“Revamp” and “adapt” are the words that come to mind as I consider all that educators have done since the surge of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2019. As health professionals raced to create a vaccine that would treat and prevent the spread of the virus, educators were also in a marathon. We were in a race to revamp instructional practices and adapt to the new normal of virtual teaching and learning. Days turned into weeks that students were isolated from school, and the bulk of our society had their eyes on educational leaders to make decisions surrounding how we would educate our children in the midst of a global pandemic.
As the incubator of school districts’ instructional decision making, Curriculum and Instruction departments found themselves at the helm of swift transitions. Contending with the pressure of ensuring effective instruction for all children forced them to change and find new ways to instruct.
Making Virtual Instruction as Effective as In-person Learning
Curriculum and Instruction departments around the globe had to quickly adapt to empowering teachers with the tools needed to instruct in a virtual environment. The focus pre-COVID was to ensure that effective instruction was occurring in every classroom on a daily basis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the lens shifted to ensure that virtual instruction is just as engaging and effective. Instructional leaders quickly found that not being able to physically walk into a teacher’s classroom and provide support throughout live lessons was a hindrance to improving teaching and learning. While many teachers mastered effective in-person instruction, transferring those same techniques to the virtual learning environment has not been easy.
Curriculum and Instruction departments have scrambled to become acclimated with technological tools that are geared towards making virtual learning engaging as well as learning software that supports classroom instruction. Having to contend with the idea that our students can be forced back into an all-virtual environment at any given moment has led many Curriculum and Instruction departments to function as they did when the vast majority of our world was quarantined. There is now a concentrated push to ensure that while we are strengthening the core instruction in the classroom, attention is also being paid to tightening the lessons that are occurring virtually.
To ensure that this is happening, some district have adopted virtual practice days. These days are dedicated to students and teachers mimicking what instruction would look like should the students have to be returned to the virtual environment. Just as districts equip students with knowledge on what to do should an emergency or natural disaster occur during school hours, Curriculum and instruction departments are now equipping teachers with the necessary tools to ensure effective instruction should we return to solely learning behind a computer screen.
Flexibility in Professional Development
The pandemic forced Curriculum and Instruction departments across the globe to revamp the way that professional development was provided throughout school districts. Attending in person was not an option, but the need to provide ongoing support to teachers remained. At the onset, when schools around the world shifted to all virtual learning, there was no time afforded to Curriculum and Instruction departments to learn, digest, and then pour into teachers the dynamics of teaching virtually. Departments had to make immediate shifts to learn and teach simultaneously type of professional development models.
To mitigate the overwhelming need to support teachers during the sudden transition, virtual professional development became the norm. Curriculum and Instruction departments learned quickly that just as student learning had to continue, so did learning for the adults who were educating them. Platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Teams, and Google Meets became the conference rooms where professional development was held. Curriculum teams had to be flexible in that professional development could no longer be offered in one place at one time to all stakeholders. COVID pushed us to an era of flexible timing, topics, and settings for professional development.
Determining the manner in which the effectiveness of professional development is measured also shifted. Gone were the days of popping in and out of physical classrooms to view strategies and skills in practice. We learned to virtually attend classes and provide coaching to our teachers in chat rooms. We discovered that flexibility in professional development for teachers should coincide with effective instruction for students.
Our new normal of conducting professional development has helped to strengthen the levels of support provided to teachers. The limitations that were prevalent because of location and space have been erased due to the ease in which presenters can maneuver to learn, digest, and then pour into teachers the dynamics of teaching virtually. Departments had to make immediate shifts to learn and teach types of professional development models virtually.
Expanded Course Offerings
COVID’s disruption of courses caused students and teachers to stop midstream and switch to virtual instruction. Initially, the disruption caused curriculum leaders to panic. This anxiety stemmed from concerns about students being able to complete courses, retaining teachers who were willing to teach during the pandemic, and the continuous mandates for standardized testing. To address these concerns, the idea of combining classes virtually to ensure that all students had access to courses was birthed. This provided Curriculum and Instruction departments the freedom to offer districtwide courses.
Districts are no longer pigeonholed when there is only one certified teacher in the district to teach subjects such as Statistics, Intro to Engineering, Chinese, etc. The pandemic forced instructional leaders to think outside of the structure of a physical classroom to meet course offering needs. Instructional leaders have now mastered the art of scheduling dual modality courses, allowing teachers to teach some students in person while others stream into the class virtually. This has led to the leveling of the playing field for students and districts that are in hard to staff areas.
Curriculum and Instruction departments are now better equipped to offer courses that were once outside of what some thought possible in certain areas. Although many educators still hold the position that in-person learning is most effective, very few will argue the position that being afforded the opportunity to expand course offerings virtually has benefitted the students in which we serve. The exposure to a variety of content and subject matters has increased students’ preparedness to be college and career ready.