Falling in the black, slipping through the cracks

During the challenging time of remote learning and teaching due to COVID19, the wide disparity of equity across the nation when it comes to internet accessibility came to the forefront for educators and institutions. I’ve watched the conversation and even joined in at times, and I’ve even felt those pesky pangs of envy when I see fellow teachers having awesome online success with students. I’ll also admit to having my own moment of two of online student success to celebrate and share, but those moments were spread out among the six weeks my district was open for business but closed to onsite customers. It was tough six weeks.

Falling to the depths, can I ever go back?

So what made it tough? I did not have access to some of my students. In rural southwest Missouri, there are beautiful hills, luxurious forests, and several spots where a cell signal is but a dream. When districts in other states were turning buses into mobile hotspots, we were preparing online and offline options for students. We knew that we couldn’t offer that due to our physical surroundings and lack of internet options for many of our families, so to be equitable, we offered offline and online activities for students. We delivered learning packets and food every two weeks to all students in the district.

Dreaming of the way it used to be, can you hear me?

We experienced varying levels of communication with our students and families. Our elementary had good success with student and family participation and communication, while our middle and high school did not fare as well. Why? Did we not have a mass communication tool available? Yes. My district has a school messaging platform for sending out news, announcements, and reminders to all stakeholders through phone calls, emails, or texts. Teachers could email and call all parents or individual parents through our gradebook and information system. And yes, there were still students who dropped off the grid. No response to anything we sent out, regardless of what we tried, so as the next school year is in our sites, we need something else. We need Remind.

Falling in the black, slipping through the cracks

Throughout the six weeks of remote teaching, I was able to reach my unreachable students, for the most part, all but three, through the website and app, Remind. It also took tenacity, but I was able to reach, communicate with, get assignments from, and send encouragement through this one tool. I know what you’re thinking. Remind is just for sending out reminders. You can’t teach through it. If that’s your mindset, then yes, that’s all this tool can be for you, but I have always explored tools for their versatility. I like to think flexibly about any tool I’m using, and I’ve been a Remind user for a long time as an athletic coach, club sponsor, and teacher. But how can it help during remote teaching beyond announcements? Here’s how my District administration team has decided to handle it.

Falling to the depths, can I ever go back?

  1. Problem: In the high and middle school arenas, it is harder to get parents to sign up for a platform. As a parent of an 8th grader soon to be 9th grader, I can vouch for the fact that we parents don’t want 7 teachers notifying us of things daily. I don’t want that.
    • Solution: I don’t need that added to my plate, but what if we set up, as many forward thinking districts have already done, a Remind class (or tool of your choice) for grade levels managed by the district for those big announcements, and Remind classes set up by each teacher for all of their classes?
  2. Problem: How do we get all stakeholders enrolled? We decided to make it mandatory, and use school and roster information to onboard any families that aren’t already using Remind. Let’s expand our school and roster information to include student phone numbers for high and middle schoolers too.
    • Solution: By onboarding families and students, they will all get the information without having to go through the effort of enrolling. Let’s put the effort on families to opt out instead of to opt in.
  3. Problem: Over communication by teachers in all subject areas. If we over message people, they will tone out and quit reading, listening, and viewing those messages.
    • Solution: What if we set days during the week for each subject matter class to communicate if needed for the week to control the amount of outgoing messages? Let’s say math content classes send out messages on Mondays, ELA content classes on Tuesday, Science Wednesdays, and so forth.
    • That’s a start, but let’s do more.
  4. Problem: Information overload. I will fully admit that as a parent, I have been known to ignore class emails from my kids’ teachers once they hit middle school. I already get a ton of email daily, and that’s the reality for many parents. At some point, we feel that students should be able to manage their school work without constant monitoring by parents. While that’s true, you still need multiple modalities for getting information to parents.
    • Solution: What if we train teachers on what to send out on those days allotted to them for Remind communications? The beauty of Remind is the character limitations. If teachers are using the Remind free account, then they are limited to shorter messages. From a parent perspective, I love this. While it makes crafting good messages challenging for me, the teacher, I have developed ways to do it, and teachers can be trained on effective communication through these limitations to be brief and value the time of others.

Falling inside the black

No matter what method of communication your district is using, make sure you are connecting to all stakeholders. Remote learning is not going away this fall, though there may be opportunities for seated classes too. If we aren’t able to be business as usual this fall, and we haven’t prepared for staying connected to our parents, then that’s on us. As we continue to fight through the equity barriers for our students, we need to remember how to work with, not against, our families. This is inclusion and a partnership like we’ve never done before, and it is all worth it.

Heading titles are partial lyrics from Falling Inside The Black by Skillet

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