Jessica Binkley

Holy Cross Lutheran Academy
Sanford, Florida
Jessica Binkley, Elementary Principal

Synchronous Learning:
Finding “Best Practice” When None Have Been Established

Teaching is an art of its own. Being a masterful teacher takes creativity, intuitiveness, and a strong desire to help others succeed. There is no secret recipe, in fact there are many different approaches. They vary drastically depending on the individual teacher and even by the students they are assigned to teach. Now add a global pandemic.

In March of 2020, teachers and students alike were thrown into distance learning. It began as a survival tool to buy the schools and the world some time to deal with this virus. Then reality set in and the school year finished virtually from the comfort or chaos of homes across the country. Summer was a welcome break with hopes of a normal school reopening.

Unfortunately, that was not the case. Schools across the globe are attempting blended learning of various kinds and proportions. Synchronous and asynchronous learning are the new buzzwords in education today. I myself have spent the last seven months consulting with other professionals in the field such as teachers, principals, university deans, and more to determine exactly what that would look like along with how to actually implement it. What I found will amaze you.

There are NO best practices because NO ONE has ever done this before! Therefore, my teachers and I, along with hundreds of others are forging ahead to create our own best practices. Let me share what I have discovered: four key components.

    1. You MUST have a plan
    2. You MUST have a platform
    3. You MUST provide support
    4. You MUST be willing to adjust
  1. The PLAN begins with designing your model. At Holy Cross Lutheran Academy in Sanford, FL, we have students in person and students joining us in real time via Zoom. This presents a number of challenges. Training students and parents at home, online etiquette such as signing in on time, staying muted until the teacher calls on them, and keeping their video turned on are necessary to maintain the classroom environment. They also must learn practical technical skills such as screen sharing, using the chat function, and unmuting themselves. The plan must include limits of how much screen time and class participation is appropriate and meaningful for the at home learner. What has been effective for our elementary campus is short periods of time i.e.: 45 minutes to an hour followed by a 5-15 minute break with no more than 4 hours of total screen time a day and less for the primary grades. The plan also needs a road map. This is a weekly learning plan for the students to follow and check off as they go along. It consists of all their assignments, zoom calls, links, and additional information needed in an easy to understand format with day by day instructions.
  1. The Platform is how students access assignments and submit work as well as join live class sessions. There are numerous platforms out there. Some have free versions while others offer additional services for a fee which can at times be quite useful. There is Blackboard, Bloomz, Canvas, Class Dojo, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Moodle, Seesaw, Zoom, etc. just to name a few. If your school is already using a platform, stick with it. It is hard to teach technology use when you can’t just point your finger to it and show them. If students at home already have some familiarity with a platform, keep it. There is already a steep learning curve, do not add too much too fast.
  1. Providing Support is necessary to ensure student success and prevent teacher burnout. The first thing we did was ensure our teachers were well trained on the platforms (Zoom and Google Classroom) we chose for our integration of online learners into the classroom. Secondly, we purchased the digital courseware for all our textbooks. But the biggest impact came from hiring an online coordinator. Our online coordinator meets daily (Mon. – Thurs.) with all our online students. She spends approximately 45 minutes with each grade level reviewing lesson content, answering questions, and walking them through their assignments. She also has office hours for our online students’ parents which has developed a partnership and line of communication between home and school. Lastly, she has one dedicated day a week to assist teachers. This is extremely important as maintaining an online platform such as Google Classroom takes time and energy. She is available to help create content, post assignments, and even assist with grading for the online students. This has been a necessary GAME CHANGER.
  1. Adjust in order to succeed. Changing our online coordinator’s schedule to accommodate time for teachers was a necessary step for sustainability. One of my teachers shared with me, “I am tired; I am like “end of the year” tired, but it’s only the first quarter.” Parents, students, and teachers all have a lot at stake here. They want and need this to work. Therefore, the best thing you can do is constantly assess and reevaluate what is working and what needs your attention. Don’t be afraid to make changes for the health and wellbeing of teachers and students alike. We are charting new territory. In fact, my faculty took on the motto, “Bust the Box”. No matter what form of blended learning your school is attempting, remember the best plan is one that adapts. We keep hearing these are unprecedented times, so use it to your advantage and try the things you have only dreamed of doing. We conduct science experiments in the classroom and in students’ kitchens, we hold discussions with students joining in through video conferencing, and we build friendships by students playing games with a classmate at home. No one knows what this school year should look like. So, make it your own! We thought we would “bust the box”, little did we know there would be NO box to bust. Just a huge expanse of possibilities.

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