With Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order extending school closures and online learning into the end of the school year, the Scarsdale School District continued to grapple with and evolve the new frontier of online instruction, and has set up essential questions for educators in order to improve synchronous and asynchronous learning objectives.
“Because elementary e-learning is a new frontier, we are in a continuous process of learning from experts, adapting previous lessons to fit into this mold, collaborating with colleagues and completely rethinking the delivery of instruction,” said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Edgar McIntosh. “This pandemic has also directly impacted many of our educators requiring support and flexibility. This has and will continue to require creative substitutions, flexible schedules and enhanced sharing of resources.”
On May 6, elementary school teachers participated in a planning day to build other opportunities to develop and expand what is working within the e-learning ecosystem while continuing to develop strategies to make e-learning sustainable for families, students and educators.
Similar efforts are also being done at the middle and high school levels, where teachers will participate in a planning day on May 8 to synchronize lessons across grade levels and plan, adapt and prioritize curriculum and assessment for the remainder of the year.
“We are evolving. We are learning from each other,” said McIntosh. “We need opportunities … to meet so that we can share some of these best practices around synchronous learning because we’re looking at developing [the] quality of asynchronous and synchronous, and that takes some time to look closely at what the outcomes are, not just the platform, not just the method but whether it’s actually achieving its intended goals around wellness, around learning [and] around connection.”
McIntosh said the district has posed five essential questions while students are e-learning, with hopes that the answers to the questions will help improve the system as it continues into the end of the school year.
The five questions are: How are the instructional methods, resources and curriculum materials meeting the learning objectives of our students? How are we measuring learning? How are we connecting with our students to support their social/emotional learning and wellness needs? How are we creating multiple opportunities for real time meaningful feedback and interaction throughout the week? And, how do we ensure that this is sustainable over the long term for students, families and teachers?
With the answers to these questioning intended to improve the e-learning experience for students, teachers and parents, McIntosh said there are also new expectations for ongoing collaboration and growth between educators, which includes sharing resources among teachers in the district through “structured and spontaneous” meetings. That involves the Scarsdale Teachers Institute (STI) and small targeted workshops; enriched multiple and flexible use of synchronous learning through whole class lessons, small group lessons, split group and break out rooms, one-on-one instruction, morning meetings, afternoon reviews, math and problem solving teams, and question–and-answer periods; and cohesion of content, skill and concept to extend coverage of essential learning objectives through alignment work.
“We’re in constant dialogue with principals and assistant principals, but also with Scarsdale Teachers Association (STA) and teacher leaders to try to get the pulse on who’s struggling and who’s reaching out to their colleagues and who’s finding more success,” said Drew Patrick, assistant superintendent for human resources and leadership development. “Every day there are multiple conversations going on and we’re doing our best to try to identify how we can support those who are really buried under circumstances at home that are inhibiting their ability to perhaps do what they would want to be able to do.”
McIntosh said that most teachers in the district are working “beyond any traditional school day, many into the weekend” and that the pandemic has directly impacted educators, a situation that has required support and flexibility.
“This has and will continue to require creative substitutions, flexible schedules and enhanced sharing of resources,” he said.
According to Patrick, the frequency of Zoom sessions with students has varied, with some teachers aiming for long sessions with lower frequency and some with shorter durations with greater frequency. In order to address the variability and support teachers who have been directly impacted by the pandemic, Patrick said the district was communicating with principals and assistant principals to try to understand the various practices and situations, supporting those individuals with the best practices and going further if the situation calls for it.
“If we were doing e-learning and there wasn’t a pandemic going on, I think … we could have some common expectations around consistency but that’s not what’s happening right now … people are dealing with their own child care issues, their own health issues, deaths in their families, this is not the same kind of environment,” said Superintendent Thomas Hagerman. “Our teachers were never trained to do remote learning and there’s lots of differences in the way people approach that work. Some teachers are really appreciating the synchronous time and feel very comfortable [on] Zoom and don’t have the household pressures that somebody else has.”
The district plans to send out a survey to parents this week, which will allow respondents to point out where the successes in e-learning are, where growth has been seen, and what challenges need to be addressed. A previous survey one week prior involved similar questions and received 1,146 responses, according to Patrick.
Now that e-learning is extended into the end of the school year, faculty at the middle school will meet on May 13 to identify ways to support sixth grade students entering into the school and eighth grade students transitioning out of the school building.
“The district is engaged in dual processes for planning for the remainder of the school year and simultaneously creating a reentry plan for the future. We understand that students, teachers and parents alike have many questions with respect to both processes. Most pressing concerns and plans will address the remainder of this year, including picking up and retuning items from school, moving up ceremonies, graduation and other high school plans and a host of other issues,” said Hagerman. “We are working on enterprise solutions to these questions and we’ll be sharing this information out in the near future as soon as these plans are solidified.”