You Can Do It: Online and Blended Learning When You Need It Most

As schools begin to address possible concerns of undertaking their mission to teach even in the midst of a possible shut-down due to health concerns, Susan Davis, Professional Development Director for ATLIS and an educator who has been comfortable in online or blended learning environments for decades, offers some basic advice drawing upon her experiences. Her message to independent schools: You can do this. 

[10-minute read]

computer with chalkboard screen

When the CDC announced Wednesday that schools should be making plans for how to shut-down in a quarantine situation in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) , the buzz in education circles began to address how to keep “school” going, should the need arise.

The good news is that in cases like this, learning can still happen. It just might not look like school anymore. As long as students are healthy and have access to the Internet, they can continue to learn.

Today’s students have been comfortable learning on their own using technology for most of their lives. They just haven’t called this “school.” Even adults have been participating in learning environments, whether they are perusing DIY projects on Pinterest or learning from Youtube how to fix a stopped-up sink. Many have even taken online courses and have some notion of how such a course could operate. Plus, the tools and apps they use every day -- social media, for example, or the cameras on their phones -- can be repurposed for delivering classroom instruction.

Yes, You Can Do This

What can teachers and administrators do to prepare to take the leap into blended or online learning spaces?

  1. Your school’s LMS probably has many terrific tools and resources -- from blog pages for posting and collecting assignments to discussion boards for reflection to website tools for sharing resources. Take some time to make sure that all of your educators are prepared to share assignments online and make the most of the tools already available to them in your LMS, along with any apps that integrate with it.

  2. Leverage go-to techie teachers. These are the folks who are already comfortable using online tools to create learning environments. Put them to work sharing their know-how with their peers.

  3. Invite the educators to use this time for exploration and reflection. This critical time is actually an opportunity to try out teaching in a whole new way. Teachers might scrap what they are doing now (or postpone it), if it doesn’t adapt easily to digital spaces. They might think about the best ways to use the tools they have to connect with the students they support. 

  4. Take a deep dive into inquiry and project-based learning. Let students explore their passions. Give them less “instruction” and more direction. This is a time to invite authenticity and personalized learning into any teacher’s practice.

  5. Have teachers partner with other teachers. There is no need to navigate this new world alone. Teachers might find a collaborator from among teaching peers to create cross-curricular inquiries and assignments. They can support and help each other along the way. Does the colleague’s subject matter present challenges? This could be the basis of innovation and the start of a beautiful friendship.

  6. Help teachers shift their pedagogy to take a back seat and become the guide on the side they’ve always wanted to be; this is where they can really let the kids come forward and shine.

  7. Encourage creativity. Rather than try to cram the regular curriculum into an online space, consider new ways for structuring earning. Creativity can energize a faculty’s collective work and provide the lift everyone needs to get through a difficult time.

Lessons Learned about Online Teaching and Learning

Over the years, I’ve learned a few lessons about teaching and learning in online spaces that technology leaders can pass along to their colleagues.

  1. Set up the structures and guide rails, and then take a step back.

  2. Give high-touch feedback to keep things rolling and let students know you are there. Yes, they still need you. 

  3. Invite ways for students to connect with each other.

  4. If you are learning how to do this as you go, use this as a time to model being a learner.

Years ago, when I was in my first year of teaching high school, I found myself stuck at home for a week during a snow emergency just after launching a unit teaching my first Shakespeare play. The week gave me time to reflect, and I dumped everything I had plannned for a more student-centered course design. My teaching was never the same after that, and I am so thankful. 

Coronavirus Resources

In the brief period since this post was drafted, Ally Wenzel of the Stevenson School, CA, shared these resources about COVID-19 with ATLIS.

University of Washington, HGIS Map. Novel Coronavirus Interactive Map. 

World Health Organization, “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.” Many advise checking this site daily for updates.

In addition, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) called a special plenary session. Their website lists these resources regarding the possible impact of the virus on independent schools. A video of this session is expected soon.

National Association of Independent Schools. “Understanding Coronavirus: What Schools Need to Know.” 

Blended Learning Resources

Here are a few resources on blended learning to get you started.

Mark Lieberman, “What Online Teachers Have Learned about Teaching Online,” Inside Higher Ed, 11 April 2018. 

Bernard J. Luskin, “12 Best Practices in Online Teaching and Learning.Psychology Today. 2 March 2019. Though this article addresses online learning for higher ed, many of the best practices named still apply. 

Kim McConnell, “11 Kindergarten Study Tips for Online Learning Coaches,” Connections Academy, 12 March 2014. Keep in mind that our younger students may have different needs.

Adam Shaw, “Scaffolding Learning in the Online Classroom,” Center for Teaching and Learning, 5 September 2019.

Wabisabi Learning. “25 Great Online Education Tools Modern Teachers Love Using.” Start with the tools you know, and then find the ones you need.


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James Bologna - Wednesday, March 04, 2020
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Another resource from the Global Online Academy: 15 Strategies for Online Learning When School is Closed https://globalonlineacademy.org/insights/articles/15-strategies-for-online-learning-when-school-is-closed

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