need computing devices to access digital content. School leaders should determine the extent to which students will need computing devices. When transitioning to remote learning, be sure to implement with respect to providing all students with access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). If it is determined only certain grades are moving to a remote learning model that requires access to digital content, be sure there are enough devices to provide for all learners at those levels — this includes out-of-district students. Plans need to be made to provide access to computing devices in an equitable manner.

It is likely that if the school’s or district’s learning continuity plan relies on the use of digital content (multimedia, animations, videos, video conferencing), students and their families will require high-speed internet access in their homes. School leaders should survey families to ascertain which households have the speed of internet access required to support the digital learning that is expected. Families lacking the minimum level of access needed will require help from school personnel to acquire such access. School personnel should contact local internet service providers to help determine what solution(s) would work best for students in need and secure such services for the families. 

School leaders need to implement measures to help ensure the online safety of students when using online digital resources. This includes configuring all school-owned devices (for students and staff) to filter web content in compliance with CIPA and any additional standards of protection deemed appropriate by the school or district. The existing on-site filtering solution within a physical school building may be configured to satisfy this need depending on the individual solution, but other cloud-based web content filtering services are widely available and may need to be considered. School leaders should consult with their technology staff to identify the best solution to implement.

Closure to schools may reduce personnel needs in certain areas while increasing needs in other areas. Your continuity plan should consider this shift in balance and reallocate personnel to account for change. An example may be to assign technology coaches, department heads, or library media specialists to the role of technology training or support. School disciplinarians may be used in different capacities due to the decrease in discipline issues. In the event of a closure, it should be all hands on deck to meet demands of the shift.

Key action steps

  1. Ensure technology staff members are part of the learning continuity planning process.
  2. Determine which students will need computing devices and provide these devices in a manner that supports the digital curriculum and also complies with FAPE.
  3. Survey students and families to determine which are in need of internet access and provide this access as needed.
  4. Identify and implement a web content filtering solution for all devices used by students and staff.
  5. Identify roles needed to support technology in a remote learning model, and reallocate personnel accordingly.

Lessons learned

Be sure technology staff are involved in planning

Since remote learning generally relies on the use of technology for communications and digital learning, it is important to include technology staff members early in the learning continuity planning process. Failure to do so may result in inadequate technology capabilities that reduce the ability for students, families, and staff to teach and learn effectively.

Don’t assume student-owned computing devices will suffice

While it is convenient to believe students may be able to use their personal computers or smartphones to complete their digital course work, the fact is not all of these devices are able to meet the minimum technical requirements to access digital content effectively. Providing school-owned devices will help ensure students can complete their digital assignments as expected while also protecting students online through the use of a web content filter.

The more bandwidth the better

Accessing digital content requires a relatively high level of internet bandwidth. School leaders who fail to consider that each student’s or staff member’s household may have multiple computing devices connecting to the internet (each consuming bandwidth) risk seeing reduced academic productivity. Ensuring the appropriate level of bandwidth for each student’s or staff member’s household is essential.

Be proactive with regard to online safety

Proactively implementing web content filtering capabilities on all school-owned computing devices before moving to a remote learning model is wise. It may be difficult to implement a filtering solution on devices once students and staff take them home because some solutions require software to be installed on the devices.

Staff roles are likely to change

Providing technical support through the same model used on-site in a physical school building may not be as effective in a remote learning model. It is likely that faster support may be provided by adjusting some of the roles and responsibilities of teachers, paraprofessionals, and support staff to include basic troubleshooting and technical support.

Resources

The following resource produced by Michigan Virtual will be helpful to school leaders seeking to use digital content and technology to support their remote learning efforts:

More learning continuity resources can be found on Keep Michigan Learning.

Curriculum resources — digital content

Considerations

The use of digital content is a common way for students and instructional staff to work in a remote learning environment. Schools and districts should address the following aspects of providing digital content to provide the most effective learning experience for students:

Subject-specific content

Schools and districts should provide appropriate K-12 digital content for all students learning in a remote learning environment. To accomplish this, content may be purchased from existing curriculum providers (e.g., Michigan Virtual, Edgenuity, Pearson, Apex Learning, etc.) or it may be curated or developed by teachers within the school or district. Content that is curated or developed by teachers should be organized within a learning management system (LMS) or some type of learning platform.   

Learning management systems or platforms

Curriculum providers often provide an LMS that contains their digital content, assessments, communication tools, and a course gradebook. In many cases, these providers offer teacher training and technical support for those users who will be interfacing with the LMS. 

Schools and districts seeking to develop their own digital courses will need to implement their own LMS or learning platform (e.g., Brightspace, Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, Google Classroom, etc.). When pursuing this option, the development or curation of content will need to be done by school or district staff, with limited assistance from the LMS or platform provider.

Taking action

School leaders seeking to purchase digital content bundled within an LMS from a provider should begin by reflecting on the established outcomes or goals of the remote learning program. In addition, leaders and instructional specialists should come to a consensus on the types of instructional strategies that should be used in a remote learning environment (e.g., self-paced learning, teacher-guided learning, synchronous learning, asynchronous learning, etc.). Having agreement and a shared understanding will be extremely helpful when evaluating different digital content solutions from providers.

As a next step, curriculum leaders, building-level administrators, and instructional specialists should collaboratively develop a list of digital curriculum providers that offer solutions for the grade levels that will be learning remotely. This list will be used to schedule virtual or on-site demonstrations of the digital content solutions the school or district is considering. Upon the execution of these demonstrations to a cross-functional group of stakeholders, the appropriate school personnel should contact provider references (current or past customers) to gain greater insight regarding the quality of the providers’ product and services. Using the data collected through the demonstrations and the reference contacts, the cross-functional group should reconvene and discuss the solutions being considered and make a decision as to which solution should be implemented.

