A Principal's Reflections

Reflections on teaching, learning, and leadership.
  1. Educators, schools, and districts have earnestly rolled out remote learning plans to support students and fill in gaps as a result of extended closures.  We have seen fantastic progress in a short amount of time as teachers, with little to no training in this area, have valiantly risen to the occasion. Are the plans perfect? Not by any stretch, but that is because they don’t have to be. As I have been working with schools and districts to help get theirremote learning off the ground, we have come to a consensus on essential elements. The key areas to focus on with any plan are equity, meeting the needs ofspecial education students, sound pedagogy, and consistent communication with families.
    The education community should be proud as they are building the plane and flying it at the same time. However, other educators and I have developed some concerns based on what we are seeing and hearing. Typically, I refrain from telling any educator what to do. That is not my place since I am not currently working full time in a school or district. 

    My role is to provide support and advice while staying in my lane. Thus, please take what I am going to share below as just some suggestions to try to shy away from when it comes to remote learning.
    1. Piling on too much work
    2. Posting assignments with no plan for feedback
    3. Providing just digital options (HERE are some non-digital ideas)
    4. Grading (avoid this altogether as learners are in inequitable situations)
    5. Relying solely on low-level worksheets, packets, or Teachers Pay Teachers materials
    6. Thinking that you have to abide by a traditional school day schedule
    7. Forcing teachers to follow a traditional schedule while working remotely
    8. Using video tools in violation of FERPA
    9. Posting videos or pictures of kids learning online without proper consent (basically we shouldn't be sharing screenshots of kids during a Zoom or Google Hangout/Meets session)
    10. Covering the entire curriculum and every standard


    Some of you might be thinking that common sense dictates that the practices above should be avoided. I wish that were the case. As more and more educators reach out to me to share their experiences and ask for advice, I thought it might be a good idea to put some of the issues out there front and center. Maybe I am wrong, or just perhaps you might be dealing with some of the unsound practices above. Either way, we are all in this together as educators, parents, and optimists in that we will rise from this challenge stronger, wiser, and more resilient than ever.

    If there is anything that you feel should be added to the list, please post in the comments section below. For more ideas and resources be sure to check out the entire #remotelearning series
  2. The majority of us did not see the COVID-19 pandemic coming. Up until this point, our lives were dominated by both professional and personal routines.  Sure, there might have been a few detours or hiccups that would throw us off course for a little while, but for the most part, we would all get back on track.  For me, my day would always start and end the same. Whether on the road or at home, I would get up by 5:00 AM, work out at the gym, down a protein shake, work, and then go to bed by 10:00 PM.  Well, just like everyone else, my whole schedule has been thrown off, and every day looks different. Like many of you, it has been difficult for me to adjust.

    I loved my routine, and it was vital to my self-care. To get to the heart of the issue, here are some thoughts from Noma Nazish.
    Self-care is important to maintain a healthy relationship with yourself as it produces positive feelings and boosts your confidence and self-esteem. Also, self-care is necessary to remind yourself and others that you and your needs are important too.
    Still curious as to why it is so important?  Take a minute to reflect on this piece that I pulled from a health care website:
    Why is it important? Self-care encourages you to maintain a healthy relationship with yourself so that you can transmit the good feelings to others. You cannot give to others what you don't have yourself. While some may misconstrue self-care as selfish, it's far from that. When you pay adequate attention to your well-being, you're not considering your needs alone. You're reinvigorating yourself so that you can be the best version of yourself for the people around you. Everyone around you also benefits from the renewed energy and joy you exhibit.

    As districts and schools have moved to remote learning, more stress and pressure have been put on families.  There is no fault or blame here towards educators.  They are doing their best to keep learning going under challenging conditions that were never foreseen.  Parents and guardians, though, are trying to juggle so many conflicting priorities stemming from their own work at home responsibilities and that of their kids.  Remote learning has totally upended life at home for many of us. Combine all of this with the emotional and physical impacts of social distancing, and the result tends to be a lack of focus on or attention to self-care.

    Here are some ideas I have. By no means is this an all-encompassing list. 

    • Embrace new routines
    • Expand your boundaries
    • Learn a new skill or take up a hobby
    • Be intentional about physical activity
    • Open up to your spouse, kids, or friends about what you need
    • Engage with family and friends using technology (Facetime, Voxer, Zoom, Google Hangouts)
    • Take a break from technology
    • Read
    • Meditate
    • Begin a journal
    • Embrace nature
    • Commit to a healthier diet
    • Watch a movie or start a new TV show
    • Listen to music
    • Take a nap or sleep in


    The aspects of social and emotional learning (SEL) apply just as much to all of us during a time of crisis. Take care of yourselves, people. Empower others to pay attention to themselves and, when appropriate, guide them to embracing various avenues of self-care. Finally, educate families and kids as to how they can also make the time to care for themselves. 


