October is usually filled with pumpkins, apples, spider webs and creepy goblins, but 2020 has changed everything. As Halloween approaches, there are many tricks to dealing with the pandemic, but also treats you can offer to make these times less frightening.
The key to a less-spooky situation is communication. Just like Linus explained in the Halloween story classic, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, choosing the most sincere pumpkin patch is a great approach. I'd like to borrow that message and encourage you to assure your school community you and your school staff are making sincere efforts to spin the tricks into treats as you navigate this ongoing crisis.
Remedy the remote and haunted hybrid hassles
Teaching remote learners or remote and in-person learners simultaneously is proving to be difficult, but if you take care of your teachers, they will better be able to care for and educate your students and families. In the U.S., for example, more than three-quarters of the 50 largest school districts have decided to start the school year remotely as a result of continued infections.
As the school year begins, many teachers believe they are giving more time and attention to the online learners, which seems counterintuitive. In their insightful article in the Economic Policy Institute, Emma García and Elaine Weiss state: “Research regarding online learning and teaching shows that they are effective only if teachers have received targeted training and supports for online instruction. Because these needed requirements for effectiveness have been largely absent for many, remote education during the pandemic has impeded teaching and learning.”
Clearly, teachers need more training to navigate the spooky world of online learning.
Here are three “treats” you can offer that would help teachers as they deal with the trick of teaching remotely.
1. Professional development
Teachers need to understand best practices and learn how to navigate the online classroom. Many applications such as PearDeck, Kahoot, Seesaw, and Classtree can make daily interactions more interesting and more manageable. But the list of possibilities is so endless that teachers need professional development to weed through the endless amount of applications offered. They often benefit most from learning from other teachers, and the magic ingredient is TIME. Offering teachers the time and opportunity to learn will pay dividends.
2. Teacher websites help
In a time of remote learning, communication is more paramount than ever. Especially for those teachers who have been teaching a long time, their technological prowess may be lacking. But in a time when teaching is happening online, helping teachers manage their websites is crucial. Make sure your websites are user-friendly for both parents and teachers.
3. Stress relief inservice:
Let’s face it. Every teacher in America is working harder than ever, putting more personal time and energy into teaching this year. Just like the parents who need reassurance during these times, teachers need attention and time to decompress to help them physically and mentally, and give them that boost we all could use to feel valued. Districts might offer mini-massages, yoga classes, or a nature hike to get teachers out of their own heads for a bit. Snacks are always welcome.
Clear up the creepy campus capers
Many schools across the country are returning to campus, whether on a full-throttle or hybrid model. There are definitely tricks as far as on-campus learning is concerned. Keeping students socially distant is a big trick, as well as figuring out what to do with students when it is time for lunch. And as the weather gets colder, the issue of proper ventilation to assist in keeping Covid-19 at bay is of utmost importance.
Here are three ideas to make sure all constituents are on board with the in-building plan.
1. Walk in an orderly fashion
Those words drilled into me by my teachers decades ago have never rung truer. Clearly communicate policies for entrance and egress. If there are students back in your school building, there should already be arrows and signs explaining the proper way to maneuver through the school. Sending home reminders to parents and families to reiterate these at home is a welcome idea for making the school day run smoothly.
2. Breathe easy
As the weather gets colder, address your district’s ventilation plan for parents. One of the problems of the pandemic is that each parent has a different mindset. Some want business as usual, while others are still very nervous about Covid-19. If your communication clearly and calmly addresses elements such as your ventilation system and other safety concerns, everyone will feel better.
3. Creative student dining options
You may need to move some groups of students to gymnasiums or auditoriums so that students can maintain their distance and still have their masks off to eat. Students need and deserve the time to be social, and districts need to make sure they are safe.
Tame the terrifying technology troubles
There are many learning difficulties for families surrounding hybrid and remote learning. Throughout the country, there is disparity in technology access, and differences in opinions about what should happen that cause stress. The family unit is bearing the brunt.
The Myers family in California stated in this EdSource article, “There is a high level of stress in our house. We have three hours with the kids before dinner where we want to sit down and do school, that’s what we want to do every day. But sometimes we won’t, we’ll go down to the river. Physical, mental and spiritual health has been hard to wrap our heads around during this time.”
Districts have an obligation to try to make the situation easier for their constituents.
One way to help families is to offer free technology to parents, or simply help them get online to start with. There are so many barriers with technology, language, and economics, so anything a school can do is helpful. Schools also need to teach parents so they can help their kids. Simple tips and tricks for parents can make a big difference: for example, disabling notifications and locking down the devices students use for schoolwork to restrict access to non learning apps can transform online learning from a battle against distractions into a productive learning experience. Along the lines of health, Parent’s Magazine advises that students get more physical activity, and make time for practicing reading and math.
Help families troubleshoot technology and communication problems:
1. Social media tipsYour rules should be clear cut and spelled out on your own social media platforms. Teachers and districts should use as many means as they can to communicate with families. Campus Suite offers a free Social Media Guide for Schools should you need help in tightening up your school social media.
2. Fresh website content
Excellent communication from the district starts with a clear website and frequent updating. School administrators and your school community are depending your district website more and more to deliver the info everyone needs to stay current – pandemic or no pandemic.
3. Local health resources
Utilizing county medical authorities and best practices is another way to help families understand what is going on. With the county medical authorities on board, you are not just making decisions in a vacuum but are relying on proven methods to get the outcomes you desire.
Turn tricks into treats
At the end of Charlie Brown’s Halloween show, Linus explains, “I don't see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one. You can look around and there's not a sign of hypocrisy. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see."
With a sincere effort to elaborate on the treats to offset the tricks this fall, your district will be well on its way to success. Following the tips above will ensure "fun-sized' treats in your pumpkin bucket rather than eggs splattered on your car or toilet paper in your trees.
Which little ghost or goblin will you tackle first for your constituents?
Kathyrne Bradesca is a freelance writer from Cleveland, Ohio, and has been a junior high and high school teacher for the past 24 years. She is a member of the National Writing Project who understands the power of words. When she is not writing or teaching others to write, she enjoys hiking with her 3 teenagers, gardening and reading.