Once the school or district determines the solution to be implemented, specific plans will need to be made to implement the solution. This implementation should include the technical configuration of the solution system as well as the training and professional learning related to use and maintenance of the solution and system. 

Typically, the steps and processes involved with the evaluation, selection, and implementation of a purchased digital content solution will span two to six months depending on the scope of implementation. Therefore, school leaders will need to allow enough time for this process to unfold effectively.

School leaders looking to implement an LMS in which they could create or curate content will need to allow extra time for the evaluation, selection, and implementation. This process should begin in a manner similar to that of purchasing content within a provider’s LMS — by revisiting the remote learning program’s desired outcomes and goals as well as identifying the types of instructional strategies that should be used in a remote learning environment.

Once again, a cross-functional team should be assembled to develop a list of LMS providers offering solutions that align with the previously identified desired outcomes and instructional strategies. The process of evaluating and implementing the selected LMS will be similar in nature to that of the digital content solution mentioned previously; however, it is likely that the implementation process (including training and professional learning) will be more complex and could span an additional two to three months. 

Once the LMS is implemented completely, teachers and other instructional staff can begin to create content within the system or add curated content as desired. School leaders should expect this process to be ongoing, but plan for two to three months of teachers’ time for the design and launch of basic courses within the system. Advance planning is required for the adoption of an LMS and the building of course content within the system, and this fact must be considered when designing a learning continuity plan.

Key action steps for purchased digital content

  1. Reaffirm desired outcomes, goals, and instructional strategies of the remote learning program.
  2. Identify potential digital content solution providers and schedule product demonstrations.
  3. Assemble a cross-functional team to participate in the digital content demonstrations and evaluate proposed solutions.
  4. Plan and execute the implementation of the selected solution (including planning for ample training and professional learning).

Key action steps for LMS implementation and content creation/curation

  1. Reaffirm desired outcomes, goals, and instructional strategies of the remote learning program.
  2. Identify potential LMS providers and schedule product demonstrations.
  3. Assemble a cross-functional team to participate in the LMS demonstrations and evaluate proposed solutions.
  4. Plan and execute the implementation of the selected solution (including planning for ample training and professional learning).
  5. Plan time (two to three months) for teachers and instructional staff to create or curate digital content to be used within the LMS.

Lessons learned

Test before you buy!

Similar to test-driving a car prior to making the purchase, school leaders should require providers of digital content and LMSs to allow school personnel to work within a demonstration environment (sometimes called a “sandbox”) to test the products being considered. This practice will reveal more deeply whether the product meets expectations. School leaders who rely on a provider’s sales pitch sometimes make purchases that don’t necessarily meet the needs of the school or district. 

Provide both training and professional learning opportunities

School leaders should ensure that training opportunities related to the functionality and support of the digital content solution or LMS is available to all staff who are expected to interface with the systems. Instructional staff, in particular, should be provided with additional professional learning that goes beyond the basic functionality training and helps develop the pedagogical knowledge and skills of these staff members. Failure to do so increases the chance of less effective use of the resources.

There are no shortcuts — this takes time

The process of effectively evaluating and selecting a digital content or LMS solution by a cross-functional team requires deep conversation and consideration. In addition, the process of implementing these types of solutions and executing effective training and professional development can be complex and require significant time. Attempts to condense recommended evaluation and implementation timelines increases the risk of errors and missteps.

Resources

The following resource produced by Michigan Virtual will be helpful to school leaders seeking to use digital content and technology to support their remote learning efforts:

Additional learning continuity resources can be found on Keep Michigan Learning.

Professional learning — instructional practices

Considerations

As is the case with students, there is a common misconception that once a teacher is skilled in face-to-face instruction, they can easily switch to teaching in a different format (e.g. blended or online learning). As each format has its own unique pedagogies and purposes, switching to a new manner of instruction is not something school leaders can expect their staff or students to embrace overnight with proficient results.

For instructional staff to effectively transition to remote teaching, they require training and professional development in a few key areas:

Training on using the LMS

Regardless of whether schools use a curriculum provider or design their own digital courses, instructional staff will need training on how to use the adopted LMS. Ideally, school leaders planning this professional development should allow for approximately two to three months of lead time for the scheduling and execution of training that extends over time. However, in urgent situations when the shift to remote learning must be done rapidly, such training and the related timeline may need to be compressed in a way that allows instructional staff to begin working in the new environment while receiving the training simultaneously. 

For schools using a curriculum provider, we recommend contacting your provider to see if they can schedule a training, which is typically included as part of the course content purchasing agreement. 

For districts developing their own digital content, instructional staff will need specific training on using the LMS or learning platform adopted by the school or district. This training can typically be provided by the LMS or platform provider or other qualified trainers, and schools and districts should reach out to the provider for details on training options and fees. Training for all instructional staff involved in the development of their own digital content should also include aspects of web accessibility and compliance with federal disability laws.

Professional development on effective online instruction

Although some educators believe anyone can teach online or that it’s easy to do so, it takes a different skill set and practice to be a proficient online instructor. If your teachers will be providing remote instruction to students, they will also require professional development on best practices for online teaching. Once again, it is recommended that two to three months of lead time is planned for the scheduling and execution of the professional learning sessions. 

To effectively teach online, instructional staff will need to learn how to manage a digitally supported course in a way that supports students with diverse learning abilities. They will need to learn how to build relationships with students in a new way, provide meaningful feedback using digital communication tools, and assess student needs in a teaching environment that lacks traditional social cues. You can learn more about key differences between online and face-to-face instruction in our Teacher Guide to Online Learning.

For schools using a curriculum provider, your teachers will require training on effectively teaching in a virtual environment, which is sometimes available for additional fees through your provider, although not all providers offer this option. 

