Guiding Principles for Success in Remote Learning and Lessons for the Future
by Benjamin Jackson, Head of School
As students at North Yarmouth Academy (NYA) were wrapping up their annual Winter Carnival festivities on March 6, they were looking forward to spring break and fully expected to see everyone back on campus in two weeks. Few, if any, institutions were prepared for the historic changes that were about to occur in education.
As North Yarmouth Academy developed its response to the pandemic, we did so with three major principles guiding our decision-making: to provide for the health and safety of our students, families, faculty, and staff; to provide as much continuity as possible in our programs through remote learning; and to provide for continuity in the school’s operations.
In a time of great uncertainty, an institution needs to focus most closely on matters within their control. To NYA, this meant a commitment to delivering the most effective remote learning platform possible for our students. A common goal across all of the school’s divisions, primary–postgraduate, was to provide a system that accommodated a dynamic continuation of the program and created opportunities to foster important social connections during times of social distancing.
An instant transition from on-campus to remote learning is a daunting task for any school. Fortunately, NYA had several essential components in place to position the Academy for success. First, all faculty and students in grades 5–PG already possessed the Microsoft Office suite. Contained in this package is the Microsoft Teams for Education Classroom module, which serves as the platform for our remote learning in grades 5–PG. While teacher professional development and student education was necessary, a familiarity with the tools eased this transition. Zoom served as a platform for our Lower School students, as this resource was more appropriate for this age group. Teachers and students quickly came up to speed with this new resource.
In making the transition, perhaps NYA’s greatest key to success was the existing culture of its community. As a small, independent school, NYA is naturally positioned to be flexible and adapt as circumstances warrant. The NYA community consists of faculty, staff, students, and families who care deeply about their child’s education. The faculty is creative and innovative and quickly shifted to new, remote learning platforms. Our students are curious, flexible, eager, and adjusted admirably to learning from home. Throughout, our families have been extremely supportive of the transition.
In transitioning to our new platforms, the following guidelines proved valuable and can serve as lessons for any institution:
- Remember the mission: NYA focused on those ideals that are most important to our students, providing a challenging academic program in a supportive environment. Further, in addition to academic courses, work in the visual arts, music, and clubs continues.
- Provide technical support and professional development: We are attentive to ensuring our students and faculty have the proper resources and training.
- Maintain a set schedule: Students are supported by a structured schedule throughout the day. Our schedule provides a combination of synchronous and asynchronous experiences. Synchronous experiences are “live” classes where students and teachers engage directly with one another. Asynchronous experiences are times where the students have work to complete on their own. Times are set for students to reach out for individual or small group help from their teachers. The new environment requires teachers to engage differently. To that end, not every class meets live every day. This helps reduce screen time and recognizes the nuances that exist between classroom instruction and online instruction.
- Encourage social connections: The schedule contains built-in time for the students to connect socially in class, through school assemblies, and peer to peer.
- Provide one-on-one support: The schedule builds in times for one-on-one and small group support.
- Maintain consistency: There is a clarity of expectations and delivery from teachers. All teachers are following the same schedule and utilizing the same platforms with the students. Having different platforms, irregular meeting times, and different teacher expectations would create confusion for the students and add to their stress.
- Uphold high standards: While providing a climate of understanding and support, NYA continues to hold our students to high expectations and is moving forward with the curriculum.
- Remember wellness: The current situation is new for all of us, and it is natural to see a range of emotions in students and adults alike. We are aware that students react differently to these changes. Children’s responses may range from an excitement over their new learning environments and connecting with friends over social media to a deep sense of loss from their normal routines. As students think about family and loved ones, they may struggle to fully understand what is happening, which may lead to heightened stress and anxiety. It is important to provide support and resources for those students who may be struggling. It’s also important to encourage and foster physical activity. In addition to making our counselor available, we also have resources for physical and mental wellness on NYA’s COVID-19 Healthy Mind and Body webpage.
- Cultivate flexibility: Remain nimble and flexible to adapt to teacher and student feedback and pursue ways to better serve our students. Surveying students, teachers, and families is an effective means to gather valuable feedback and keep all school constituencies engaged in the process. As we are all learning, an institution needs to be open to thoughtful, strategic changes in schedule and delivery of remote learning in response to feedback.
In addition to serving our students today, we are mindful of what can be learned for the future. As challenging as this crisis is for everyone, silver linings exist. A strong community working together can overcome the greatest challenges, and because of this experience, NYA will emerge stronger than it has ever been. Together, we are learning important lessons that will serve adults and kids for a lifetime.
May 26, 2020
North Yarmouth Academy is an independent, college preparatory, coeducational school for toddlers to students in grade twelve plus a post-graduate program. Enrollment is of 360+ students. NYA is located in the coastal village of Yarmouth, Maine, 10 minutes from Portland and two hours north of Boston. Since 1814, NYA has fostered integrity, character, and intellect in its students. For more information, please contact NYA at 207-846-9051 or firstname.lastname@example.org.