For EASTCONN, reopening classrooms this fall posed a host of extraordinary challenges as COVID-19 dragged on. Difficulties ranged from learning how to adequately meet students’ social, emotional and academic needs in an online world, to ensuring that staff and families were supported.
Throughout, EASTCONN educators resolved to reframe their challenges as opportunities to improve student outcomes. Incorporating the tenets of EASTCONN’s Profile of a Learner, they pursued new strategies driven by three basic goals: that students become self-directed, resilient learners; as well as collaborative, effective communicators; and informed, critical thinkers.
“Then we began identifying the teaching approaches that had worked best last spring, and singled out the most effective
virtual-delivery models,” said Diane Dugas, EASTCONN’s Director of Leading and Learning. Dugas also oversees EASTCONN’s three high schools. “We felt that remote learning presented a genuine opportunity to transform learning and allow students to become more self-directed.”
Collaborating with educators from across the agency, Dugas and Director of Pupil Services Amy Margelony, who oversees EASTCONN’s special education programs, implemented through trial and error many new strategies and tactics. Among a list of their most successful are:
A Personalized Approach: “Using this, we focus on students becoming responsible and resilient, as well as self-directed and goal-driven,”said Dugas. “Our learner profiles help students understand who they are as learners, as well as how to develop their capacity and set personal learning goals. We’re helping them build social-emotional skills and resilience.”
Coaching Calls: “Making regular coaching calls to families works especially well in our special education programs,” said Margelony. “For the students we can’t reach through virtual means, or for those who are non-verbal or younger, it’s important to help their families handle behaviors or academics at home. These calls allow us to work with the family, to support them and to
provide other important resources.”
Continuity & Essential Learning Standards: EASTCONN designed its hybrid model to accommodate both in-person
and/or virtual learning, to ensure continuity of learning. Identifying and using essential learning standards is ensuring
that students master what’s most important.
Chromebooks, WiFi & Tech Support: Ensuring that students are WiFi-connected with a viable laptop is critical to the agency’s student-centered approach. When needed, EASTCONN provides Chromebooks, coordinates free WiFi “hot spots” for families, and offers a Student Help Desk to resolve technology problems.
Online Apps & Tools: “Apps like BOOMCARD are an easy-to-use way of connecting with our students, both in-person and virtually,” said Margelony. EASTCONN’s list of helpful apps and platforms includes ScreenCastify, Padlet, Zoom and Google Suite, among others. Staff were trained in how to use the new tools to boost collaboration and communication with their students.
Technology & Breaking Down Barriers:
“New technologies provide us with an opportunity to connect and extend learning beyond the four walls of our schools,” said Dugas. “Now we’re rethinking community service, for example, and ways to make connections with external organizations and potential student workplaces that previously would have required transportation resources.”
Teacher Training & Schedules: “Because EASTCONN includes a half-day each week for professional collaboration and teacher planning time, teachers get the social-emotional support and professional development they need, as well as help with designing virtual learning that fosters deeper problem-solving and critical thinking,” Dugas said.
While Margelony and Dugas said they’d made big strides in managing EASTCONN’s distance learning, they agreed there is much more to learn. They also agreed that in-person learning is still the most desirable way for school communities to interact.
“There is tremendous value in face-to-face learning and connection,” said Margelony. “I don’t think many would argue with that. Being in a classroom, in-person, provides routine and structure for your day, and it provides the mental and social structure that I think we all need.”