If your curriculum provider’s online courses are taught by certified teachers, then your instructional staff may have the greatest impact by serving in a mentor capacity to your students, providing an additional pillar of support to facilitate strong student outcomes. You can learn more about the role of the mentor in the online classroom on our Mentor Resources page.

For districts developing their own digital content, your teachers will require training on effectively teaching in a virtual environment. Since your staff will be developing or curating digital content on their own, they will typically need to identify and secure this professional development from a third-party source or rely on their own internal expertise to develop the skills necessary for teachers to be successful teaching in this type of learning environment.

Professional development on effective course design

Designing learning experiences for students in a virtual environment is very different from designing experiences in a face-to-face classroom. Student success in remote learning environments is greatly affected by the manner in which the components of the digital course are structured. If your staff will be designing their own digital course content, they will need professional development in this area to create effective online learning experiences for students.

For schools using a curriculum provider, the design of the course content is typically already completed in a way that reflects effective instructional design, and professional development on effective course design may not be needed. 

For districts developing their own digital content, instructional staff will require professional development on the effective design of virtual courses. We recommend providing expert professional development to help instructional staff navigate the new challenges they will experience in designing an effective virtual learning environment. The time required to develop the instructional design skills of teachers and staff varies; however, schools and districts must assume this will be an ongoing process that spans several months. 

While it is possible to rapidly provide initial training in the development of virtual courses, the practice of ongoing course development and refinement will be necessary. School leaders should plan to provide professional learning opportunities related to instructional design for teachers and instructional staff throughout their first year of virtual teaching.

Taking action

An overarching recommendation for this section is to emphasize simplicity. Be explicit about the tools the organization recommends using. The tools should be consistent with the expected instructional strategies to be utilized as part of the school’s or district’s remote learning program.

The backbone of any digital learning program is the LMS; this system is essential to the delivery of digital content in a remote learning program. Regardless of the platform used, it is best to use the tools students, their families, and instructional staff are most familiar with. Ensure that staff know the basics of navigating and adding content to the LMS and that the students’ expectations of use are clearly communicated to students and their families.

When planning for continuity of learning, instructional design principles should be kept simple and streamlined. While a large body of research and discussion exists regarding instructional design, it is important not to overwhelm newcomers to remote teaching. In the transition to remote learning, emphasis should be placed on basic elements that are necessary to ensure all students have access to the necessary resources. Wherever possible, include tools and training that support diverse learners.

Teaching remotely requires a different set of skills when compared to the traditional classroom. Though there is overlap in skill sets, being a veteran teacher in the face-to-face environment doesn’t always guarantee success in the remote environment. When conducting professional learning on instruction in the remote learning environment, start by focusing on elements that are essential to getting an online course started.

When designing professional learning opportunities, school leaders should leverage the tools and personnel that are already established and familiar to staff. To accommodate various readiness levels of your staff regarding your chosen tools, reach out to product vendors to inquire about professional learning access. Often, professional learning opportunities may be available for free or at a reduced rate. Alternatives can include access to video tutorials that can be found on provider websites or even on YouTube. In-house experts can also be used to expand the pool of resources to train staff on the use of an LMS.  

If professional learning is offered online through video conferencing tools, it is recommended these sessions are recorded so staff can return to or catch up on sessions at a later time. In addition, gathering feedback during professional learning sessions can help reveal unanswered questions and potential future topics of training or professional learning.

Online professional learning experiences may be new to school or district personnel. The Online Professional Learning Checklist, developed by the U.S. Department of Education, can serve as a resource for school leaders developing and implementing professional learning. Though the environment in which training and professional learning may vary, the principles of strong professional learning delivery remain intact. It is recommended that trainers set clear objectives for learning, provide a variety of resources to allow learners to access the learning, and provide a feedback cycle to assess learning.

When planning professional learning for teaching in virtual or online environment, school leaders should do the following:

  • Provide planning time where possible. The shift to the online environment may require significant adjustments in planning and preparation.
  • Break up professional learning into small segments. Avoid planning daylong professional learning sessions. Providing small segments of instruction followed by the opportunity to apply new concepts helps internalize new learning.
  • Provide staff the opportunity to engage with the learning at a developmentally appropriate level. Use provider resources, training, or in-house experts to help expand your capacity to deliver targeted instruction.
  • Communicate clearly and concisely where staff can access resources and assistance. For example, create a staff directory that allows staff to act as on-call experts.

Key action steps

  1. Survey leaders and instruct staff to determine their actual needs regarding professional learning.
  2. Design professional learning opportunities for school leaders and staff, keeping in mind best practices for adult learners.
  3. Assess the effectiveness of professional learning efforts to continuously improve the process and provide relevant opportunities in the future.

Lessons learned

You don’t know what you don’t know

It is important to ask school leaders and staff what their needs are so relevant professional learning opportunities are provided. Assuming all professional learners need the same professional learning experiences is likely to result in disengaged learners.

Keep it simple

Providing simple, straightforward professional learning experiences where teachers can directly apply new learning will be well-received by leaders and staff and is likely to yield the greatest results. Complex and lengthy professional learning experiences are often less effective as educators shift to remote teaching and learning.

Model good instruction

School leaders should ensure that professional learning related to remote teaching and learning is designed to place participants in the same type of learning environment as their students. For example, if students will be using an LMS to learn content and practice skills, then professional learning for teachers should include learning experiences in the LMS so teachers experience what it is like to learn in that same environment.

Resources

The following resources produced by Michigan Virtual will be helpful to school leaders seeking to structure or provide professional learning to support their remote learning efforts:

Additional learning continuity resources can be found on Keep Michigan Learning.

