Webinar Replay: Planning for Changing Learning Scenarios: Navigating the Road Ahead

Office of Ed Tech
8 min readOct 4, 2021
Woman points a way down a path. An arrow flows past her and short way beyond in the direction she is pointing.

To help school systems navigate a shifting landscape and periods of disruption, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology hosted a webinar on September 22 to explore the wide range of scenarios schools are facing due to the pandemic and to elevate successful strategies implemented by districts to address these challenges. View the recording here.

Schools are contending with multiple realities, including balancing various in-person, hybrid, and remote learning scenarios — sometimes simultaneously depending on COVID cases and exposure. In a conversation moderated by Chris Rush, Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Innovation and Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, and Jean-Claude Brizard, President and CEO of Digital Promise, a panel of practitioners discussed how schools are responding to the moment and pivoting to ensure all students have equitable access to instruction and support whether they are attending school in-person or temporarily out of class.

The purpose of this webinar was to offer support to school districts as they respond to changing scenarios during the 2021–2022 school year. Practioners shared examples of on-the-ground stories and approaches from schools and districts. In addition, attendees had the opportunity to submit questions for the panel. You may watch the full recording for the complete conversation. We share some highlights from the discussion below:

Reframing the conversation around quarantine as a mechanism for keeping everyone in the school community safe. Dr. Beth Rabbitt, CEO of The Learning Accelerator, urged viewers to consider reframing the language used around quarantine. Rather than describing it as something students must do because they “did something wrong,” shifting the language of quarantine to something they are doing to keep others and themselves safe removes any associated stigma and contributes to a more inclusive community. In addition, all three panelists stressed the importance of providing additional supports to students who are in quarantine and keeping classes together in mixed modality synchronous classrooms to maintain academic learning as well as personal connections to classmates. In addition to academic implications, missing school can lead to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, stress, and lack of focus. As schools identify sustainable approaches to maintain the continuity of learning, they must also prioritize relationships and provide both students and school staff with support and resources. Strategies for supporting students and school staff during these periods of time should be rooted in empathy and understanding.

Scenario Questions
 How can districts support students who are experiencing feelings of isolation or loneliness due to quarantine and absence? How can districts prioritize relationships and provide students and school staff with support and resources?

Setting up structures for checking on students and staff who may be absent for any reason. One strategy raised was establishing an hour a day where certified school staff check in on students who are at home or in quarantine to keep them in the mindset of school and connected to their daily routines. Another strategy was a buddy system where anyone who is remote — students or staff — has a buddy participating in full-time in-person learning who can provide personal support if needed.

Fostering students’ independent learning skills. Dr. Rabbitt emphasized the importance of fostering students’ independent learning skills so learning can still continue authentically when students are absent for any period of time. Not only can personalized learning plans enable a smoother transition to periodic remote learning, they can also increase students’ engagement during in-person learning models.

Leveraging technology to provide power learning and points of connection. Despite the physical limitations of the pandemic era, technology can also facilitate increased connections and bring new experiences into the classroom. In the Cajon Valley district in California, virtual platforms enable students to meet with real professionals from their chosen interest fields, further contributing to the district’s World of Work initiative — a program focused on career exploration and integrating useful, real-world skills into everyday curriculum in meaningful ways.

Scenario Questions 
 How can districts address teacher shortages or instances where teachers may be out of the classroom due to COVID-19 infection or exposure? How can schools ensure learning continues and avoid placing additional stress on existing teaching staff?

Investing in structures to promote personalized learning plans to support self-direction and help students drive their own learning. Technology can be integrated in creative ways to support student learning — including addressing the impact of lost instructional time. For example, students may periodically participate in self-guided online platforms during the school day to allow teachers to work one-on-one or in core small group instruction with students.

Leaning in to different instructional and staffing models to support students and teachers. Many districts are facing a shortage of qualified substitute teachers, especially when there are increases in teacher absences due to infection, exposure, or childcare needs, for example. Anticipating a need, the Cajon Valley district established a pre-trained pool of substitute teachers where one was available on-site to sub at any moment. Dr. David Miyashiro, the district’s superintendent, also shared how their district is training P.E. teachers and counselors with social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum to provide some support to other teachers.

Scenario Question
 How can districts build morale and provide meaningful support to teachers throughout the school year?

