by Giselle O. Martin-Kniep and Bena Kallick
“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” ― John Lubbock
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are” – Anais Nin
What might we learn from tapping the experiences and perspectives of parents, students, and teachers related to teaching and learning from home? How might such learning inform our understanding of this new ecosystem? How might it inform the decisions we make as we manage new ways of learning at home and when we are ready to transition back to learning in school?
Given the unprecedented and, in some cases, rushed shift from learning in school to learning at home, it is especially important for leaders to identify what is emerging in the thinking and work of teachers, students and parents during this period of remote learning. Current efforts to gather individuals to describe or discuss their experiences tend to suffer tokenism, in which a small minority representing a specific constituency, are given exaggerated attention, amplifying the power of their input and perspective; or an explosion of ideas and possible courses of actions that provide civil venting but little follow-through.
While these sessions may lead to the conclusion that the primary issues related to remote learning have to do with technology or its use, for example, we may discover that there are more pressing needs are related to the changing relationships among students, between parents and children, and between teachers and students. We need to allow ourselves the time to learn more from stakeholders by engaging with civic discourse. We are making a clear distinction between civil discourse (to engage in respectful listening to others’ perspectives) and civic discourse (civil discourse with a desire to take action to improve the community). The purpose of surveying and focus groups is to lead toward building consensus for action. However, once people have given their perspectives, they need continuous communication regarding how their perspectives are influencing decision making. The model we are proposing flows from three steps:
- Surveys to gather initial data
- Use of that data to create more narrowly defined questions for role alike and intergroup focus groups
- Use of data to uncover unintended consequences and inform decisions and actions
Because different stakeholders are situated in diverse circumstances, and the experience of students is deeply impacted by the context in which they are situated, any inquiry should have a laser-like focus. A good place to start with the questions: What are you learning at this time? What do you need to promote learning? Addressing what arises by analyzing patterns and trends should lead to a deeper understanding of what teaching and learning from home means for each of these constituencies. The systematic mining of the responses from parents, students, and teachers could illuminate the commonalities and differences in the challenges felt by these different groups and ensure that our decisions related to improving teaching and learning during this period and beyond are thoughtful and strategic and do not have unintended negative consequences on any of these constituencies. This data could also be used to accelerate needed improvements in schooling, to address systemic inequities related to learning opportunities for students and families, to forge more seamless connections between school learning and learning outside of school, and to promote a more strategic allocation of resources by school districts.
We propose a concrete strategy and tools for gathering quantitative and qualitative data from different constituencies, and for mining the use of that data to inform decisions and actions. Figures 1, 2, and 3 include survey tools for teachers, students and parents, respectively. The two surveys are parallel in their focus but slightly different in their format and length. They all attend to the question: What is supporting learning at this time? What do you need to promote learning?
Gathering this data is necessary but not sufficient. The information gathered will allow us to identify what specific constituents think and what they need but will not help us reconcile that data or maximize its use. From the point of view of systems thinking, we need another step to ponder complex and difficult questions that demand the reconciliation of perspectives and assumptions.
We are living with uncertainty. We do not know when or how schools will reopen. So, can you use this time of ambiguity and uncertainty to grapple with where this model might work? The following are questions that have been regularly arising in our work with teachers, administrators, parents, students:
- What should we be thinking about when it comes to grading for this last semester as well as next year?
- How can we address the varied gaps in students’ access and experiences with remote learning during this period and when we return to our schools?
- What trauma-informed practices will we need to focus on for both staff and students in order to build a school climate where people feel physically and emotionally safe?
- How do we best mine our learning and experiences with remote learning to improve learning for all students?
Template of Teacher Survey
- What is the name of your school (drop-down menu with school names)?
- What level do you teach (drop-down menu)?
- What subject(s) do you teach (drop-down menu)?
- If you are a middle or high school teacher, please identify one of the grade levels (drop-down menu)
- How many years have you been teaching (drop-down menu)?
- What is the best way to describe the two most important ways that you are promoting remote learning at this time?
- Recording lessons for my students to read, listen to or watch
- Identifying resources for my students to use to complete work on behalf of learning goals
- Preparing lessons that I will teach online with all of my students in real-time
- Reviewing and responding to my students’ work
- Learning to use technology that can help me with lessons
- Conferencing with students one on one
- Setting up small groups for collaborative work
- Consider the question: What do you most need to promote student learning at this time? As you review the following items within each category, determine how essential each item is for you, using the following scale.
- I already have this or don’t need it
- It would be good to have this but not having it, is not getting in my way
- This is my most essential need
- Better time management strategies for balancing work at home
- A structure for me to learn or design by myself or with my colleagues
- Opportunities, recorded and in real-time, to learn about technology tools or finding digital
- resources to support the learning objectives, etc.
- A structured schedule for working with students and responding to their needs
Policies to support expectations related to the use of time
- Reasonable and clear guidelines for remote teaching
- Clear expectations for students and families
- Articulated criteria for quality remote learning
Beyond time and schedule, what else is on your mind
Looking back at your responses to the preceding items, please describe your most important need and your reasoning behind it.