Parent and family support

Considerations

During extended school closures, it is likely that students will need additional support from parents, guardians, or other family members as they continue with their school work. The adults in the home play a critical role in helping students stay motivated and access the resources they need to be successful.

Technology needs

In a remote learning environment, the use of technology is essential, and the adults in a student’s home can play a significant role ensuring technology is available and used appropriately. Often, the school or district will provide a computing device for students; however, providing internet access and monitoring the safe use of technology typically becomes the responsibility of the parent or guardian. 

School leaders should provide guidance for the adults at home related to supporting student technology needs. In addition, clear direction should be provided to the adults at home by the instructional staff regarding the channels of communication that should be used to seek additional help and support for students learning remotely.

Distraction-free learning environments

The physical home learning environment in which the student is likely to work during extended school closures will need to be a place that is conducive to learning. School leaders and instructional staff should provide guidelines for parents and guardians that help them create and maintain a distraction-free home learning environment and regular routines that nurture student success.

Special education and disability accommodations

School leaders must also be aware that not all students may be well-adapted to learning remotely. Additional supports should be provided to parents aimed at helping them work with their children to adapt to this new learning format. School leaders and instructional staff must provide special education and disability accommodations for students who need them. Direct and proactive conversations with parents should be initiated by school leaders prior to shifting to a remote learning environment.

Social and emotional support

Since schools often serve as a channel for some students and families to access social services, school leaders should develop a plan to provide remote access to specialized school personnel such as guidance counselors and school psychologists. Access to these professionals will guide families to mental health and other related services. In addition, these staff members could also shift their typical responsibilities to conduct regular wellness checks with students in partnership with teachers. This type of proactive activity, in collaboration with teacher efforts, can help ensure students are well-supported both academically and emotionally while working in a remote learning environment.

Taking action

School leaders know a parent or family member is the child’s first and most important teacher. When parents and families are involved in their child’s learning, the child will do better and feel better about school. School leaders can begin to help parents and family members ensure a child’s academic success by identifying a student’s at-home technology needs, providing tips on how to create a distraction-free learning environment, supporting special education and disability accommodations, and providing access to social and emotional support systems.

School personnel should take specific, proactive action to identify student technology needs to ensure the success of a remote learning model that utilizes digital curriculum. Technology needs include access to computing devices and appropriate internet bandwidth to support all users within student households. If there are technology deficiencies in student households, school leaders should provide access or at least provide guidance to the family of the students related to acquiring access themselves. 

School leaders and teachers know learning can be difficult, and having an appropriate physical environment where learning occurs is critical. For students learning remotely, getting into a learning zone can be especially difficult at home because the discipline and routine of attending class is removed. Home now becomes the learning zone, and school leaders must provide guidelines to create a distraction-free learning space where a child can focus and learn productively at home. Please see Appendix C for a template that can be used by school leaders to help students and families create an effective learning environment at home.

When implementing a remote learning model, school leaders need to develop a plan to meet the requirements put forth by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights Compliance, and the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). The plan should detail the supports, services, and accommodations students typically receive in the brick-and-mortar school environment as well as how they are received in a remote learning environment. It is clear that a school or district is required to work with parents and families to develop a plan for working with students remotely; therefore, school or district personnel must develop individual student plans in collaboration with parents and families for the provision of special education services and accommodations. School leaders should ensure the following for case managers and students:

  • All case managers and students have access to technology resources that are specific to collaboration, documentation, and the completion of digital assignments and projects, as related to individual students’ Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) and related services. This includes digital content, learning management systems, student management systems, digital communication tools, relevant apps, software, online subscriptions, etc.
  • All case managers have access to a parent and family letter that acknowledges remote group instruction privacy concerns.
  • All case managers have access to a parent permission letter to conduct online or remote instruction.
  • All case managers have access to collaboration tools to conduct virtual IEP meetings.
  • All case managers have access to language for an IEP addendum, if a district chooses this option.
  • All case managers will work collaboratively with general education teachers to ensure accommodations and/or modifications are provided in the general education setting.  

School leaders must also pay attention to the social and emotional health of students participating in remote learning. Isolation does occur and school leaders need to be cognizant of its impact. Connectedness becomes even more critical, and providing social and emotional support systems to students, parents, and families promotes the overall wellness of our students and families. Teachers also play an important role by engaging all students in classroom discussions, offering responsibility and choice, and communicating with warmth and support.

To effectively prepare for providing social and emotional support for students and families in a remote learning environment, school leaders should proactively communicate with students and families about the possible need to shift to remote learning in the future. This conversation would better prepare students and families if and when such a shift is required.

In addition, school leaders should develop a communication protocol that includes instructional and support staff responsibilities to conduct regular check-in or wellness calls to students and families while working remotely for extended periods of time. These calls can help school personnel understand and address concerns related to student anxiety, depression, loneliness, frustration, or other health and safety issues. An effective outreach or communication protocol will ensure the connectedness students and families need during extended periods of remote learning.

Key action steps

  1. Prior to shifting to a remote learning model, identify the household technology capabilities and needs of students and their families.
  2. Establish effective two-way lines of communications with parents and families of students.
  3. Provide guidance and direction to students, parents, and families on how to create distraction-free learning environments at home that are conducive to learning.
  4. Develop and communicate to staff and parents/families the protocols for providing special education services and accommodations for students in need.
  5. Develop a plan to conduct regular outreach and wellness checks to help support the health and safety of students and their families.

Lessons learned

Proactively plan for technology needs

Once a school closure occurs, identifying and providing for the technology needs of students learning remotely becomes quite difficult. School leaders should proactively identify and plan for all technology access needs (computing devices and internet access) for remote learners prior to school closures to help ensure the smoothest continuity of learning.

