Change Agents, ReBoot: A Rural Divisions Approach to Distance Learning Amidst a Pandemic

In our daily practice as ITRTs, we show teachers how technology is changing the way we teach and learn.  Our roles foster educators’ integration of technology into the curriculum and use of new and interactive digital tools to deliver content to students. We are Change Agents!  Now, in the age of COVID-19, the mantra couldn’t be more true than ever before! Schools closed suddenly, and our divisions needed to quickly design ways to extend learning for the rest of the school year.  At a moment’s notice, recommendations for distance learning tools and training were provided for teachers, so lessons could be designed to allow students, and their parents, to be successful in light of the challenges of our new normal. We are Change Agents

How do we Navigate these Uncharted Waters?

Let’s take a glimpse at how Amelia County Public Schools (ACPS) approached distance learning when school closures were mandated by the state’s governor. Normally, in mid-March, VAAP scoring, preparing teachers for SOL testing and planning the annual end-of-the-year professional development is priority one. However, as a proactive measure, the superintendent convened a Distance Learning Task Force to begin planning for instruction in the event of extended school closures due to the pandemic or severe winter weather. 

Step 1: Assess Needs. After brainstorming, the consensus of the Distance Learning Task Force, stakeholders from all segments of the school community, highlighted a need to survey teachers and parents to identify challenges with internet access, bandwidth, and access to a computer or mobile device, which resulted in the deployment of Chromebooks. Addressing these issues and getting teachers enrolled in the Virtual Virginia Outreach program to utilize its content and curriculum, became the new priority.

March 13th, Full Stop! 

Dice that spell "change" or "chance".

Step 2:  Access. Learning packets for all grades were prepared immediately and distributed curbside, along with assignments posted on Google Classroom for those with internet access. Fortunately, the third grading period ended with the closure and last quarter materials allowed ACPS to end the school year as scheduled. The packets were ungraded with a pass/fail option.  

Step 3: Train. With the closure, the ITRT released a GoOpenVA training series for teachers to get a jumpstart on the state’s new Open Educational Resources ahead of the annual end-of-the-year teacher professional development (PD), usually held the last week of May. The Teacher PD went virtual this time, with live and recorded sessions focusing on Google Classroom, Google Meet, Screencastify, Classflow, Hapara, eMediaVA, Virtual Virginia and GoOpenVA

Step 4: Get Help. With only one ITRT in the district, five Google Certified Educators and two building technology leaders were tapped to support the teacher training and PD. Later, the team morphed into a subcommittee charged with preparing a training document for hybrid learning and facilitating training for teachers, students and parents during the school’s reopening phase.

Step 5: A Fluid Plan. What applications must teachers use in the distance and hybrid learning environments? We created a fluid document listing the top 10 distance learning applications and strategies for training, and it was shared with teachers, administrators and the Task Force. The training team attached a supplemental list of digital tools frequently used by each school, such as Kami, Kahoot, Flocabulary and Quizziz. Additionally, a resource folder of videos, websites and PDFs were created for students and parents who would pick up Chromebooks in late July, earlier than usual. 

Now, the elephant in the room.

The best advice for learning at home is to keep it simple and not tackle a whole lot of new things, like a learning management system (LMS). ACPS uses Google Suite for Education, not a true LMS, but it’s what we have been using for four years. The push back came when everyone was asked to enroll in Virtual Virginia, housed on the Canvas LMS.  Learning to navigate a new LMS amidst the coronavirus and remote instruction, while facing the added burden of social unrest over policing, racism and monuments toppling across the Commonwealth, could easily have overwhelmed a teacher. As we face these various challenges, remember patience, thinking outside the box and that we don’t have all the answers.

Now, weeks away from reopening with tentative plans in place, that could change at any moment, show courage in leading the charge. By definition, change agents are persons from inside or outside of an organization who help the organization transform by focusing on improvements, or recognize opportunities for change and act on them. Are you a change agent? How to know you are a change agent? Here a few clues:

  1. You are a People Person
  2. You Connect the Disconnected
  3. You See your Dreams and Can Communicate them Clearly
  4. You Know When to Hold ‘em and When to Fold ‘em
  5. You are Courageous and Enthusiastic
  6. You Celebrate the Small Stuff, Big Stuff, and the Bad Stuff

Be a change agent, and don’t let up. Seize the day and the days ahead. This is our moment; technology is changing the way we teach and learn. Reboot!

Authorship Information

Sylvia Hicks has been an ITRT for 16 years, working the past four years in Amelia. The career switcher came to education 22 years ago, after working in the publishing industry for 15 years. Sylvia loves teaching and learning with technology and considers it a blessing to be back in her hometown where she began her teaching career, especially in a time such as this.  Sylvia has a B.S. in Mass Communications and a M.Ed in Curriculum and Instruction from VCU.

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