Planning for High-Quality Remote Learning
During the global pandemic of 2020, schools in all fifty states and the District of Columbia were closed, disrupting instruction for more than 55 million students nationwide. As the pandemic began to scale, superintendents needed to quickly weigh their options, while prioritizing the safety and well-being of the students in their districts. As governors from coast to coast mandated school building closures, school leaders worked tirelessly with their teams, leveraging all possible resources to feed students, meet connectivity needs, and redesign the educational experience. While some districts were forced to pause completely due to a lack of resources, many dove headfirst into the dawn of “emergency remote learning.” As school and district leaders prepare for this coming year and beyond, developing a sustainable, high-quality remote learning plan must be a part of the overall district planning process. The Future Ready Framework and its role-specific strands—Future Ready District Leaders™, Future Ready Principals™, Future Ready Technology Leaders™, Future Ready Instructional Coaches™, and Future Ready Librarians®—offer district and school leaders ways to leverage Future Ready Schools® (FRS) resources, strategies, and action planning for district and school transformation at a time when it’s needed most.
The Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) in conjunction with the FRS advisory team, composed of nationally recognized school- and district-level practitioners, developed this resource, Planning for High-Quality Remote Learning Using the Future Ready Framework, to share ideas, best practices, and practical considerations for addressing the unique challenges of high-quality remote learning. As part of the suite of FRS’s tools and resources, this guide helps school and district leaders reimagine a learner-centered remote environment where digital learning is more than anytime, anywhere device access and, instead, focuses on the delivery of innovative instruction for every child in any setting.
At the core of these recommendations, and at the heart of FRS, is equity. The global pandemic of 2020 did not create equity issues; it amplified them. Thus, it is imperative that school and district leaders lead with an equity-lens and keep traditionally marginalized student groups at the heart of all decisionmaking.
Future Ready Framework
This guide uses the Future Ready Framework to provide insight and considerations around some of the most important aspects of high-quality remote learning. The Future Ready Framework includes eight interconnected “gears” keeping the learner at the center. Each of the gears are foundational components of schools that are future ready. The framework creates the foundation for equity-focused, learner-centered experiences where each student graduates from high school with the agency, passion, and skills needed to be a productive, successful, and responsible community member.
Focus group conversations with teachers, administrators, parents, students, custodians, school nurses, school board members, guidance counselors, office staff, and paraeducators provided the framework for the remote learning plan. Stakeholders not involved in focus group conversations were invited to view a recorded summary with a survey attached requesting feedback.
Leadership and school culture lay the foundation for systemic change, whether in the school building, or during remote learning. Future ready school and district leaders utilize an equity-focused lens, and have the courage to embrace curricular and instructional enhancements as learning needs evolve and as the culture demands. A forward-thinking, future ready vision is advanced through leaders’ transformative thinking and collaborative endeavors, especially during times of enormous change. In preparation for longer-term remote learning, future ready leaders have the opportunity to rethink and redesign their vision to ensure that high-quality instruction, particularly for historically marginalized groups, remains core to their school and district’s vision. Accordingly, it is important that leaders develop a flexible and fluid remote learning plan to address unanticipated emergency situations resulting in the closure of brick-and-mortar schools in the future. A high-quality remote learning plan that is ubiquitous, robust, and learner-centered ensures the continuity of learning despite extended periods of disruption. As time progresses, leaders must reevaluate and refine their plan, continually seeking input from all stakeholders, as instructional and community needs evolve.
- Lack of time to engage in strategic planning sessions
- Inadequate feedback loop
- Lack of feedback from all stakeholders
- Minimal professional learning time for school and district leaders
- Budgetary constraints
- Managing community expectations versus district expectations
- Continuously evolving challenges
- Lack of guidance from state or other local agencies
- Leverage community, student, and teacher feedback through surveys and focus groups to evaluate and improve the learning experience.
- Develop a sustained feedback loop to ensure best practices and methods to solve evolving challenges.
- Include curriculum specialists, teachers, librarians, and instructional technology facilitators in the ongoing planning process.
- Continuously plan, implement, measure, reflect, and refine to sustain high-quality teaching and learning during remote learning.
- Network and problem solve relevant issues with surrounding districts.
