Navigating the Educational Waters of Covid-19

I love being on the water. Whether it’s a river, a lake or an ocean, it doesn’t matter as long as I am on the water.  

Schools can use a beacon to help them navigate the stormy waters of Covid.

However, what does matter is the type of vessel I use when I am on the water. 

To float down a river, all I need is a tube full of air. To tool around on a small lake, all I need is a kayak, canoe or paddle board. If I am on a big lake, then I like to be on a 24 to 32-foot boat. And if I am on the ocean, I like to be on a big yacht. The type of water I have to cross, determines the type of vessel I use. 

When I was eight years old, my grandfather took me out into Chesapeake Bay to do some crabbing. He had a small 14-foot boat. We would lay out the lines, float around for a bit and then start pulling the lines in and netting the crabs. 

Netting the crabs

His boat was fine when the seas and the winds were calm, but totally over matched in windy or stormy conditions. Naturally one of the times when we were on the water, the conditions changed very quickly. We were not prepared, and It was horrifying.  

Hurriedly we tried to pull in all the lines, but the conditions worsened. So we cut bait and navigated choppy waters to the safety of the shores.  

One more example and then the analogy.  

To sail around the world you need the right kind of vessel. It needs to be rugged, safe, have all of the tools necessary to sail including great navigation and communication capabilities. It should be provisioned to facilitate the journey and enable you to arrive at your destination. 

This is analogous to online learning. 

Effective online learning has those same requirements. It needs the tools to support the teaching and learning process, including the right delivery model, curriculum, teaching, engagement and support, and of course safe navigation and communication. 

When Covid-19 changed “the seas of learning” this Spring, many schools were tossed about and many students did not arrive at their destination of learning. 

Schools simply did not have the right vessel for the conditions created by the pandemic. While true, there were also schools that did have vessels through their existing online and/or distance learning programs. 

Some districts used the low-tech paper packets to give their distance learning students work and instruction even before the Covid-19, and then that escalated and continued thereafter. Some districts utilized digital resources to help enhance and even deliver content to students. Other districts utilized online curriculum to allow students to work independently without any direct instruction and yet others provided access to a teacher or teaching aide as needed. And there were districts who were provided a full-time online teacher for full-time online students. 

Schools and districts used some variation of the above, and even a few other options, to the best of their ability with the goal of helping students on their educational journeys across the waters of learning.  

Then Covid-19 happened. 

It was no longer smooth sailing across those waters. In fact, for some, the waters were so rough, they were paralyzed and ill-prepared that they didn’t even try to cross. Their passengers, the students, were left stranded on the shores.  

There would be no journey for those passengers.  

Others hastily and with good intentions put together rustic rafts made from whatever was laying around and hoped they would be seaworthy to cross the choppy Covid waters. Many of those quickly took on water and the passengers abandoned ship and swam back to shore.  

And some already had boats prepared or were able to get boats on the water relatively quickly and these boats could withstand the rough waters. Some were able to get their passengers across the waters and make progress before the seas were temporarily calmed due to end of the school year.  

And now we are looking over the horizon on the water and we see another storm rapidly approaching. That storm is a Category 5 Start-of-School tornado.  

The warning sirens are blaring.  

The “storm” is coming

They are telling us that our students need us to be brave, accountable, imaginative, collaborative, student-centered, curious and decent. They are telling us that our students need to be learning with the guidance of amazing and caring teachers, with high quality curriculum and a range of experiences that help the students connect the learning to their own lives.  

The sirens are also telling us that we need to make sure our teachers and administrators are resourced with the tools and technology, along with the robust and ongoing professional development needed, to be successful in helping the students on their journey via distance and online learning.  

The sirens are blaring to make sure we know that our families also need help during the storm. Parents need support that helps them understand what their children are learning, how they are learning it, and easy to use tools and resources so they can be informed and engaged with their child’s learning while supporting them to academic success. 

Unlike when sirens are blaring in a real tornado warning, we do not, and should not, run to safe shelter.  

We must be able to take our passengers, our most precious students, across the water.  This is not optional. It is an imperative.  

Fortunately, we have the experience from the Spring “storm” that reminds us we have to be equipped, all of us, teachers, students, parents, and leaders, to make the journey safely across and ensuring that each passenger arrives at their needed destination of learning. 

That has always been our goal. We just have never faced rough waters like these. 

I recommend to schools and districts that feel ill-equipped or lacking in know-how, to reach out to their peers and to the professionals of online learning. There is no shame in getting help. If you need it, seek it. None of us has all the answers and together we have a heck of lot more of them. 

Again, there are many options that schools and districts can choose. Most have at least one option that involves some type of online learning.  

When I was in 7th grade, I lived on a lake.  I had a canoe and would frequently paddle out into the open waters and explore. One Saturday, I paddled out onto the lake. Soon, the winds picked up and a storm blew in. I could no longer control the canoe. I was blown all the way to the other side of the lake. I was not equipped for the situation. 

Fortunately, while we now see the storm heading rapidly toward us, we do not need to panic because we can handle the winds and rough seas. We can be prepared.  

I have been working with districts this summer from all over the western part of our country. I have worked with districts at all ends of the online learning spectrum. Each of them wants to serve their students with excellence. And they will be. 

They are prepared for the school year, and in actuality do not see it as a storm, as I have represented here. They see it as an opportunity because they have the right vessel to carry their passengers. 

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