Midyear 2020 Conversations Check-In#Leadership
by Erin WerraRead time:
It’s safe to say the conversations we started in January are... not the conversations in the spotlight now, six months later. We will revisit the three topics for 2020 through the lens of remote learning. However, the other current events our nation is facing include a financial crisis, an anti-racist reckoning, and the uncertainty of schools opening in the fall. It’s a lot to follow, much less participate in and lead.
While this year has brought unexpected challenges to say the least, leaders all over the world are choosing to view our collective struggle as growing pains. Leadership is most crucial when times are tough, and you are most tough when leading for your students, staff, parents, and community. Go forth into the second half of the year with courage.
Can technology help with soft skills?For the majority of the spring and without much choice, teachers experimented with this question. Under the conditions of shelter-at-home orders, students and teachers found their only connection option came through devices and internet connection. Students who did not have access to these options either found free public Wi-Fi, used a school-issued hotspot, or simply weren’t able to participate.
Overwhelmingly, crisis remote learning was not anyone’s favorite method of teaching and learning. We found out Zoom calls just don’t provide the same type of social-emotional connection. We experienced a new level of screen time burnout. We realized just how much society relies on schools to provide. And schools stepped up, repurposing buses to deliver free meals to students, and distributing hotspots and devices to students in need.
The silver lining to the conversation thus far, which doesn’t always receive the attention it deserves, is the fact technology did allow us to be together when we were unable to be in each other’s presence. It’s been uniting school children with peers and teachers, grandparents with grandchildren, even affording families access to museums, zoos, story hours, and more. While technology didn’t exactly give soft skills a leg up, it at least facilitated the possibility of human connection in the first half of 2020.
Preparing for a ransomware attackCybersecurity has presented a challenge previously, but as school districts moved forward with no choice but to hold school online—a completely unprecedented challenge—data security threats exploded exponentially. Schools are a particularly attractive target for ransomware hackers, since student data is so plentiful and often so unprotected. In fact, CoSN’s annual survey revealed less than 20% of schools have a full-time employee dedicated to network security.
COVID-19 provides the perfect Trojan horse (no viral pun intended) to worm into devices and networks. Combine the unease people feel around this extremely publicized but not well understood pandemic and we get fertile ground for hackers. From contact tracing text messages to hospital data breaches, count on hackers to mine the COVID-19 crisis as much as they can to fool people into clicking.
Measuring software effectivenessHalf the year is in the rearview, which means we can learn from it (and breathe a sigh of relief before steeling ourselves for what’s to come). A study fresh off the presses (and, we should note, completed at warp speed compared to the pre-COVID era) provides a series of comparisons from schools nationwide. Some are less surprising, like the fact that remote learning was more successful in areas with robust internet connectivity. Schools in the Midwest generally provided a stronger remote learning experience, with urban schools providing a robust response as well. However, 2/3 of schools did not mention services for students with disabilities.
Ultimately, those who are gleaning information from the spring semester must take note of the crisis-response nature of remote teaching and learning. While we can learn from experiences during this time, it’s important to take the issues and shortcomings we find within the context of the larger emergency response.
What will the latter half of the year bring? While we are still grappling with many challenges, we do have one powerful tool to bring with us.
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|Erin Werra Edtech Thought Leader|