    Be sure to check of the rest of my #remotelearning series
  3. Throughout my #remotelearning series, I have tried to provide practical ideas and strategies that can be used now.  One aspect that needs more attention, at least in my opinion, is how we can assist parents throughout this ordeal. It goes without saying that many of them are dealing with some intense challenges such as equitable access to technology, WIFI availability, finding time to assist their kids with school work, and a general sense of not knowing what to do in a remote learning world. Combine this with the added responsibility of working from home themselves, dealing with impending or current unemployment, the stress of not being able to see older relatives, and being a parent; you can assume that tensions are running high. They need our support and understanding just as much as our learners do. Together we are better, especially in times of crisis. 


    Educators across the way are stepping up in incredible ways. As I mentioned in a previous post, when it comes to remote learning, there is no one right way. The same can be said in terms of how you engage with parents. Below are some general ideas to consider. By no means is this a comprehensive list. However, as I developed it, I put my parent hat on and took into consideration what I need, expect, and how my home district (Cypress-Fairbanks ISD) is engaging with us. Here are some ideas that you can either embrace if you are a parent/guardian, incorporate into your remote learning plan, or share with those in your community.

    Communicate regularly

    In times of crisis, there is no such thing as over-communication.  Consider using all assets available such as email, social media, phone calls, and Remind. Phone calls can be a great way to find out or share whether or not technology is available. If it isn’t, then you can consider mailing out messages.

    Establish a delivery and pickup location for work  

    Students need feedback, especially if technology is not being used.  Parents also want to get an idea of how their child is doing. In my previous post, I shared how one district was using its bus routes. Work with parents to elicit the most practical ideas to make this work in your community. 

    Encourage the development of an at-home learning schedule

    Some structure is needed to help kids manage their time, complete assigned tasks, and meet deadlines.  Herein lies a great opportunity to work in the competencies of self-management, independent inquiry, pacing, and reflection. For more ideas, check out this post by Adam Drummond.

    Ask parents to be honest about what they need

    The list here could get relatively long, and I am not even sure if making suggestions is appropriate. However, below are a few considerations:

    • Technology for kids to complete work
    • WIFI in the form of mobile hotspot for kids to complete work
    • Creating an at-home schedule
    • SPED accommodations
    • Counseling for their kids
    • Counseling for themselves
    • Work to be picked up and dropped off in a no-contact way
    • Ideas on how to help their kids adjust to remote learning

    Follow district/school updates  

    Obviously, the best way is to use social media. As I emphasized in Digital Leadership, a multi-faced approach that encourages two-way engagement should be employed.  Don’t assume that parents use the same tools as you.  

    Incorporate movement and outdoor time (if possible) into the day 

    I cannot emphasize enough that one of the potential pitfalls of any type of remote learning is an extended lack of movement.  To counteract this, make parents aware of tools like GoNoodle or encourage them to include movement. There is no better way to incorporate movement while adhering to social distancing than family walks or bike rides.

    The ideas above are not the best by any stretch. However, they are practical and can assist with engaging parents and guardians as long as schools are closed. On a side note, my wife and I have used the time we now all have together to enjoy family dinner. It might sound cheesy, but I always start by asking my kids how their day of learning was and if they need help from their teachers, or what else they need to be successful. My wife and I then share what we did for work. Since I have traveled so much over the past couple of years, I can’t begin to explain what this time with my family has meant to me. In many cases, we let life get in the way of what is truly important. Herein lies a great opportunity to re-establish or fortify family bonds.

    Please consider sharing some ideas that you have found successful when it comes to engaging families in your community in the comments section below.
  4. Before our eyes, we are watching districts and schools valiantly roll out remote learning plans to support all students during extended closures. Equally as important have been the many innovative ways to make food available to our most disadvantaged children.  I cannot commend their efforts enough.  Throughout this ordeal, we must be patient, understanding, and flexible as teachers and administrators, with little to no training in this area, do their best to provide an education to students.

    Even with all the progress being made and practical innovations taking place, COVID-19 has unearthed on a global scale the inequity that persists when it comes to access to high-speed WIFI and technology.  Even though many of us have been beating the drum for years regarding this issue, there is such a long way to go when it comes to closing the digital divide. Even in more affluent areas, one cannot assume equitable access. As such, educators are in need of ideas that can be implemented without the use of technology.  



