Virtual Learning Action Plan for School Leaders – Key Questions to Support Students, Parents, and Teachers
Maggie Hos-McGrane
9 min read

I recently came across a post on Twitter that said “School is important during this crisis, but not as important as the needs of our families who are experiencing anxiety and fear as we develop our new normal. Our kids and families need us more than ever to model social and emotional learning before content” (@jaydostal). This tweet got me thinking about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how it connects with the work that school leaders do.

Maslow’s Hierarchy has become ever so important in this context of teaching and learning during a global pandemic. While most school leaders have been able to reach out and support their communities during school closures, we need to continue to think of ways to provide ongoing support throughout the new academic year. During these uncertain times, school leaders will have to lay equal emphasis on aspects of teaching and learning and ensuring well being of their stakeholders. Here are some strategies that school leaders can implement to support students, empower teachers and partner with parents during these uncertain times.

Supporting Students

Through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we know that students will only be able to deep dive into learning when other needs have been met.  It is important for students to feel prepared not only for synchronous online learning, but also for asynchronous learning at home.  The following guidelines can help school leaders support students and help them take ownership of their learning:

  • Focus on listening and building connections: With lockdown and social distancing measures being the new reality, social belonging has become a focus for many school communities.  In such times, students need to feel emotionally connected to their teachers and classmates before they can focus on learning. It is important to set time aside for teachers to build a sense of community and check-in on student wellbeing. 
    Ask yourself,
    1. How can we focus on creating a positive culture during virtual learning?
    2. How do we support students’ social emotional needs?
  • Provide clear and consistent structures: Students thrive when given a clear routine and structure. Co-creating essential agreements for online and offline learning will help build a shared classroom culture and language, and allow students to take ownership of their own learning.  To build student independence, it is also important to minimize the number of tools and platforms that students use.   Providing a one-stop-shop helps students know where to go to find that day’s or week’s tasks.  This could be on a class website, learning management system or through a platform such as Toddle Classroom, Zoom or Microsoft Teams. 
    Ask yourself, 
    1. What behavioral and learning expectations do we have for online and in-person learning? How do we communicate these?
    2. How do we  help students take ownership of their learning? How do we provide students with all the resources they need to successfully complete an assigned task?
  • Celebrate student growth: Finally, students need to feel a sense of accomplishment and reflect on their progress on goals, rather than doing “busy work” or online worksheets.  Teachers can build student agency by co-creating learning goals with students and creating structures for ongoing feedback.  Peer assessments, self-evaluation and systems of immediate feedback like online quizzes, can be useful in getting students to reflect on their learning and build relationships.
    Ask yourself,
    1. What feedback systems should we create to monitor student progress? 
    2. How do we ensure that students receive ongoing feedback?
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Partnering with Parents 

Our students’ families are our most important partners during remote learning. They are the on-ground personnel and have to navigate the complex path of monitoring virtual learning along with all other commitments. Not only do they have to grapple with the curriculum and technology, but they also have to understand the pedagogy of concept-driven constructivist inquiry and provide resources to make learning meaningful- and this is all uncharted territory for many of them! It is this “how” of teaching that they seem to need the most support with. It is therefore important for school leaders to think of strategies to equip parents with the tools they need to be successful.

  • Focus on clear communication:  Encourage teachers to send personal emails to each family during the first few weeks of school. Messages with a short video or photograph helps parents put a face to a name and helps build a personal connection. If possible, also consider a face-to-face meeting time for parents who have questions. 
    Ask yourself:
    1. What forms of communication will be most accessible to parents? 
    2. How do we involve parents to help increase student engagement?
    3. How do we equip parents with information on learning tools that students may need to use at home? 
    4. How can we remind parents that teachers need a break too? What structures do we need to create to support effective communication between teachers and families?
  • Provide clear guidelines to parents about inquiry:  Taryn BondClegg in her Making Good Humans blog advises parents to meet a question with a question – not to give the answer but to ask their children how they think they could find out the answer to that, and then maybe work with the student to inquire together.
    Ask yourself:
    1. How can we partner with parents and give them clear guidelines that enable them to model being a learner alongside their child?
    2. What information and tools do parents need to drive inquiry at home?
  • Make assessment during virtual learning visible:  Parents are going to be really concerned about how much their child is truly learning during this time. They might wonder if learning is effective when it is blended, online, and hybrid. Therefore, it is important to decide how student growth will be assessed during virtual learning.  Be clear with parents about the expectations for learning. 
    As yourself:
    1. What information should we provide to parents about how children learn?
    2. What do parents need to know about learning and assessing in a virtual learning environment? 
    3. What evidence of learning will need to be provided by parents for the youngest learners? 
    4. How can teachers use video conferencing to discuss student growth and development?
  • Investigate technology needs: It is important for us to understand the technological equipment, such as devices and access to strong internet connectivity in each home. Parents may also be concerned about the amount of screen time that can come with online learning, so be sure to address these expectations, in particular with the youngest learners. It’s worth remembering that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1 hour of screen time for 2-5 year olds, broken into sessions of a maximum of 30 minutes.
    Ask yourself:
    1. How do we provide a balance between synchronous and asynchronous activities? 
    2. What opportunities for learning and tools can we provide to families with limited devices or bandwidth?
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