- Be intentional in providing time for social interactions with and between staff members.
- Prioritize a dynamic school culture in a remote learning environment.
- Keep the human element at the heart of all decisionmaking, while continuously prioritizing historically marginalized groups.
Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessments
Curriculum, instruction, and assessments support a personalized instructional model that ensures that learners are prepared for life after high school graduation. Future ready schools create and communicate a learner-centric vision that provides personal and authentic learning experiences that support social-emotional development for all students, while implementing the needed policies and procedures to realize that vision. Leveraging digital tools and resources for instruction and authentic assessments to improve student outcomes, and ensuring support for historically marginalized groups are vital components of high-quality remote learning. Additionally, access to searchable digital content repositories and collaboratively curated materials is essential for teachers during remote learning.
- Limited academic support for students at home
- Inadequate access to high-speed internet and devices for students and teachers, which limits opportunities to engage in robust digital content and synchronous virtual meetings
- Minimal professional learning time for teachers for remote learning tools
- Difficulty conducting timely formative and summative assessments to make changes to the pace and breadth of content to meet students’ needs
- Limited time for remediation and enrichment
- Challenges providing intensive special education accommodations
- Inconsistent delivery and training of personnel contribute to inequities in some communities
- Consider a more competency-based approach that provides personal and authentic learning experiences and supports social-emotional development for all students.
- Provide asynchronous experiences so students’ learning time can be flexible.
- Modify curriculum to adjust to the unique challenges of remote learning to ensure students are prepared for the future.
- Provide guidance around the selection of effective materials, courses, curriculum, and tools to teachers.
- Provide transparency around revisions to assessment, grading, and homework policies.
- Communicate intentionally and clearly with parents about student expectations, including daily expectations in each subject.
- Provide structures where students can collaborate on assignments.
- Provide options for students to demonstrate learning in multiple ways.
- Conduct formative assessments regularly to evaluate student understanding.
- Check-in with students to monitor their social-emotional learning.
- Leverage asynchronous practices, yet include synchronous components when equity-related issues do not allow.
Personalized Professional Learning
“We must remember that the best professional development is right down the hall. Schools must provide time for educators to learn from each other and this practice should be modeled by administrators.”
—Chris Legleiter, Blue Valley School District (Kansas)
Future ready professional learning mirrors high-quality teaching and learning. FRS leverages the talents of educators and empowers them to lead while promoting student voice, choice, and agency. During high-quality remote learning, modeling and implementing ongoing, job-embedded professional learning is more important than ever. For most educators, teaching in a fully online environment is new and they need additional professional learning support as they build their confidence around using new innovative pedagogical approaches and tools.
- Limited resources, personnel, and staff time to provide targeted professional learning opportunities
- Minimal administrative experience in leading in a remote environment
- Finding additional professional learning time to model and test remote learning activities
- Competing priorities for teachers at home that limit their capacity to support remote instruction (e.g., other family needs, caring for children or elderly parents, etc.)
- To be effective, school and district leaders must model their desired practices, leveraging remote faculty meetings and in-service time when possible.
- Support a districtwide culture of shared professional growth for all educators to increase their skills for teaching in a remote learning environment.
- Provide encouragement and support to teachers who are struggling to adjust to remote learning .
- Consider reducing teachers’ other responsibilities so that they can focus on personalizing learning for students.
- Provide ongoing targeted professional learning around pedagogical best practices for teaching in a remote learning environment
- Increase opportunities for collaboration among teachers and build trust and ownership among teachers for professional growth.
- Provide professional learning for parents to help them fully engage and support remote learning.
- Encourage the use of social media (i.e., Twitter, Facebook groups) for ongoing connections and support from other educators in similar subject areas.
High-quality, high speed technology and infrastructure systems, both onsite and at home, are essential to supporting anytime, anywhere learning and to advancing remote learning experiences for both students and staff. With all school and district leaders, teachers, and students working online, FRS leaders need to adjust their technology plans to ensure responsive technical assistance to solve immediate technical problems that negatively impact teaching and learning. A robust infrastructure, including both the technological and human components, provides the backbone for flexible remote instruction. During remote instruction, inequities around access are amplified. As such, future ready leaders provide a multipronged approach in supporting those students who lack the needed internet and device access at home.
