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Ideas, News & Advice for K-12 educators and administrators to help create safe learning environments.

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Written by Kaitlyn Schlesinger
on April 02, 2020

With thousands of schools across the country shifting to distance learning, many classroom protocols have needed to shift along with them. Students and teachers are facing a myriad of new challenges, and standard education protocols are being rapidly adapted. Changes to instruction, updates to technology systems, and meeting students’ basic human needs are all crossing a district administrator’s desk. It’s a big lift.

Once you’ve made the transition to distance learning, how do you keep students safe and connected while they learn remotely?

1. Use Digital Collaboration Tools

Many schools were already using suites of tools from Microsoft and Google. Students are often comfortable with their school-issued email account and have experience creating assignments in Google Docs or Microsoft Word. In addition to these tools, digital collaboration spaces allow students to connect in real time via video conferencing or text chat. These spaces can be valuable to keep students connected and collaborating, but they can also be an area for students to engage in risky behaviors. Safety monitoring for these tools is crucial and can make the difference between students being engaged and collaborative or off-task and inappropriate.

2. Keep Students’ Routines Intact (But Make Allowances When Possible)

Major changes to the school day and individuals’ routines can cause increased anxiety and depression. If possible, begin the digital school day at the same time as the physical day, and encourage teachers to maintain the typical classroom schedule as much as possible. That said, be flexible with students and make allowances as needed. You never know if multiple students are sharing a computer at home or don’t have access to technology (or a stable home) at all.

3. Practice Digital SEL

Fears around COVID-19, heightened risk-factors from being in the home, and feelings of isolation during shelter in place orders can directly affect students’ mental health. Strong social and emotional learning (SEL) skills can help reduce stress during this tough time. Check in with students and staff often, and consider creating a shared school space where everyone can come together and stay connected. Encourage students to openly identify their feelings, and create the space for open discussion around student and staff concerns. Implementing new programming like a digital buddy system, scheduling group video calls for home-based PE, or encouraging students to practice mindfulness can all be remedies for social and emotional distress.

4. Provide Relevant and Up-To-Date PD

In the 2016–2017 school year, district administrators listed their top challenges for digital learning as “providing relevant and effective professional development.” While this is a challenge every school year, it’s more relevant now with so many teachers transitioning to digital instruction for the first time. If you’re considering using one of the collaboration tools above, like Hangouts, consider participating in one of Gaggle’s digital PD courses designed to impart student safety practices for digital learning environments.

Keeping students safe and connected to your school for the duration of distance learning will become easier each day. By adopting effective collaboration tools, maintaining a routine for your school, encouraging teachers and students to participate in digital SEL, and keeping staff up to date on the latest best practices, administrators can maintain a safe and healthy online environment.

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