By Dr. Marquita Hockaday
The months of August and September are both exciting and daunting as these days mark the end of summer and the beginning of the new school year for students across the United States. With the Delta variant of Coronavirus rearing its ugly head, the back-to-school season is a bit different this year. Families and educators alike must consider what they can do to ensure a safe and productive return to learning. As an online educator for over five years, both in the university system and in the K-12 setting, I have come away with some helpful tips for families and educators as we dive into this new wave of learning due to COVID-19 and the precautions that must be taken.
The Classroom Amidst COVID-19 Restrictions
Despite several Americans receiving one of the many vaccinations offered to combat COVID-19, many states have seen a surge in Coronavirus related hospitalizations and deaths. Thus, it is important that students, educators, and families continue to protect themselves against the spread of COVID-19, particularly the Delta variant of the virus. So, how can we make sure that students are safe in schools while continuing “business as usual?”
Tip # 1: PPE and Social Distance Protocols
Create a safe “bubble” for students, faculty, and staff. The more personal protective equipment (PPE), the better! It is important to provide students and educators with a clean and safe environment that is conducive to learning. This includes masks, social distance protocols, daily cleaning routines, and in some cases partitions.
Additionally, ensuring students have their own materials so they are not constantly sharing and spreading germs, may assist in slowing down and stopping the rapid growth of COVID-19.
Tip # 2: Make the Most of Your Time
Provide engaging and active learning in the classroom. Create lessons that students would not be able to do if they were attending virtual school. This includes hands-on projects, such as dissections, building sculptures and landscapes, cooperative in-person groups, etc.
Develop lessons and class resources that encourage active participation from students and involve families and communities (not necessarily in person). Tie lessons and content to students’ backgrounds and ensure materials are inclusive and diverse.
Successful Online Learning
The other option that many families and students are navigating this school year is virtual learning only. If this is the approach you intend to take, there are several tips that can be put in place to ensure you have a successful return to learning. I won’t spend a ton of time delving into how online learning varies from in-person learning and how virtual learning can be done to fidelity (this calls for a blog in itself) instead, I will share two quick tips to ensure coming back to the classroom via a virtual space is fruitful.
Tip #1: Technology
Make sure you have the technological materials needed to be effective in the online space. Most schools are providing 1:1 technology; however, if that is not possible, several companies provide discounts for educators and students for technology. Whether you prefer an iPad or a laptop (or maybe even a desktop), you want to ensure you are using the technology that will work best for you.
Further, you might want to have headphones to allow for peace and quiet when you attend your live sessions.
Tip #2: Planning and Organization
Another important aspect is to plan so that you are ready to go each week for your classes.
Use a daily or weekly calendar for assignment, quiz/test, and project due dates.
Keep track of administrative tasks, meetings, and live sessions in your calendar as well.
Finally, you want to make sure you are participating in “self-care.” Whether that includes exercise, gaming, binging Netflix every now and then, or just taking a moment to read a book every night, it is critical that you plan some time for yourself as you delve into organizing your virtual school year. It might get tough so take some time out for you!
I hope these tips help as you dive into another school year unlike any other. As we continue to combat COVID-19, we must stay vigilant in educating our students while also being safe and healthy. I am wishing you all a safe and conducive school year!