- As you reflect on the past weeks of remote learning, what are three of the most significant lessons you have learned about how to promote learning with your students?
Template of Student Survey
- What is the name of your school (drop-down menu with school names)?
- How old are you?
- What is your grade level?
- Other (please describe)
- What is your gender?
Short answer ______
- What identities do you hold? Select all that apply.
- White or Caucasian
- Black or African-American
- Latino, Hispanic, or Spanish Origin
- Native American or Alaskan Native
- Middle Eastern or North African
- Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
- Some other race or ethnicity (please describe)
- Please check any or all of the following learning categories that apply to you:
- Student with Special Needs
- English Language Learner
- Gifted and Talented
- None of the Above
- Prefer not to say
- Do you receive lunch or breakfast at school at a free or reduced-price?
- How would you describe your socioeconomic status?
- Poor or working poor
- Middle class
- Upper middle class
- Managerial or upper class
- Owning class
- Prefer not to say
- Between your parents and/or guardians, what is the highest level of education obtained?
- Some high school (did not finish)
- High school
- Some college (did not finish)
- Community College (Associates/2 year Degree)
- College (Bachelors/4 year Degree)
- Some graduate school or higher (did not finish)
- Graduate school or higher (Masters or Ph.D. Degree)
- What kind of school do you attend?
- Other (please describe)
- In what state do you live?
- In what town or city do you live?
- Consider the question: What are the two most important factors that have helped you learn during this period?
- Interactions with my peers
- Interactions with my teacher(s)
- Access to the Internet
- Access and knowledge of the use of technologies
- Access to books and learning materials
- A home environment for being able to study and do school work
- Interesting school lessons and assignments
- Reasonable expectations for deadlines for my assignments
- Schoolwork that is too difficult for me to do
- Schoolwork that is too easy for me to do
- What are the most important conditions that are getting in the way of your learning at home? Select as many as you think are the most important from each category.
- Lack of consistency of schedule/expectations
- Unreasonable expectations for deadlines for my assignments
- Boring school lessons and assignments
- Schoolwork is too difficult for me to do. Subject_______________________
- Schoolwork is too easy for me to do. Subject________________________
- Limited access to the Internet
- Limited access or knowledge of technologies
- Limited access to books and learning materials
- Little or no space to study
Feedback and grading
- Access to feedback from teachers when I need it
- Unclear grading criteria
- Grading incentives
- Other: ___________________________
- What are you missing the most at this time?
- What did you learn about yourself during this period?
Template of Parent Survey
- How many children live in your home?
- What are their ages?
- How many parents or caregivers support the children in your home?
- Are you currently working from home?
- Consider the question: What are the two most important items on this you need to promote the learners you attended to at home at this time?
- Clear guidelines and consistency from teachers about what students should do
- A clear understanding of what is expected from me
- Knowing how to communicate with teachers and with the school
- Predictable schedules for when teaching happens
- Having the materials and resources my child(ren) need at home
- Access to a computer
- Access to the internet
- Tech support for me
- A quiet space for my child(ren) to learn
- What is the most important thing you have discovered about your child(ren) as a learner(s)?
- What is the most important thing you have discovered about what teaching involves?
Template for a Role-Alike and Cross-Role Civil Conversation
- Context setting and review of norms (5 minutes)
- Role-alike conversations centered on a key question (20 minutes)
- Asynchronous individual reflection aimed at identifying patterns (10 minutes)
- Cross-role conversation aimed at uncovering and synthesizing different perspectives (20 minutes)
- Cross-role analysis of patterns (10 minutes)
- Individual reflection and next steps (10 minutes)
- A question(s) I am leaving with (for myself)
- A question(s) I have for the group or the organizers
- What I will share
- An action I will take
- Data analysis by facilitators
- Sharing of emerging questions and sorting those that can lead to short term actions vs long term actions. Next steps
Giselle Martin-Kniep is the Founder and President of Learner-Centered Initiatives, Ltd. She has a background in program evaluation, organizational change, and political science and has several graduate degrees from Stanford University. She has worked nationally and internationally in the areas of strategic planning, curriculum and assessment, educational policy, Neuroleadership, and systems thinking. Giselle has published multiple books, articles, and chapters including Why am I doing this?; Becoming a Better Teacher; Capturing the Wisdom of Practice; Developing Learning Communities Through Teacher Expertise; Communities that Learn, Lead and Last; and Changing the Way You Teach, Improving the Way Students Learn. Read more from Giselle.
Bena Kallick began her career in education when she helped start a teachers’ center and a children’s museum. She has co- authored many books and articles on Habits of Mind with Dr. Art Costa, most recently, Nurturing Habits of Mind in Early Childhood. In addition, she co-authored Students at the Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind with Allison Zmuda. Art and Bena are co-founders of the Institute for Habits of Mind and are recipients of the Malcolm Knowles Award for Self-Directed Learning from the International Society for Self-Directed Learning. Bena is now the Strategic Program Advisor for Eduplanet21, Co-Director of the Institute for Habits of Mind, and a well-established consultant. She is a Board Member of GlobalMindED. See more posts by Bena.