“Our school set up a tech support page for our parents and teachers to help with any needs they had during remote learning. There were many resources and links to quick fixes and tech tips that our parents found very helpful.”
—Tara Desiderio, East Penn School District
- Inadequate access to connectivity and devices at home for students and staff
- Lack of technology staff to support platforms designed to manage out-of-school learning opportunities for students
- Families who don’t have the adequate access to devices and connectivity to the number of students learning from home.
- Lack of knowledge at the district level about the types of devices and connectivity at home making it difficult to troubleshoot issues
- Language differences between school leaders and students’ families
- Ensure equity of access to high-quality devices and the bandwidth needed to support student learning at home.
- Develop a long-term, community-focused approach to home connectivity that includes partnering with local businesses, places of worship, and community access points.
- Provide wireless hot spots and additional devices to families that need technology support.
- Utilize EveryoneOn.org to review low-cost Wi-Fi options available in the local community.
- Consider applying for grants from large providers who offer device and internet access for those in need.
- Expand technology staff to support students and staff during remote experiences.
- Provide on-demand training to parents in the home to help them troubleshoot and provide a resource library with links to instructional videos.
- Create a technology hotline to provide real-time support for staff and students.
Budget and Resources
An effective budget development and review process is guided by a deep understanding of school finance at the district, state, and federal levels. To be cost efficient, budgets at the school and district levels must align and include consistent funding streams for both recurring and nonrecurring costs. Funding for remote learning requires strategic, short-term, and long-term budgeting that leverages the use of digital infrastructure and access to searchable digital content to optimize a “return on instruction.” It also prioritizes the health, safety, and well-being of all students, particularly those from marginalized groups and communities.
- Decreased state funding for education
- Decreased funding from local tax revenue
- Increased costs (in some states) for cyber charter schools
- Increased costs for technology hardware and connectivity due to a lack of resources in the community
- Ongoing costs for digital content subscriptions and/or learning management platforms
- Leverage federal E-rate funding in all ways possible to support remote learning experiences.
- Consider reallocating resources to address the unique needs of remote teaching and learning.
- Include additional funding in the budget for remote learning around digital content, internet access, and devices.
- Develop a sound fiscal plan to deal with a short-term remote learning crisis, considering an allocation of emergency funds as allowed and dictated by state law.
- Be creative in community partnerships, seeking collaborative opportunities support student and district needs.
- Consider creating a unique remote learning program to ensure students remain in the districts.
Future ready community partnerships include formal, informal, local, and global collaborative relationships that advance school and student learning goals. Community partnerships extend students’ opportunities for learning far beyond the school walls and the limits of a traditional school day. Schools play a pivotal role in the stabilization of communities, particularly during emergency situations. Schools, in conjunction with communities, often provide social and emotional support to students and families. During the current COVID-19 crisis, schools were instrumental in providing meals at no cost to families in need. During times of uncertainty, the school-community relationship is even more essential. Future ready schools maintain an authentic, symbiotic, and ongoing relationship with organizations in the community to ensure the well-being of the whole child.
- Districts will encounter questions and concerns from parents and community members about the implementation of remote learning
- During times of crisis, community groups and organizations may operate under physical-distancing guidelines, reduced personnel, and limited budgets
- Many students and families lack access to the needed food or healthcare during a crisis.
- Remote learning plans must consider childcare needs of the community, especially community members who work on variable schedule
- Communicate regularly with staff, students, families, and the community.
- Partner closely with township supervisors, mental health providers, and hospital leaders, adhering to local medical requirements and guidelines.
- Be transparent about remote learning and share expectations for teachers, students, and families, being flexible to meet the needs of the community.
- Lead with an empathy lens. Understand that students do not all have the same homelife and that some students will not have access to adequate food and other basic services, things that staff may, inadvertently, take for granted.
- Be intentional on addressing issues of equity, including access to instructional resources for both teachers and students.
- Partner with local childcare providers to support parents when remote schedules are in place.
