I regularly talk with teachers, administrators and other people involved in K–12 education. One of the things that surprises me is the frequency with which I hear the phrase “returning to normal.” All my requests for clarification yield the same response – normal means having all students back in the classroom for face-to-face instruction with teachers, all the time.
It’s my opinion that we will never go fully back to that normal and that hybrid learning is here to stay. Let me share why I think this.
It was a complete shock to the whole system of education when teachers and students went home in March 2020. While many thought that this would be short-term – as in a few weeks – it turned into a longer-term experience as administration, teachers, parents and health officials came to grips with an evolving global pandemic.
While things could have gone better in many small and big ways, let’s not forget that this was an unplanned experience where so many had to scramble to keep education going. That scrambling was heroic in many instances. A lot of hard learning has been done from these real-world challenges. The next challenge is to take that learning and use it to embed flexible learning models so that education systems are better able to respond in the future.
I fully understand the urge to be done with this unprecedented hybrid learning experiment – and not look back – but we shouldn’t be so quick to discount what was learned. Here are 7 reasons why.
Schools know how to make it work
It’s hard to imagine a steeper learning curve than what educators faced in the early months of the pandemic. Decisions were made without precedent. Teachers had to adopt different teaching methods overnight. And schools needed to somehow keep everyone safe while still taking care of students’ academic and social-emotional needs.
Mistakes were certainly made. But schools and districts learned on the fly and came out ahead, showing just how adaptable and resilient teachers and students are. The silver lining in this incredibly hard year is that our education system developed tools to reach students even when they aren’t physically present in the building. So if another global pandemic emerges – or even just a nasty flu season – education will be ready.
There are new teaching strategies
It was a year of trial and error for many districts – including adhering to health requirements that just kept on changing. But through it all, teachers found ways to engage students from anywhere. And these success stories prove that hybrid learning can work.
I’ve heard teachers tell me how it became second nature to engage remote students – talking to the in-room camera while simultaneously connecting with those in the classroom. New audio solutions have let lively full-class discussions continue even when students are apart. Amazing collaborative learning has been happening synchronously in UC&C breakout rooms or asynchronously using a variety of tools. And these new skills and approaches can set us up for better success with hybrid than ever before.
There’s time for teacher PD and support
I’ve heard teaching during the pandemic described as changing the tires on the car while speeding down the road. But with vaccination rates rising and curveballs getting thrown at schools far less often, there’s now time for everyone to step back and take stock of what’s been learned.
Schools and districts can start with hybrid learning as it stands now and move it to the next level. There’s more time for coaches to work with schools and for teachers to get better PD on how to make hybrid learning work effectively. Just as important, there’s also time for teachers to share strategies and ideas with each other so that successes can spread.
There’s money to equip classrooms
Many hybrid learning tools were test driven during the pandemic. Several administrators have told me that they know exactly what they’d like to place in every hybrid learning classroom in their school or district. But a lack of funds remained a barrier to giving teachers and students the tools they truly needed.
That all changed when large amounts of grant money became available to US districts. Schools are finding themselves in the fortunate position of being able to invest in tools for hybrid learning, without making compromises on pedagogy. Many hybrid learning products are flexible enough to work now and in the future (here’s how our audio products can help).
Parents know learning can be flexible
Parents were thrust into the COVID-19 whirlwind alongside educators and have had to be incredibly adaptable. Despite the obvious challenges, for some, the experience has also been one of discovery. Instead of seeing the education system as one-size-fits-all, like it was when they were in school, parents are realizing that there are more ways to meet their children’s needs than they previously imagined.
Certainly, some families can’t wait to get back to education as usual. But others have told me they see value in virtual learning – whether it’s because of fewer bus rides, more productive snow days or more course options. And they worry that our heightened attention to health and safety going forward will mean that students who are home with colds or other mild illnesses will miss out on learning. Parents also know that the choice between in person or virtual doesn’t have to be a forever choice – what works for one situation may not work for another.
Students see the value
Have you heard of “Virtual Fridays?” It’s a practice I’ve seen several districts adopt, reserving one day each week for high school virtual learning. On these days, students skip the bus ride and have time to do focused work in a home environment. Though Virtual Fridays aren’t ideal for everyone, it’s been a popular routine for many students – one they may not wish to give up.
This is just one example of students appreciating the upsides of hybrid learning. I’ve heard of others, like a student with anxiety who likes learning in a calmer environment or the serious athlete who can better balance school with competitions. All kinds of students can benefit from a flexible approach that recognizes that in-person learning, five days a week, isn’t the only option.
Districts can better meet needs
Hybrid learning may also be the answer for rural districts and others that are spread increasingly thin. With this approach, it becomes easier for high schools to offer specialized courses – like senior-level sciences and unique options – by having one teacher simultaneously teach students at several schools.
With hybrid learning tools in place, it’s also easier for districts to offer professional development tailored to what individual teachers need, not what’s convenient for the entire staff. PD sessions can be delivered from anywhere, with teachers in multiple schools attending the same session, making connections they would not have made otherwise.
Looking to the future
We’re all ready to be done with COVID-19 – me included. It’s been a tough haul. But in education, it’s also been a year of incredible resilience and innovation, which I think is well worth celebrating.
That’s why I don’t want to forget all the lessons learned so that education can simply “return to normal.” Opportunities are coming to move hybrid learning forward in some very innovative ways. And that gets me excited about where we go next.
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Posted on April 28, 2021