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Insight and Inspiration from Our First Virtual Conversation

April 6, 2020 | Dan Storz

On April 1, 2020, the Linked Learning Alliance held the first in what will be a series of facilitated online conversations for Linked Learning educators and district leaders across the state to discuss, listen, and collaborate on the circumstances they are dealing with in the face of school closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic (view recording). Participants in this session brought inspiring ideas and energy to the conversation. We deeply appreciate the time you made—in some cases during your spring breaks—to share your stories. Here are highlights and effective practices from the conversation that all Linked Learning practitioners may find helpful:

Schools are addressing their students’ structural needs

At the early stages of school closures, educators and districts were most concerned about their students’ basic needs. For example, daily meals are essential if any instruction and learning are to take place, and many students rely on schools to provide these. Participating teachers were very aware of the structural inequities and barriers to access faced by many of their students. Districts have been distributing their stock of Chromebooks and laptops as well as Wi-Fi devices to students who may not have access to these tools at home. Districts such as San Bernardino Unified and Long Beach Unified are also making print-outs and packets of work available to students via mail and at meal distribution sites in order to meet as many students’ needs as possible in the way that works best for them.

Effective practice: When possible, work on parallel tracks to meet structural needs while creating the content and culture for online learning. Too much downtime will make it more difficult for students to transition into habits and routines needed for online learning.

Pathways are continuing to connect with their community partners, including industry partners

Industry and education partners are keeping their commitments to each other by convening virtually during this difficult time. In Antelope Valley, for example, there is two-way engagement with local industry partners. Several companies have donated materials needed by students while the educators responsible for teaching in the district’s public service pathway have been working in the field relieving first responders. Schools will be supporting local efforts by making their 3D printers available for N95 mask creation. Industry partners are also offering virtual versions of the types of opportunities they previously offered, such as classroom visits and facilities tours. One industry partner has provided access to digital files for projects they are working on to address current emergency supply needs. Industry and education partners are continuing their commitments to each other by convening virtually in the interim as well.

Effective practice: Check in with your advisory board and industry partners to ask how they are doing and how their schedules have been altered. Explore opportunities for online “face time” with students.

Educators are creating and strengthening professional learning communities

In addition to addressing the physical and educational needs of their students, educators are taking this time to enhance their own learning. Los Angeles Unified is continuing to deliver professional development and had teachers participate in two hours of daily professional development in addition to their teaching duties last week. Educators are learning and exploring with each other how to deliver engaging content virtually or with a stronger digital emphasis. New pathway onboarding has become an online practice, and the shift to greater virtual communication has created the opportunity for Linked Learning principals to form a learning network with weekly calls. Long Beach Unified is enhancing partnerships between teachers with a peer-to-peer model that supports greater technological literacy and ability: Teachers who are more comfortable with their technology skills are assisting teachers who are less so as all learn to run digital classrooms and distribute digital resources. In addition, educators across the state are joining each other in forums, including this first Linked Learning Virtual Conversation, where they are able to share struggles and solutions, and be heard by receptive peers as we all attempt to navigate this unprecedented time while serving students and our communities.

Effective practice: As school and educator schedules adapt to this new online environment, build in regular and ongoing time for professional learning and support networks to meet, as well as regular check-in times for students to help them establish routines.

The conversation continues

So many urgent issues were raised by educators during the conversation that merit further discussion. Watch for upcoming opportunities to discuss questions you raised about, for example, grading with equity and Linked Learning pathway and graduate outcomes in mind, delivering work-based learning opportunities, and integrating the complete pathway team—from counselors to work-based learning coordinators—into the student online experience.

The next Linked Learning Virtual Conversation will be held on April 15 at 1 p.m. Please be on the lookout for further information in the coming weeks, and in the meantime, we welcome your inputs on future topics via this brief poll.