Since school closures hit the nation in mid-March, educators and their affiliated organizations across the country have been scrambling to meet the diverse needs of students now at home. Responses have included everything from implementing digital instructional programs to distributing thousands of packets.
As schools in the United States considered potential school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, iLEAD began targeted planning February 20. Additionally, preparations had already been underway for instructional alternatives in the event of a crisis that impeded learners’ typical access to coursework. As schools shuttered in response to health and government officials’ advice, iLEAD Schools and the Maker Learning Network addressed both internal and external educational needs and requests from learners, facilitators, parents, community and fellow educational entities.
In terms of internal response to the school closures in California, in just a couple of days staff converted all learners’ records to an online platform, where hundreds of iLEAD Schools learners were already enrolled. More than 2,300 site-based learners were transferred to online instruction in one weekend, according to Allison Bravo, iLEAD Online’s Program Coordinator. “Our entire team — leaders, instructional technology experts and facilitators — really stepped up,” Bravo said.
She said the entire site-based staff were trained on a Thursday, the sites were shut down on Friday and the schools were 100 percent up and running online while their learners participated in orientation from their homes. “By Tuesday, everyone was ready and we were fully integrated,” Bravo said.
One of the first major considerations in transferring to a fully online platform is equity — making sure all learners have the devices and internet access at home necessary to participate, according to Bravo.
“Some families were going to have serious barriers to digital learning,” Bravo said. “We worked hard to remove those barriers over that initial weekend.”
Again, the team and the community really stepped up, according to Bravo. “Our Tech Team got devices ready for any families who needed them and also provided information from internet companies about access to free internet,” Bravo said. “The local internet providers really stepped in as well.” Additionally, Bravo said hard copies of curriculum were made available as well if necessary.
But beyond the technical challenges of going fully online, could learners at home remain engaged in hiqh-quality, personalized, relevant instructional experiences?
This is where iLEAD Schools may have an advantage, as they have been working on this challenge for years and have been leading the way to make sure online learning maintains, and even strengthens, exceptional, personalized deeper learning.
“We have had a robust online program and community for years, and that shows in the digital curriculum and instruction that we deploy,” Bravo said.
Undoubtedly, the current school closures are producing change and stress, which can be difficult for everyone. This is where iLEAD leaned on its core values of developing a plan using design thinking. This, according to iLEAD Schools Founder and CEO Dawn Evenson, starts with empathy.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What support can we put in place to ensure that our staff is (a) ready to make this shift and (b) feeling supported every day as they move forward in this new journey?’” Evenson said.
She said the core planning team worked hard to create a multitiered system of support for the entire staff. In addition, the team collaborated to effectively communicate with all stakeholders.
“Our families, staff, board members and authorizers all keep saying the same thing: ‘Wow!’” Evenson said. “What’s undeniable is that we have a remarkably passionate and hardworking team that cares about our diverse learners’ success.”
Although iLEAD Online has been facilitating high-quality digital learning for years, this sudden shift initiated by the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a huge challenge for many educational organizations and families around the world. As a result, iLEAD Schools and the Maker Learning Network were flooded with requests from parents, facilitators and others for learning resources for their learners now at home.
Bravo and the iLEAD California Maker Team stepped in and answered this call to action by developing Home Schooling Answers, a new website for any interested in pursuing high-quality deeper learning at home.
“We thoughtfully looked at what was available already and what was missing,” Bravo said. “We started noticing that there was an onslaught of resources being made available with good intentions but that were possibly not very helpful to most in the end.”
Bravo and her team said they wanted to curate excellent key resources as well as information on how to successfully implement them.
“As always, we thought about the learners first,” Bravo said. “We wanted to develop something that kept them engaged and learning at personalized, deeper levels.”
Creating the context — how, when, why — was what the Maker Team tried to add to this site along with carefully curated resources. This included a Getting Started Framework, aimed at helping create the right environment for learning. Initially, the site launched with a TK-5 Framework — including foundations, deeper-learning opportunities and more. But now, the 6-8 Framework is also live, with 9-12 coming online soon. Bravo said they also tried to think about parents at home and what they might need, such as sample schedules. The site also includes live classes, the Maker Learning Channel and more.
In the works for future integration are also day-to-day lesson plans that are project-based, as well as resources for special education, social-emotional learning and Parent University.
Bravo and her team see this site as an ongoing portal for all those interested in facilitating successful learning online. Long-term, Bravo said she sees this as a platform with standards, guides and more, where educators can get started as online facilitators.
This means that Home Schooling Answers is going to become a destination for professional learning for any interested educator or parent facilitator.
“Our goal at iLEAD and the Maker Learning Network is to provide the opportunities to leave people better than we found them and transform learning as much as we can,” Bravo said. “Whether you’re an online educator or not, this is going to provide new ways to look at engaging learners, communicating with them and reaching them — especially those who have not been engaged or successful.”
After the numerous requests for such a digital portal, the reaction from the parents at home, and the education community at large, has been positive and appreciative.
“I don’t know how other schools are doing this, but iLEAD is really rocking it,” parent Marcia Meddock Bodens said. “The online activities and suggestions are outstanding. I hope everyone is having the amazing experience my kids are.”
The Maker Learning Network and iLEAD are excited to address the needs of their learners and the community at large at this challenging moment in history.
“As a decades-long homeschooling advocate, I am pleased to see the entire world embrace learning at home right now. Many years ago — with the onset of the Information Age — what was possible in learning changed forever,” said Amber Golden-Raskin, Maker Learning Network Founder and CEO. “Unfortunately, only a small percentage of outliers understood the miracles ushered in with the tech revolution.”
Golden-Raskin added that since many people now have to try online at least for a while, her hope is that society will come out on the other side of this pandemic with a new understanding.
“There are so many incredible ways kids can learn outside of what we’ve already been doing for 100 years inside classroom walls,” Golden-Raskin said. “Let’s bust the next era out into a whole new way of life and learning.”
Director of Maker Outreach Matt Watson concurred. “iLEAD and the Maker Learning Network have always focused on providing the highest-quality personalized education possible to all students,” Watson said. “In this time that schools are struggling to transition to distance learning and parents have such an urgent need for resources, I am proud that we are once again stepping up to meet that need for all students in and around our communities and beyond.”
Parents, educators and others are sharing the Home Schooling Answers website and resources already, as well as connecting on their Facebook Page.
Bravo believes that many will discover that online learning offers learners more choice, flexibility and personalization. This also really impacts the role of the facilitator, or teacher, according to Bravo. “Facilitators can really step in and be just that — facilitators. It’s really more personalized,” Bravo said.
She said collaboration shifts to asynchronous discussion boards, live Zoom meetings and more.
“There are also a lot more one-on-one check-ins online, because facilitators can’t just look up to see what learners are doing,” Bravo saud. “They really have to check in, get feedback and engage the learner.”
In the end, Bravo views this entire situation as an opportunity for all to see learners in a new light.
“This is an opportunity for all of us — parents, leaders, facilitators — to slow down and listen to our students. Let’s let them speak and learn to thrive in more independence,” Bravo said. “This experience is going to transform us all. I hope it’s for the better for all kids.”