Data and Privacy
During remote learning, data and privacy considerations and concerns escalate. The use of data to transform instruction to support learner agency becomes even more essential. Without daily in-person interactions with students, teachers may need multiple measures of data to inform instructional planning to best meet the needs of each child. An effective digital learning structure uses technology to securely protect, collect, analyze, and organize data. It is a critical responsibility of the district to ensure data privacy and security policies, and to be transparent with the procedures and practices that are in place at the district, school, and classroom levels. During remote learning, these policies need to extend beyond the school structure and must include learning in a home environment.
- Determining what data to collect to improve student learning during remote learning
- Time and human capacity to analyze the data collected
- Limited understanding by teachers of privacy needs and considerations
- Minimal professional learning regarding student data privacy, which increases the chances of issues occurring
- Offers of free licenses and services may not have adequate data privacy measures
- When students’ homes become their classrooms, privacy concerns escalate
- Review policies and practices to ensure that applications used during remote learning adhere to federal and state laws, as well as local school board policies.
- Ensure that data and security policies extend to remote learning experiences.
- Incorporate digital citizenship lessons around remote learning into the curriculum.
- Provide relevant professional learning opportunities for staff on protecting student data during remote learning.
- Establish a list of approved programs and apps that have been vetted to ensure data privacy.
Use of Space and Time
During remote learning, the use of space and time is altered completely. Students’ homes become their classrooms, and full-time synchronous, in-person learning changes to, at least, partially asynchronous seemingly overnight. Future ready schools and districts rethink, redesign, and transform learning spaces to meet the needs of teachers and students and provide flexibility in these areas during remote learning. Future ready leaders promote and support flexible, learner-centered spaces that amplify student voice, choice, and agency. During remote learning, teachers, parents, and students adapt to flexible schedules and nontraditional learning environments. However, physical distancing does not mean social and emotional distancing and districts should work diligently to find the right balance of synchronous and asynchronous learning for their school community.
- Leveraging a traditional bell schedule during remote learning assumes that all home environments have the adequate resources, connectivity, and support.
- Essential workers outside of the home may not be available during the day to support student learning.
- Students in younger grades require additional at-home assistance during remote learning, requiring caregivers to provide significant support. This level of support is not feasible for all students, easily creating equity-related issues.
- Many students are hesitant to show their home living space, and thus do not want to use video during synchronous learning times.
- Offer teachers flexible working hours, understanding that everyone’s homelife is disrupted during crisis situations.
- Provide clear expectations around schedules and work completion for students to ensure consistent and dependable interactions.
- Provide opportunities for both synchronous and asynchronous learning.
- Provide culture building opportunities that promote social interactions with and between students and staff.
- Be intentional about building connections between members of the school community.
- Provide social-emotional learning strategies for students, parents, and staff.
- Require the use of virtual backgrounds or walls behind students so that a students’ home environments are not revealed.
School District Examples
- East Penn School District (Pennsylvania) set up a technology support page for parents and teachers to help with any needs they had during remote learning. There were many resources and links to “quick fixes” and completely “tech tips” that parents found very helpful. Additionally, two weeks after school closed the district began offering “pop-up PD” for all team members. Sessions were offered three to four days a week for all district employees by district technology coaches. Some examples of sessions offered included SeeSaw, Loom, Google Classroom, Google Meet, FlipGrid, Screencast, creating a YouTube channel, and\ more. The coaches also had one block per day and another whole day for “ask a coach” sessions for any remote help they needed, which the teachers loved.
- With the implementation of distance learning in March, the educational services team in Orcutt Union School District (California) immediately developed a menu of choices for teachers and staff to access what they needed, when they needed it. These sessions featured in-house experts that were using the platforms, apps, programs, or technology from the district’s adopted curriculum successfully. The district also developed a list of mentors at each school and shared this with teachers so they could receive individualized support, personalized for their own needs. The district met teachers where they were in a supportive way, and teachers immediately were able to apply what they learned. Teachers told district leaders that the experience fundamentally changed their instruction forever, and they are better teachers as a result.
- In Florida USD (New York), ongoing communication between the school board, the superintendent, and the state board of education is essential as the district transitions to remote learning. The district also engages the community in dialogue regarding what changes may need to be implemented when on-site school resumes.
- In Middleton Township (New Jersey) Public Schools, schools provide flexibility in students’ daily schedules. Schools offer clubs, fine arts, sports practices, and other extracurricular activities virtually to address social isolation and keep students engaged with passions that nourish them.