Focus on student and family wellness first

For effective learning to occur, students need to have their most basic needs met first. School leaders must be aware of and provide assistance to families in need of food and health-related services. Failure to address these foundational needs is likely to result in lower student engagement and performance.

Go beyond compliance

When planning to provide special education services and accommodations for students in remote learning environments, school leaders should develop plans that go beyond compliance with state and federal guidelines. Simple compliance does not actually ensure students are receiving all of the supports they need to be academically successful. School personnel should develop supports that truly impact students academically, socially, and emotionally.

Resources

The following resources produced by Michigan Virtual will be helpful to school leaders seeking to support parents and families in their remote learning efforts:

Additional learning continuity resources can be found on Keep Michigan Learning.

Communication

Considerations

When shifting to a school- or district-wide remote learning model, the ways school leaders and instructional staff communicate with students and parents also shifts. Extended school closures often result in limited physical access to the school and its personnel, so the use of electronic communications between stakeholders typically intensifies. School leaders must plan for the specific ways they will communicate with internal stakeholders (e.g., students, parents, and staff) as well as external stakeholders (e.g., citizens, businesses, and the local community).  

Internal stakeholders

Communication with internal stakeholders most likely can be maintained through established email communications and messaging through data systems such as the school’s or district’s student information system, learning management system, or a dedicated emergency calling system. In a time of extended school closures, school leaders will need to revisit the frequency and content of their existing communications and modify it appropriately to bridge the gap between what has been done traditionally and what needs to be done going forward when school operations shift to a remote environment.  

External stakeholders

Messaging to external stakeholders is also likely to change as organizations and individuals throughout the greater school community will be affected by students working remotely either at home or in alternative learning spaces within the community. Keeping the school community apprised of developments relating to the school closure on a regular basis will help to maintain confidence in the school or district and has the potential to inspire a sense of comfort or stability that may very well be needed within the community. Of course, specific attention to the content, mode, frequency, and consistency of the messaging will need to be carefully determined by school leaders. While issuing formal press releases and using traditional media outlets may yield some effective results in communicating information, many of these stakeholders will continue to rely on local school and district websites and social media for critical information and announcements. 

Authoritative information sources

In general, school leaders are advised to leverage existing authoritative sources of information during times of crisis that result in extended school closures. This can be accomplished by providing direct links or feeds to sources such as state or governmental departments including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and others. Channeling information directly from these sources will result in the most accurate and timely way of disseminating key information.

Taking action

Planning for effective communication during extended school closures must begin well in advance of such closures. School leaders should begin the process by identifying all the various stakeholder groups within the school community — including internal and external stakeholders. Once these groups are identified, school personnel should determine which communication channels are most effective for the dissemination and collection of information relative to each stakeholder group. It is not uncommon for different stakeholder groups to prefer different channels of communication. While some groups may prefer email communications, website announcements, or social media posts, others may prefer phone calls or printed announcements and newsletters. School leaders may use the template located in Appendix D to help organize the communication preferences of various groups within their school community.

With the stakeholder group preferences identified, school leaders should direct their attention to identifying the personnel responsible for communicating with each stakeholder group. Clearly articulated roles and responsibilities of school personnel are necessary when it comes to the execution of a well-developed communication plan. Typically, district-level administrators are responsible for communicating district-level information, and school-level administrators are usually responsible for communicating school-level information. Specific course-related information is most often communicated to students and families by individual teachers. It is likely that multiple people within a school or district will be responsible for providing communications at different levels; however, school leaders should consider identifying one person as the communication coordinator responsible for ensuring the proper execution of the school’s or district’s overall communication plan.

Since multiple levels of communication within a school or district are often necessary, school leaders should take steps to ensure all communications are coordinated and streamlined. Inundating students, parents, and other stakeholders with uncoordinated or excessive communication can be overwhelming, so school leaders should develop a regular communication schedule that balances the right amount of information with the proper frequency.

Another action school leaders could take regarding communication is the tone of the communications to stakeholders. Remote learning caused by school closures tends to create an element of anxiety or uneasiness among students, families, and school staff. For this reason, school leaders should proactively provide appropriate transparency in communications and also add elements of positivity and hope. Demonstrating care and compassion in communications coupled with demonstrating confidence and competence will help alleviate some of these anxieties. 

Appendix E of this document contains tables designed to guide school leaders in addressing different stakeholder groups based on messaging priorities. While this resource is generalized in its current format and focused on internal stakeholders, school leaders are encouraged to adapt the content of this resource to external stakeholders and to suit the unique needs of their schools or districts.

In addition to the communication structures put in place as recommended previously in this document, school leaders must recognize that their school’s or district’s website will be the central repository for information regarding the school’s or district’s responses to extended school closures. It is essential that all processes regarding communication pertaining to public announcements required by law do not get lost during the situation or crisis that prompted the school closures. These postings and announcements should remain in the same location they appeared on the school or district website before the situation or crisis, even as meetings and events move online. 

During a time of extended school closures, the school community will look to the school or district for support in a variety of areas ranging from academics to basic needs that might not be met during times of crisis. The school or district website should also contain links to trusted government or agency websites that can provide authoritative information to stakeholders during the school closures. In addition, all messaging on the website should be clear and transparent. School leaders should consider creating a webpage dedicated to the school closure response that is linked from the main page and separated into the following categories:

  • Trusted information from trusted local, state, and federal authorities.
  • School or district communications including both present and past correspondences regarding the response to the crisis, which will increase transparency and trust. 
  • Community resources including meals, mental and physical safety supports, and vetted agencies offering assistance to families in need. 
  • Educational plan for learning and working remotely, which includes the school’s or district’s learning continuity plan and expectations for students and families.  

