ATLIS Virtual Town Hall 14 October 2020: Where We Are Now

As schools across our community begin to settle in to new learning and working environments, technology leaders from the ATLIS community continue to find value in sharing and reflecting on their experiences with their peers. In this Virtual Town Hall, we looked back on the journey of the past few months, shared what school looks like now in the many varieties of hybrid learning that have sprung up, and began to think about what has evolved in the larger perspective of education as well as what lies ahead. -- SD [15-minute read, 1-hour video]

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Quick Links

  • book coverNovember 11: Save the date for our next Virtual Town Hall with Special Guest Pamela Livingston Gaudet, author of Like No Other School Year. ATLIS is proud to have contributed a chapter on cybersecurity to this important record our school experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shift to online learning. Learn more about our collaboration here. 

    Registration is required for new Virtual Town Hall participants and is free and open to all. If you have previously registered, you will automatically receive an invitation to join. For our next conversation we hope to hear more about how your school is evolving during the COVID-19 pandemic. What are you surprised and delighted by? What are the problems you are still attempting to solve? What are the other concerns you need to bring to the table and share with our community of experts?

  • Complete Virtual Town Hall Video Archive (Wakelet)

ATLIS Town Hall
October 14, 2020
Video Archive



“So many pitchforks.” -- Jeff Tillinghast, University Prep, Seattle, WA

Many of our Virtual Town Hall participants shared an overview of their journeys, what has happened over the past half-year and how they’ve evolved into the iteration of school they inhabiting now. Here are some common themes and highlights:

  • Planning early made a huge difference.
  • Running remote learning programs was new for many technology leaders -- they learned a lot…and fast.
  • Tech support has been a nightmare.
  • The need for clearer communication and involvement in decision making is paramount.
  • 5 different models were actually rolled out over time, each requiring significant rethinking and redeployment from a tech perspective.
  • Multiple roll-outs and changes required touching each device multiple times.
  • Database Managers are heroes -- they have had to work with multiple models over time, changing everything on a dime.
  • Teachers have needed to develop multiple mindsets to deliver their best in each flex model, fully online, hybrid, traditional face-to-face instruction.
  • Relentless updates in Zoom were a pain point; Zoom also proved to be a resource hog for Chromebooks.
  • More consistent use of the school’s LMS has improved efficiency overall.
  • There has been deeper investigation of what tools and devices can do to support learning -- for instance, the creative possibilities of the iPad and the more research-based driven aspects of the Chromebook.
  • Personnel resources are stretched unsustainably thin. More subs and aides are needed for hybrid learning environments (some schools have been creative about using part-time coaches as subs, as well as non-teaching staff).
  • Revolving or temporary personnel complicate things from a tech perspective -- as devices and access must be made available and must be tracked, and training can be minimal.


What Flex Looks Like

Melika Panneri, a tech team of one at Wilson School in Clayton, MO, shared her school’s model of allowing families to let their children stay home if they choose. Assignments and iPads alike are handed out in the carpool line on an as-needed basis. Classes are structured so that both face-to-face and distance learners are present synchronously for a mini-lesson. Then all students can access teacher help during WIN (What I Need) time. Kids and families seem to be very happy with this arrangement, though it puts some strain on the tech staff to track which students are where and provide them with what they need to learn.

Many of our previous discussions focused on putting together the tech pieces of various learning environments  and making sure it actually works for users during this pandemic. Now may be a good time to step back and assess what school has become. Here’s what our Virtual Town Hall participants said.

  • Some faculty find the hybrid model more stressful.
  • Breakout rooms have been a tremendous boon for Upper School. 
  • Kids have caught on to “tech not working” as an excuse to avoid boring classes online that adopt a traditional teacher-centered mode of instruction.

The New Kids in the Classroom: Parents

As parents have transitioned to being more involved in the day-to-day learning of students who are staying home, teachers have to figure out how best to deal with their “shadow” students. Some of the issues include

  • Parents making excuses for kids.

  • Parents listening in on classes and sometimes joining in (inappropriately).

  • Teachers needing to find ways to create a culture of trust and agency so that students can navigate learning pathways independently.

  • Tech teams needing to drill deep into reserves of sympathy for end users, especially for kids who don’t have the coping mechanisms of adults.

Making the Best of Things

Many technology leaders are finding ways to deal with what is, especially when these elements are beyond their control. These solutions were offered:

  • Home networks can pose problems, so we now need to educate parents about their own tech.
  • Making a ticketing system simple and easy for parents to use is a good investment of time.
  • Being available to parents in a designated Zoom Support Room during scheduled hours can also help.

Honoring the Positives

It’s important to remember to pay attention to positive interactions, especially when the negative ones “can be so loud.”  Our participants in the Virtual Town Hall easily ticked off a number of positives that have come out of the stresses of the past few months:

  • New partnerships with other departments at school.
  • Record enrollment (and greater security during tough times).
  • Most families embracing iPad use.
  • Reduction in printing, along with related headaches and costs.
Greater understanding of and commitment to digital a shared, all-school responsibility.  
  • Opportunities to re-evaluate curriculum and assessment.
  • Appreciation of the Tech Department, particularly with regard to ordering and how long it takes.
  • Greater understanding of the slow-down that can be caused by initiating duplicate help tickets for the same “small stuff.”

Supporting Your Team, Finding Community

Technology leaders can find ways to make things easier for their teams and other community members; greater connections can also help with stresses and burn-out. Here’s what our participants suggested.

  • Be intentional about the number of meetings you require.
  • Scale back strategic goals and refocus priorities to meet felt needs for SEL and curriculum review.
  • Make an effort to connect with others who can understand what you are going through.

I count on the ATLIS community to feel less lonely in the work, even though we are physically distant from each other. I look forward to gatherings like the ATLIS Virtual Town Halls to refill my proverbial bucket.” -- Holly Gerla, Charles Wright Academy, WA


We asked our participants to look into the future and reflect on what has been gained from the many innovations and iterations of change that they have seen their schools go through during the pandemic. What is going to stick? What do they want to keep and need to work to sustain? Here’s what they said.

  • Learning online is here to stay.
  • Devices have expanded to most grades, and teachers now have access to multiple devices.
  • New or reignited partnerships have gained ground with other departments, who see how the tech team can help them.
  • Virtual school events such as admissions meetings or parent-teacher conferences will continue online, as well as live streamed and recorded productions of school theater and athletics events.
  • Robotics teams will continue to blossom in cohorts.

Time for Reflection

Most notably, the technology leaders who gathered for this ATLIS Virtual Town Hall recognize that the time is overdue for reflection. School leaders need to take a step backwards and consider how learning and working environments have evolved. By necessity, schools have been focused on how to make school happen during a crisis, but time now needs to be given to reflection on the school’s mission to provide a framework for assessing what school has become -- and what it should be.

Our technology leaders are concerned that

  • Pedagogy has regressed -- we need to revisit what makes great teaching and learning in a post-pandemic world.
  • Issues have arisen from being so focused on tactical issues; there is a need now to restore some level of balance that includes the strategic.
  • Senior leadership fatigue is real, so making this shift will require effort and resolve.

We need to get back to good decision making instead of emergency decision making. -- Lane Young, Phillips Brooks School, CA

Resources Shared


Emma Seppaia and Marissa King, “Burnout at Work Isn’t Just About Exhaustion. It’s Also About Loneliness,Harvard Business Review, 29 June 2017. “What Is Scrum?

Zoom. “Desktop Client, Mobile App, and Web Client Comparison.”

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