Expanding the Classroom: Lessons Learned during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Who could know that many parents would respond better to text messaging and social media engagement (Facebook and Instagram) than traditional methods of contact such as letters home? Or that video lessons created by teachers for individual students have helped those pupils tremendously? Or that even in uncertain times, we are all more resilient and essential than we thought?
These were just a handful of the positive and surprising lessons learned during our Twitter Chat discussion June 5 with disability leaders and educators. The chat marked the culmination of our social media campaign #ExpandingtheClassroom.
It seemed to happen overnight—the coronavirus pandemic and the shuttering of schools nationwide as a result. During this time, state and local education officials worked quickly to provide resources for distance learning. Educators were tasked with creating lessons—on paper and online—and parents were thrust into the role of teachers as they too, grappled with how to expand education beyond the classroom—especially for those with technological challenges.
During the conversation, leaders in disability education, teachers, parents, and other like-minded participants spent a little over an hour sharing what they’ve learned about distance learning—
and their hopes for the future as we move forward in our new reality.
In response to our question, “What has been your biggest challenge when it comes to expanding the classroom?” Glenna Gallo, an educator and leader supporting students with disabilities in Olympia, Washington tweeted:
“My greatest leadership challenge has been to provide guidance to families and districts on unchartered territory, and using the best interests of the students to guide our actions. If I err, I want it to support student learning.”
For Dr. Zelphine Smith-Dixon, Georgia’s state director for special education, “perhaps the greatest challenge has been growing infrastructure at a distance to match the personalized needs of families and students in the midst of a pandemic,” she tweeted.
Neither are alone. Others like Georgia educator Morgan Shivers, tweeted that technological challenges have made it hard for some students to make the switch from in person to virtual learning—especially those in rural areas.
“I had people in shock when I told them some of my [teachers] had no working Internet in rural America … seriously,” tweeted Kelly Grillo, PhD, a special education advocate in Washington.
NASDSE has learned that we need greater attention to virtual education processes and students with disabilities, especially those students with more significant disabilities to ensure equitable access.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Shivers tweeted. “I teach in a small rural GA school and we are struggling to meet the digital needs of all of our students, but especially those with disabilities.”
Other challenges, Gallo said have “been trying to provide some behavioral and physical health services with health and safety requirements that don’t permit contact. Staff and families have been innovative, but we all want to be able to be in person again.”
Leadership educators also offered resources, too. For example, the VCU Autism Center, a university-based technical assistance, professional development, and educational research center for Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Commonwealth of Virginia has “offered lunch and learn opportunities for parents to learn valuable information and skills to assist their students learning from home, tweeted Samantha Hollins, assistant superintendent of the Department of Special Education and Student Services at the Virginia Department of Education in Richmond. She shared the link to the lunch and learns here
. In fact, the next one— Lunch and Learn: Why on Earth Does my Child do That? Takes place on June 11.
“In Washington, tweeted Amy Campbell, Washington State Teacher of the Year in Vancouver, Wash., “we created new learning plans with the families to help clarify alternative service plans during the closure. It worked so well and centered on what would work for [students] and families and what we could do given the circumstances.”
NASDSE shared a link to Educating All Learners from a Distance. It offers tips for teachers about virtual special education. That resources allows teachers to share ideas online for serving students with disabilities during the pandemic
Other tips include:
- Interviewing teachers, parents, and students in [an] effort to inform, guide, and restructure virtual learning to help meet community specific needs during COVID-19.
- Regular communication with teachers, therapists and other support personnel by phone, Zoom or other means has done a world of good.
- Sending home instructions for parents in their preferred language, so parents are able to support student learning
- Looking beyond what your districts are doing to foster better engagement
Going forward, tweeted Dr. Lynn Clayton-Prince, director of special education and VCASE president elect, “I think all states will need to keep the goal of equity first. Expanding the classroom has made each of us to take a deeper look at what our students need beyond the classroom.”
Others expressed those sentiments as well.
As Zelphine Smith-Dixon said during our discussion, “We are stronger together. Nothing has been destroyed that cannot be rebuilt.”
As we plan for schools re-opening, one thing some disability educators said during our discussion Friday evening was they plan to use workgroups to figure out what returning to classrooms look like.
“Georgia has committed to K-12 Workgroups to develop Restart Guidance that works for everyone,” said Smith-Dixon.
We think it’s an excellent idea to involve everyone in the process