Key action steps

  1. Identify stakeholder groups within the school community along with the appropriate communication channels for each group.
  2. Clarify roles and responsibilities of school personnel assigned to communicate with stakeholder groups.
  3. Define the scope of communications to be sent to stakeholders along with a schedule for such communications to ensure coordination and mitigate overwhelming stakeholders.
  4. Publish guidance for stakeholders and learning continuity plans on the school or district website leading up to and throughout the duration of extended school closures.

Lessons learned

Be proactive with developing a communication plan

A school’s or district’s communication plan (as it relates to extended school closures) should be developed prior to the actual need to execute the plan. Developing the plan reactively as an emergency school closure is occurring will likely result in inefficient or incomplete communication, confusion among stakeholders, and delays in communicating time-sensitive information.

Communicate regularly and in a coordinated manner

Developing a standard schedule and protocol for communicating with stakeholders is necessary to provide coordinated messaging that is accurate and consistent. Failure to coordinate messaging often results in stakeholders becoming frustrated or overwhelmed with excessive or redundant messages from multiple school personnel.

Prepare your website in advance

Publishing pertinent and thorough information in a logical and organized manner to the school or district website can be time consuming. Most website platforms have the ability to develop webpages in an “unpublished” setting, which can then be activated instantly when needed. Pre-populating learning continuity plans and related information in advance will allow school leaders to communicate essential information quickly for the benefit of stakeholders.

Resources

The following resources produced by Michigan Virtual will be helpful to school leaders seeking to design and implement communication strategies that support their remote learning efforts:

Additional learning continuity resources can be found on Keep Michigan Learning.

School operations

Considerations

During extended school closures, many facets of standard school operations will change. Schools and districts should consider the following aspects of school operations to ensure the safety of students, staff, and parents:

Facility maintenance 

The maintenance of facilities and compliance with state and federal regulations require administrators to keep the operations of a school running even during extended school closures. Depending on the circumstances of the school closure, the physical school building may still be available to stakeholders on a limited basis. If this is the case, school leaders will need to implement appropriate controls as recommended by authoritative agencies such as the CDC, HHS, or other state and federal agencies to ensure the safest and healthiest possible work environment. This may include limiting access to school facilities, adding staff to monitor the facility entrance(s) and log visitors, and conducting screenings as may be necessary to ensure compliance with government directives. In addition, the school should advertise its hours of access and rules regarding limitations on access via its website.

To effectively enable extended periods of remote teaching and learning during school closures, school leaders may need to modify employee schedules to adapt to employees’ personal and family needs, including a blend of on-site and work-from-home options as may be appropriate. As previously mentioned, information technology support services should also be available to staff and students. School health services provided by the school nurse may also need to be made available for students and families at a consultative level. Provisions for essential administrative, clerical, and custodial personnel to continue to work on-site in the school buildings should also be made in the event that such a presence is needed to keep school operations functioning.

Community meal programs

Since many families in schools and districts rely on the free and reduced meal program, school leaders must have a plan in place to continue providing such services to these families. Schools may consider having food service employees continue to report to work as needed and as long as it is safe to do so. The work assignments of these individuals could be shifted to execute a plan to coordinate pick-up and/or delivery of meals for qualifying students and families.

Special education and accommodations

Special education and other related services will also need to continue through the period of extended school closures. It is recommended that special education personnel within a school or district review all student IEPs and 504 plans to evaluate the need for modifications, intervention, and/or future compensatory services. School leaders should implement the necessary technology tools and procedures so student case managers can conduct instruction and assessment in the same manner as other certified teaching staff, with the same minimum assessment expectations. 

Community partnerships

Supporting students and families during extended school closures can be greatly enhanced if school leaders collaborate with community partners such as community centers, public libraries, churches, civic organizations, and local businesses. Such partnerships can alleviate technology access challenges that some families may face (e.g., availability of computing devices, internet access, etc.).

Taking action

To appropriately address the areas of facility maintenance, community meal programs, special education services and accommodations, and community partnerships, school leaders — the superintendent, directors of elementary and secondary education, director of special education, director of technology, director of facilities, and director of business services — will need to consider all facets of school operations. Of course, the first priority is always the safety and security of students, parents, families, and staff. 

When developing a comprehensive learning continuity plan, school leaders should consult with their pre-existing emergency management plan to leverage processes and procedures that have already been established. Such emergency management plans typically contain processes to take time-sensitive actions. During a school closure, a school leader must anticipate time-sensitive actions by first identifying essential employees and then creating a controlled, safe, and healthy environment. Employee scheduling will require modifications to meet employer, personal, and family needs. School leaders need to be agile to blend on-site and remote work from home. Essential employees could include administration, technology support, food service workers, maintenance and custodial staff, school health services, and administrative professionals. The school leaders must ensure the physical buildings and infrastructure are maintained to keep school operations functioning.

One of the most basic needs students will have during the time of extended school closure will be related to obtaining meals they typically receive while they are in attendance in a school building. School leaders need to thoroughly plan to provide meals to students who qualify for their school’s or district’s free or reduced meal program. In this planning, school personnel must consider the availability of food, the identification of staff deemed as essential employees, availability of funding, and distribution logistics. 

In the area of special education and accommodations, shifting to a remote learning environment requires thoughtful discussion and planning on how to deliver instruction, assessment, and services specific to the requirements of students’ IEPs and 504 plans. Ensuring that case managers and staff have all the technology resources and procedures necessary to fulfill this responsibility is an expectation of the school leader, and it is recommended that leaders consult with trained special education staff on the provisions that need to be put in place to meet the FAPE requirements put forth by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights Compliance, and the Office of Special Education Programs. Additionally, ample support needs to be provided to the case managers who are delivering the specialized instruction, assessment, and special education services. 