    Here are a few that I have been sharing with districts and schools where I have served as a coach throughout the year:
    • Modeling through written explanations: Even though efforts should bemade to avoid piling on new content, learning can only progress if new material is presented. Think of this as direct instruction on paper. For example, in math, a teacher would typically write out the steps to solve a problem on the board.  In this case, he/or she would just do it on a piece of paper that the student could refer to before moving on. It’s not the best option, but it is a realistic one.
    • Scaffolded questions and tasks: Piling on low-level questions that are recall and knowledge-based don’t constitute learning. It’s what a student does with this information to construct new knowledge or apply it that matters. Consider using the Rigor Relevance Framework as a tool to accomplish both of these preferred outcomes through scaffolding
    • Guided and independent practice: Considering the two items previously addressed, practice can be chunked (guided) in ways that steps are followed until students are asked to do it on their own (independent).
    • Authentic challenge problems: Knowing that digital resources are limited, reference materials can be provided for kids to engage in inquiry-based learning.  As you structure lessons and or extended projects, contemplate about how you will get students to think at the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy while solving unpredictable real-world problems, also referred to as Quad D learning.
    • Independent reading and reflective questions: To assist students who are at a lower reading level, consider providing suggestions.
    • Playlists and choice boards: These powerful blended learning strategies can easily be converted to non-digital options to keep students engaged for days to even a week. Choice leads to more empowerment. With a playlist students choose the order they want to complete all the activities. With choice boards, students choose to complete a set number of activities but don’t do all of them. No matter what you decide, you can incorporate all of the strategies addressed above. Below you can see an SEL choice board shared by Keri Powers Pye.

    • Movement: Any type of remote learning tends to be sedentary.  Think about activities that get the blood pumping, which will help students maintain focus while providing needed brain breaks. Movement matters more than ever if learning is the goal. Below is a great fitness activity shared by M. Robinson PE using the game Uno.
    • Reflective writing journals: No matter the strategies employed, getting kids to reflect on their learning each day can empower them to make connections between concepts and content areas as well as identify what they need to work on going forward. It can also function as a form of closure.

    With everything listed above, there has to be a way to disseminate lessons and materials as well as review them to provide feedback.  As part of your remote learning plan, think about the best way to accomplish this that minimizes contact.  Maybe it is at the district or school office or perhaps a collection bin of some sort. Chad Miller's school district in Ohio are running bus routes to deliver food and learning materials to their kids. Regardless of what you decide, parents will need to be fully aware of where to pick up and drop off learning materials.   

    Also, don't forget that accommodations have to be made for special education students as per IDEA.

    By no means are these the only ideas that can be used to support students with limited or no digital resources available. My hope is that the greater educational community will continue to share what they have found to be successful with #remotelearning.

  5. Remote learning has been thrust upon school districts. The result has been disruptive change like we have never seen before.  In a previous post, I shared some broader ideas to help navigate these uncharted waters.  However, the fact remains that there are now expectations to get work out to kids in many forms. So, what does this all mean? Educators now shoulder the burden to create lessons and activities that will enable students to learn at home.  Virtually none have received extensive professional learning in this area. We know that teachers, like they always do, will rise to the occasion.  My goal is to try to make it a little easier with some simple to use tips on how to leverage free tools.

    First and foremost, we must always keep sound pedagogy in mind, something that I discuss at length in Digital Leadership.   If the plan is to just “deliver” content though video, this constitutes no real difference from direct instruction in the classroom. Now I am not saying that teachers shouldn’t do this. The key is to ensure there is some interactivity during the synchronous component of the lesson or later on during the asynchronous part. Technology, if available for your learners, can play a vital role in accomplishing this goal. Most schools are relying on their Learning Management System (LMS) such as Google Classroom, Canvas, Microsoft Teams, or Schoology to push out work.  That is a good start, but not a solution if learning is the goal. Content consumption does not equate to the construction of new knowledge, discourse, answering questions, solving a problem, or creating a learning artifact. Here is where app smashing comes into play.




    Greg Kulowiec provides an excellent working definition:
    App Smashing is the process of using multiple apps to create projects or complete tasks. App Smashing can provide your students with creative and inspired ways to showcase their learning and allow you to assess their understanding and skills.
    The power of an LMS can be unleashed when lessons or assignments are posted, and then students can respond in a variety of ways. For example, a teacher could create a video lesson, upload it to YouTube, and then utilize tools such as Edpuzzle or Playposit to make it interactive.  It can then be “smashed” with the LMS to push it out to learners to complete. Since many tools now allow the importing of rosters to the LMS’s listed above, it just makes sense to take advantage.

    Here is another example.  Suppose you want to develop a literacy lesson for your learners.  ThingLink could be used to curate content (text, video, images). I often recommend the use of this tool in History as a way to explore primary source documents. After kids review the content, Google Forms could be used for them to answer higher-order questions.  The link to the form could even be included in the Thinkglink.  For multimedia discourse, tools like Padlet and Linoit could be smashed with your LMS.  If you or your school doesn’t use one of these at scale, consider using a general Google Doc where the permission is set that anyone can access without signing in. HERE you will find some great tools to get started. However, don’t limit yourself to this list as the possibilities are endless. Just like with remote learning in general, there isn’t one right way. The right or best way is your way.

    A word of caution when it comes to app smashing.  It’s not how many tools you use that matters, but the degree to which your students use them to learn.  Many tools are being shared, which can be overwhelming.  Stick to one or three that you and your learners are most comfortable with using.  In this case, less is more.  If you are interested in learning more or seeing what other teachers have done, click HERE

    For more ideas follow #remotelearning on social media.