Providing frequent opportunities for teachers to share experiences and changing needs. Even with the best practices in place, stress and burnout can still occur. Principal Loether has created a culture among her team where open dialogue is encouraged and staff regularly have space to share how they are feeling with one another. In one staff meeting, staff used an interactive polling tool to share their current comfort and safety level around colleague interactions and preferences for physical proximity. These kinds of exercises and conversations help foster a culture where staff members feel heard and part of a team, and more willing to raise questions or ask for help.

Acknowledging stressors and teachers’ obligations outside of the classroom. Dr. Rabbitt pointed to the tremendous stress and trauma many teachers have experienced. School leaders should prioritize more resources for collective well-being in schools and facilitate authentic moments for educators and staff to process and make sense of what’s going on, build relationships, and heal. “It’s about putting more slack in the system and investing in culture and ongoing support to make it possible for people to heal and feel really good at their jobs,” she said.For example, knowing many of the school’s in-person teachers struggled with providing childcare for their own children, Rios Elementary offered childcare for any children of staff and welcomed students from other schools to log on to their respective distance learning programs from the school’s multi-purpose room.

Encouraging and helping educators and staff to get vaccinated. Principal Loether shared how her school set up vaccination sites on two different Saturdays to make it easier for Rios Elementary educators and staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. By coordinating the logistics for educators and staff, teachers were more likely to get the vaccine, decreasing the likelihood of their being out of the classroom.

Scenario Question
 In a time of rapidly changing circumstances and new protocols and procedures, how can districts effectively communicate with families and engage their families in decision-making processes?

Providing clear, proactive, bi-directional communication with families that lays out clear plans for learning and acknowledges when those plans may need to shift due to changing circumstances. During this time of rapidly changing circumstances and new protocols and safety procedures, districts must operate with transparency and consistent communication to families. Moreover, districts should make every effort to share updates and include families in their decision-making processes.In cases where plans shift, schools should make sure families know exactly what role they need to play and where they can find resources for support. For example, if a family receives a notification about a child testing positive or being exposed to COVID-19, it should be very clear what that notification means, whether action is required by the family, and what supports are in place from the school to maintain learning for the child. To support learning at home, districts should also invest in devices and connectivity and confirm students have the tools they need to participate successfully in remote learning when necessary.

Encourage family engagement, communicate updates regularly, and provide opportunities for families to give feedback and remain involved. For example, schools could offer virtual town halls, host regular PTA meetings, and send video messages to provide multiple channels for communication and keep families engaged. To help facilitate these interactions, Rios Elementary teaching staff are equipped with dual monitors in home teaching settings as well as in classrooms. These setups have been especially effective for special education teachers who may need to conduct Zoom meetings with families on one screen while still being able to view individualized education program (IEP) notes on another screen. Dr. Miyashiro and Principal Loether stressed that having multilingual professionals on hand to translate communications is also crucial for many communities.

The learnings drawn from these examples and strategies point to the responsiveness, agility, planning, and innovation required to effectively navigate through shifting conditions. As different scenarios and learning models continue to emerge, districts may find that responding to the specific demands of today might actually prepare us well for any challenges that appear on the horizon. If this is indeed the “new normal,” how might the education community carry this mindset and hard-earned lessons into the future?

The conversation continues: Join us on Wednesday, October 6 from 1:00–2:00 p.m. EDT for a free webinar focused on strengthening school and family partnerships for stronger, more resilient school systems. Register here.

A graphic provides the information for the upcoming webinar. All the information is provided immediately before or after the graphic except for moderators: Chris Rush, Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Innovation and Technology at the US Department of Education and Jean-Claude Brizard, President and CEO, Digital Promise

Panelists will include:

● Brenda Guzman, Parent Education Specialist, Pajaro Valley Unified School District

● Windy Lopez-Aflitto, vice president of content and partnerships, Learning Heroes

● Dr. Michelle Rodriguez, Superintendent, Pajaro Valley Unified School District

Can’t make the webinar? Complete this form to share the scenarios your school or district is currently facing and any strategies you have implemented to address different teaching and learning scenarios. If you would like support with a current challenge, please indicate that as well. Your response will help us determine programming for the rest of the series.

This blog contains examples of resources that are provided for the user’s convenience. The inclusion of these materials is not intended to reflect its importance, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed, or products or services offered. These materials may contain the views and recommendations of various subject matter experts as well as hypertext links, contact addresses and websites to information created and maintained by other public and private organizations. The opinions expressed in any of these materials do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education. The U.S. Department of Education does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, or completeness of any outside information included in these materials.

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Office of Ed Tech

OET develops national edtech policy & provides leadership for maximizing technology's contribution to improving education. Examples ≠ endorsement