In an effort to supplement the modified school operations caused by extended school closures, school leaders should investigate partnerships with organizations within the local community for the benefit of students and their families. Such actions by a school leader could create a “nested” community system in which there was a pathway to connect a school or district to local, regional, and statewide partners. This system could address individual and collective needs based on a shared understanding about the various needs of a school district and its stakeholders. By partnering with community entities, school leaders could support all families. A coherent system in a school district, identifying community partners, could lead to an enhanced local, regional, and statewide network. When the nested system is connected and aligned, positive outcomes could result for students, their families, and school personnel alike. 

Key action steps

  1. Identify the facets of school operations that are impacted by extended school closures along with the essential personnel needed to support learning continuity through remote teaching and learning.
  2. Identify and communicate expectations of school or district staff related to schedules and work performance during school closures.
  3. Develop and communicate an execution plan to provide food services to students and families in need during school closures.
  4. Develop and execute a plan to provide special education services and accommodations to students in need during school closures.
  5. Conduct outreach to community organizations to partner with them to provide comprehensive support to students and families during school closures.

Lessons learned

Keep your emergency management plan updated

Many schools have discovered through the extended school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic their emergency management plans were inadequate in providing learning continuity during these closures. As a result, school personnel were tasked with rapidly developing learning continuity plans that were below the level of quality that school leaders desired. School leaders should proactively update their current emergency management plans to address future needs for highly effective learning continuity.

Seek alternative ways to provide meals to students and families

During extended school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools struggled to coordinate the preparation and distribution of meals for students in need. School leaders should consult with leaders in other districts to discuss the strategies they used in an effort to improve their own plans to provide food services to students in the future.

Resources

The following resources produced by Michigan Virtual will be helpful to school leaders seeking to modify school operations in ways that support their remote learning efforts:

Additional learning continuity resources can be found on Keep Michigan Learning.

Engaging students with limited access

The use of computing devices and internet-based resources (e.g., websites, digital curriculum, email, video conferencing, etc.) is certainly the most efficient way for students, teachers, and parents to interact frequently and effectively throughout the remote learning process. However, we need to recognize not all students and families will have access to these devices or to the internet. Therefore, school leaders will need to consider alternatives to providing an effective learning experience for students in such scenarios. 

Printed materials

The most significant differences in providing remote education for students without access to technology or the internet include the format of learning materials and the processes related to exchanging materials and information between students, teachers, and parents. School leaders should anticipate that the primary source of content provided to students without internet access will be printed materials. This content, including assignments and assessments, will need to be developed or curated by instructional staff members and then delivered to students in the safest and most practical way. Once students have engaged with the content and completed assessments, their completed work will need to be returned to the teachers for grading and feedback.

Non-internet-based digital options 

It is also possible for some forms of digital content and assessments to be used even without access to the internet if the school or district is able to provide a computing device. Digital content can be provided on USB drives or other media such as DVDs. While this may help reduce the need for some printed material, the processes of delivering this content to students will most likely be similar. The exchange of both printed and digital materials to and from students will most likely require advanced planning as the delivery process will require additional time to complete.

Accommodations

School leaders will also need to consider how accommodations related to IEPs and 504 plans will be provided to students. In an online learning environment, some of these services may be provided through online tools such as email, chat rooms, and video conferencing. Since these tools are internet-based, however, providing such services to students without internet access will require a different approach. Supporting students through telephone conversations and limited, appropriate face-to-face interactions may be the most practical way to serve students depending on their needs. Teachers and school leaders should maintain a detailed log of what services are being provided to students in need as well as the frequency of these services.

Presence and community

The final aspect of teaching remote learners who do not have internet access is creating a sense of presence and connectedness. Students who are not able to connect to instructional staff and their peers through video conferencing, email, chatrooms, and discussion boards are at risk of feeling more isolated than their peers who work online. Instructional staff who communicate regularly with students and their families will create opportunities to provide academic support as well as student engagement and accountability. Instructional staff should have a plan that includes a regular schedule and method of outreach to students, and they should maintain a communication log that details the content and frequency of such communications. 

Conclusion

Without a doubt, there are many challenges that come with the ability of schools to provide remote instruction to all students. There are issues of equity that need to be addressed so all students have access to an internet-connected device, particularly in our poor and rural communities. Schools will need to provide teacher training and professional development, prepare students and parents for online learning, and expand schoolwide access to digital tools and learning content. There are many significant steps that will need to be taken before Michigan schools can provide students with equitable and effective learning continuity in such situations.

But, the fact of the matter is that emergency situations, such as the COVID-19 outbreak this year, cannot be anticipated and, therefore, we need to do our best to prepare our schools for learning continuity in the event we face a similar situation in the future. Even in average years, Michigan students lose days or weeks of school to inclement weather. Advances in technology are transforming education and the ability of educators to reach students at any time and in any place. Learning no longer needs to stop when brick-and-mortar school buildings are closed. 

As educational leaders, we have a responsibility to work together to prepare our schools, our teachers, our students, and our communities for more flexible models of learning that shift but do not halt in the face of school closures. 

We’re stronger when we work together. By collaborating in creative, strategic, and forward-thinking ways, we can overcome the challenges at hand and create adaptive educational supports and policies conducive to providing learning continuity in emergency situations.

Appendix A

Cross-Functional Planning Team Sheet

District-Level

Team member name
Role within school or district
Area of accountability
Email
Telephone
Preferred method of contact

School-Level

Team member name
Role within school or district
Area of accountability
Email
Telephone
Preferred method of contact

Student-Family-Level

Team member name
Email
Telephone
Preferred method of contact

Community

Team member name
Email
Telephone
Preferred method of contact

Appendix B

Critical Success Factors and Action Plans

Intended Outcome #1: All students will be able to progress throughout the school district’s approved curriculum in either a face-to-face or remote learning environment.

