The Region 15 Comprehensive Center, part of the federally-funded Comprehensive Center Network, is facilitating ongoing Community of Practice meetings that focus on rural education issues. State education agency staff, district and school leadership, and education associations from Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah have been meeting to share experiences from their states and ideas for meeting schooling challenges.
WestEd’s Senior Professional Learning Specialist Barbara Jones has been developing newsletters to share highlights and insights from these meetings. The following text is from Jones’ June 19, 2020 newsletter, following a discussion on hybrid learning in rural schools.
Rural Community of Practice: Intra-state working together
Recently we had a thought provoking Community of Practice meeting focused on rural education issues in California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, particularly focused on issues related to COVID-19. Those in attendance included individuals from state education agencies, superintendents, rural education associations, and WestEd staff. The session started with the question: What is one word that comes to mind when you hear “hybrid learning”? Participants contributed a range of ideas including:
Flexible, Challenging!, Collaboration, Equity, Complex System, Creativity, Opportunity, Individualized, Personalized, Integrated, Experiences
These words demonstrate the prevailing mindset of the group – that as we think about starting the new school year using hybrid remote and in-person models, we face unprecedented challenges and opportunities to meet students’ educational needs, prompting us to apply creative thinking to find novel strategies to meet this changing landscape head on.
Many of the challenges participants identified fell into the overarching categories of: access, safety, remote instruction and assessment, and professional capacity building. Within this frame, many spoke of the struggle to meet state-mandated requirements in the face of a divided populous and conflicting priorities. For example,
What if some families are afraid to send their children to school due to safety concerns and want to stay with remote learning while others require in-person classes in order to meet their children’s educational needs?
What is the right decision moving forward when some teachers say they will not teach in-person without a mask requirement for everyone, while others staunchly refuse to wear a mask based on their belief it violates their individual rights?
While we did not find conclusive answers to these questions, there was a common feeling of support among in the meeting, with everyone coming to understand that these dilemmas are not faced in isolation, but are shared among many in the group. Participants also found common values to sustain their commitment to this work. In addition to the list above, participants identified the values of:
Intentionality, Social-emotional Focus, Adaptability, Capacity-building, Partnership, Responsiveness
To deepen participants’ understanding of how to apply these values and meet the needs of their rural communities, we were fortunate to hear from three participants on the work of their states and districts. These included presentations by Corrie Pelc, Director of Member Services, Small School Districts’ Association, Helio Brasil of Keyes Union SD, CA, and Lisa Young, Educational Leadership Specialist, UT DOE.
Corrie Pelc spoke on a collaborative effort by the Small School Districts’ Association, CCEE, The California Charter Schools Association, and 360 Accelerator to design a 4-part webinar series called Success in Hybrid and Personalized Learning. The webinar series highlighted four rural charter schools that have developed successful practices in hybrid learning. The schools each focused on different grade level bands, sharing their stories and addressing how other educators can take the strategies and make them their own in the new school year.
Helio Brasil spoke next on the challenge of making sense of, and utilizing, guidelines from their state education department, their local county office, and the CDC to create a plan for hybrid learning in the new school year. To tackle this challenge, Helio worked with others to mobilize a committee that developed a 10-point plan to address staffing, communications, facilities, budgets, school reopening, health and wellness, and student learning. In this effort, equity, flexibility, and financial stewardship were kept front and center.
Lisa Young completed the presentations with a talk focusing on silver linings in education during the pandemic. She told the story of working with a rural principal in a “red” covid zone that is impacted by high rates of infection and long term school closures. Through coaching conversations with Lisa, this principal decided to prioritize the most vulnerable students in their hybrid model for the highest amount of in-person instructional time, and those with a greater chance of succeeding in remote learning (i.e. having access to the internet and families/environments able to accommodate learning at home) with a lower amount of in-person instructional time. These attributes of vulnerability are different variables than those previously considered by the principal for differentiated instruction and tiered support, but now provide a way to meet the needs of students in various circumstances. Lisa shared that, “We can put a three tiered lens on this so that the right kids are in the building at the right time, for the right reasons, doing the right things.”
In the meeting, groups were able to process this new information in breakout sessions. Here are some key takeaways from the session notes.
Utah is thinking about a lens to categorize students by need, thinking about who would be in person and how often. Considerations: food scarcity, technology access, siblings.
What’s fair and equitable? Students whose lives have been shattered by having to move in with grandparents because their parents are working; how do we take that into consideration?
Arizona’s teacher shortage is a big issue; we’ll have teachers in their 2nd year of a teacher preparation program in the classroom.
There’s still a need to understand what are the barriers to achievement. Issues that haven’t been resolved for decades may find some new solutions.
Feels like we are not alone. We are doing something so fundamentally needed but are rushing through this. Need to be careful and flexible.
Extreme moment, need to reinvent everything we are doing…
Participants of the group are also generously sharing resources so that we can all learn together. Click here to learn more about what states and rural districts are doing to reopen schools in the fall.
Barbara Jones is a Senior Professional Learning Expert at WestEd. For more information about her work, please contact her at [email protected].