Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, monumental shifts in education affected teaching and learning. As the Technology and Innovation coach for Poway Unified School District in San Diego County, Calif., I saw teachers continuously adapt to new environments by growing their technical skills, reevaluating instructional practices, and embracing a variety of tools and innovative strategies to best meet student needs. Students also improved their technical skills, demonstrating autonomy and flexibility, showcasing their resilience and proficiently navigating the virtual learning environment.
Finding the silver linings
We saw this challenge as an opportunity to leverage new learning and inspire continued growth. What our team didn’t know was how we were going to accomplish this. With concerns about students’ social and emotional well-being and the learning loss that was being discussed across the nation, teachers and staff were working harder than ever. We needed a strategy that allowed our district to see past the obstacles and find the silver linings of the pandemic’s lasting impact on education.
Our Technology and Innovation team worked with groups of teachers, administrators and other stakeholders to acknowledge the trials and tribulations they’d experienced, reflect on lessons learned and then home in on the positive educational shifts resulting from virtual learning. As our team of instructional leaders led these groups through a discussion protocol, common themes emerged and evolved into a list of successful approaches that will stay with us for the long term.
Our enduring practices
Adaptive learning practices
- We use programs such as Lexia and i-Ready to allow students to follow customized learning paths while providing teachers with detailed information to inform instruction.
Consistency of district learning management system
- Our district chose a single LMS, Canvas, to streamline content delivery and communication with students and families.
- Shared virtual schedules provide teachers and students with a structured way to organize their learning and access resources from a central location.
Alternatives to assessment and instruction
- Our flipped and self-paced learning supports independent learning.
- Backchannels, virtual collaboration platforms and alternative response tools create equitable classroom conversations.
- Various technology tools allow teachers to quickly assess students in real-time and access immediate data.
Rethinking structures and pacing
- We are leveraging flexible learning environments and self-paced learning to provide small group instruction and meet individual student needs.
- Zoom helps us offer virtual meetings, providing flexible access for families and students to meet with teachers.
Personalizing learning and providing voice and choice
- Allowing students to choose what, how, and/or the pace at which they learn individualizes learning and increases student engagement.
- Focusing on students’ strengths, interests, and aspirations creates relevant and meaningful learning experiences.
Increased cognitive empathy and emphasis on social-emotional/relationships
- Our whole-child approach creates an environment where each student feels known, safe, valued, supported and challenged.
- We empower students and teachers to build safe, healthy and just communities by addressing various forms of inequity.
These guiding principles became the foundation for our district-wide professional learning, providing teachers with best practices for blended learning, establishing consistency among digital resources, and creating culture and conditions to empower world-class learners.
Amy Fousek is a technology and innovation coach with Poway Unified School District, where she provides on-site coaching and professional development on innovative instructional practices and blended learning.
Brenda Gillies has been an educator for 20 years, previously as a classroom teacher and currently as a technology and innovation coach in Poway Unified School District.
Jennifer Burks is the associate superintendent of technology and innovation for the Poway Unified School District and was recently named California’s ACSA Technology Administrator of the Year.
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