Critical Success Factor #1: All students have access to digital curriculum, computing devices, access to the internet, and responsive technical support while working remotely and in school.

Action Step or ActivityAccountable Team MemberTarget Completion DateEstimated CostsResources NeededRisk Factors or Barriers
Example:
Provide all students grades K-12 with a computing device to use at home
Example:
Dr. Virtual. Director of Technology
Example:
August 1, 2020
Example:
$800,000(2000 devices at a cost of $400 per device)
Example:
Funds from budgetary reserve
Technology staff availability
Example:
Time needed for device configuration and distribution to students
Action Step #1:
Action Step #2:
Action Step #3:
Action Step #3:

Appendix C

Establishing an Effective Home Learning Environment

School leaders can help students and their families create effective home learning environments by guiding them through the activities and establishing the conditions on the checklist below:

  • Provide a dedicated space to learn
  • Ensure the workspace is clean and organized
  • Minimize distractions
  • Take regular breaks
  • Develop a daily routine – meals, school work, exercise, and socialization
  • Ensure access to necessary technology
  • Focust the appropriate use of technology

Appendix D

Stakeholder Communication Channel Preferences

Stakeholder GroupCommunication PreferenceHeader Label
Internal Stakeholders
Students
Parents
Teachers
Non-instructional staff
Administrators
School Board Members
External Stakeholders
Business owners
Civic organizations
Churches
Legislators
News media
Citizens

Appendix E

Internal Stakeholder Messaging Priorities

Communication from District Administration to Building-Level Leaders – Lead with Empathy

Prioritized TopicMessage: District leaders should offer not only what building leaders should communicate, but also provide common language for sharing the information.
SafetyPrincipals and building leaders need the shared language the school or district will use in defining how the organization will work to keep students and staff safe during the time of school closures. Safety is often referenced in the mission of the school or district, and any communication should refer back to that language.  
ExpectationsThe school and district district staff will be moving to work from home. Messaging should include how that impacts administrators – payroll, purchase orders, timesheets.
Building leaders should know what to share with their students, parents, and staff about what they can expect in the way of availability of administration each day.   Essential staff documentation should be sent to building leaders with explanations on how and when to use the documentation.
School leaders should be provided with clear language on how the school or district plans to proceed with learning continuity including grades, attendance, academic calendar changes, etc.
School leaders should be provided with clear language on what can be expected from teachers as it pertains to collective bargaining.  
School leaders should be provided with clear language regarding expectations of students and parents.  
District leaders should communicate who will be managing community resources and how building-level leaders can guide students and families to those resources.  
EquityDistrict leaders should communicate how the school or district will be identifying gaps in student experiences through surveys that provide the data that will inform decisions and adjustments to plans. 

Communication from Building-Level Leaders to Teachers/Staff – Lead with Empathy

Prioritized topicMessage: Building leaders are the closest leader to the teachers and should engage in the type of communication they expect their teachers to use when working with parents and students. This is informed by the language and direction shared at the school district level.
SafetyBuilding leaders should provide teachers and staff with answers to the following questions:How will building leaders keep the teachers and staff safe during these times. Are teachers and staff allowed into the school buildings?  If teachers and staff need to come into school, what steps have been taken to ensure a safe environment?  What are the protocols to be used when entering and leaving the school?  
Building leaders should communicate how teachers and staff can guide students and families to school district and community resources.  
ExpectationsBuilding leaders should communicate the expectations about how much communication teachers and staff should have with families.  
Building leaders should offer teachers and staff the common language to be used when talking with students and families regarding learning continuity plans.
Building leaders should communicate the expectations about how teachers and staff will be supported in working with students and families. This includes the professional learning process and timeline that will lead to the expectations of building online content or working within a third-party digital content provider.  
Building leaders should communicate expectations of making contact with each student in the school district at least once and, if that is not possible, who needs to know to ensure the safety of that student. 
Building leaders should communicate minimum expectations of contact with students and families. 
Building leaders should share how teachers and staff, students, and families can respond to technology issues that impede learning.  This should include guides, emails, online forms, and phone numbers of whom to contact when issues arise.
Building leaders should communicate how they will be observing teachers in this new, more transparent learning environment. 
Building leaders should create a mechanism for teachers and staff to share their needs in this new learning environment.
EquityBuilding leaders should communicate and collaborate with student services personnel on the supports available to students, teachers, and staff when inequities are recognized either through performance or needs identified through an IEP or 504 Plan that might not initially have be met in this learning environment. 

Communication from Teachers and Staff to Students/Families – Lead with Empathy

Prioritized topicMessage: Teachers and staff are closer to the students and their families than any other part of the school or district. This relationship offers the opportunity to lead students and families down a previously unknown path with (at least perceived) confidence.
SafetyTeachers and staff should communicate how they can offer resources and support to students and families in the form of knowledge or directions to school district and community resources.
ExpectationsTeachers and staff should communicate with students and families that they need to have regular contact with students as an academic point as well as student safety support. In addition, they should share with students and families what “regular communication” means.   
Teachers and staff should communicate with students and families on how to navigate the remote learning experience through screencast, video conferencing, or telephone calls.  
Teachers and staff should communicate expectations for their students based on the school’s or district’s interpretation of the established learning continuity plan and what it means for the student. 
Teachers and staff should communicate changes in grading and attendance expectations based on school or district decisions. 
Teachers and staff should communicate how students and families can respond to issues involving technology that impede learning
Teachers and staff should share best practices in working from home.  
Teachers and staff should share how students and families can reach out for help during this time. 
EquityTeachers and staff should communicate and collaborate with student services personnel on the supports available to students and families when inequities are recognized either through performance or needs identified through an IEP or 504 Plan that might not initially have been met in this learning environment. 
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