4 Common Distance Learning Problems for Principals

by | Nov 18, 2020


As a principal, district administrator, or school leader, you may feel somewhat helpless when it comes to supporting your teachers through distance learning. It’s difficult to offer the same level and types of support through remote learning when teachers are rarely or never in the school building with you. Here are four frequently asked questions that principals ask about distance learning through the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. How can we identify students’ individual learning gaps through distance learning?

Unfortunately, our nation was not prepared for the speed and intensity with which COVID-19 hit our communities in the spring. Most school districts and states had to cancel the standardized tests normally hosted at the end of each school year. This missing data has left many school leaders feeling unsure about how to diagnose students’ academic, social emotional and behavioral needs.

In June, the Institute of Education Sciences hosted a webinar to discussUsing Assessments to Identify and Address COVID-19 Learning Gaps”. You can still watch the recorded webinar on their website and browse the accompanying study materials, but here are some of the key takeaways:

  • Principals have to rely on teachers to identify individual learning gaps by using formative assessments.Formative assessments track students’ progress through each remote learning unit so teachers know when they need to step in and offer extra support, so students won’t fall behind. Unlike summative assessments, which gauge student mastery at the end of a unit of study, formative assessments are ungraded; this allows students to provide feedback freely without fear of being penalized for knowledge gaps partway through a unit of study.
  • Principals must provide professional development to help teachers understand how to collect and use student data to address learning gaps. Norm Alerta from Cherry Creek School District explains how their district supports teachers: “[W]e’re trying to put modules together [about] how to build assessments[,] implementing a scope and sequence in…instructional units[,] how to use different types of assessments to monitor student learning. And then…how do you look at this data and figure out what it means? “
  • Principals also must reimagine professional development to meet new challenges posed by virtual learning. For example, your school or district’s professional development may need to be more collaborative. Debra Johnson from Chamberlain School District explains: “Let’s think about staff development differently[.] As…teachers need help with how they put their data together, what they may want it to look like, let us give them the help they need. They will ask good questions, and I consider them the experts with our children.”

The Center for Student Achievement Solutions can partner with your school or district’s leaders to offer customized professional development based on your teachers’ specific needs. We work collaboratively with you to find growth opportunities and provide individualized support for everyone on your team. Schedule a call with one of our expert consultants to learn more about our approach to professional development.

  1. How can we help students manage their schedules through distance learning?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, research shows that young students aren’t as good as adults at managing their time and staying motivated to complete their work. Your teachers may not know how to keep students on track with schoolwork, especially without feeling like they’re nagging or discouraging students.

Edutopia offers a few suggestions to help students develop an effective distance learning schedule:

  • Have teachers (virtually) meet with each student individually to talk them through the process of creating a schedule that will support their remote learning.
  • Make sure teachers are consistent and predictable with their own schedules. For example, a teacher may schedule all of their group video calls on Mondays and Thursdays, so students always know when to expect these activities. You may also want to ask teachers to send weekly lesson plans to parents and caregivers each weekend so caregivers can help keep students on track during the following week.
  • Ask teachers to check in with students several times during each learning unit. These check-ins can include formative assessments but should also give students the opportunity to let teachers know about external circumstances that are impacting their learning. For example, a student may have a technical issue that needs to be resolved before they can move forward in a lesson plan.
  1. How can we provide social and emotional learning for students through distance learning?

If distance-learning is new for your students, they may struggle to cope with the isolation that accompanies remote learning. Teachers who are new to virtual learning may also feel less capable of engaging students when they aren’t in a shared classroom.

Edutopia has collected advice from school leaders about how they support students’ emotional health in distance learning:

  • Ask teachers to gauge students’ emotional needs before beginning academic lessons each day. It’s easy to ask all students to share a quick update about how they’re feeling in a Google doc or private chat at the beginning of the day. Let teachers know what resources are available when certain students need individualized emotional and mental health supports.
  • Have teachers intersperse informal, fun activities to keep students engaged. Edutopia shares this example: “Lynn Gallant, an eighth-grade teacher in Ontario, Canada, says she found that weekly surprises helped. Every Friday, she offered a challenge, like scavenger hunts, dance challenges, and building blanket forts.”
  • Help teachers understand how to incorporate peer-to-peer learning, even through remote learning. Although students may not be able to share a physical classroom, they can still support each other’s learning through activities like Zoom breakout sessions and group chat discussions in Google Classroom.
  1. What types of support do teachers need during COVID-19?

Every school and district face unique challenges through remote learning. The Center for Student Achievement Solutions can work directly with your school leaders to find practical action steps you can use to boost student achievement—even during the pandemic. Here are some of the areas where we can provide professional development:

  • Evidence-based instructional strategies for teachers
  • Leadership development for principals, district staff, and other school administrators
  • Virtual learning and blended learning techniques
  • And more

Click here to learn more about our approach to professional development for educators, or schedule a free call with one of our expert consultants today.