Written by Charelene Ammons
When the firestorm called COVID-19 swept the United States and eventually our local community this year, Great Falls Public Schools complied with the governor’s lockdown order in the spring and closed schools and face-to-face classrooms. This decision required some quick responses to determine how best to deliver instruction and ensure continued student learning in spite of the lockdown.
A crisis response to remote learning was developed and refined as new challenges continued to present themselves. Lessons were definitely learned through trial and error, with staff and students “building the plane as they were flying.” This is the hallmark of any crisis response when faced with uncertainty, but lessons learned became a valuable source of information to developing intentional remote learning for this current school year.
Crisis remote learning started with an immediate need, leaving little time to plan as carefully as normally would be expected. In the spring, that sense of urgency drove administration and instructional staff to begin with simple review of already taught concepts, in order to ensure students could successfully complete work.
Initially, school closure was thought to be a temporary measure but it became evident that it was going to become the “new normal” for the remainder of the year.
The elementary K-6 use of learning packets took on a different approach as teachers attempted to move students forward with new learning.
As a result, intentional remote learning in the new school year began with the recognition that students need instruction and not just opportunity to complete work.
While concept reviews a part of the learning cycle, students need to progress with new content. Good instruction for new content includes a teacher delivering a lesson through modeling, showing, demonstrating and providing guided practice before asking students to show independence with the work.
While K-6 elementary packets were revised in the spring with each new round to reflect more instruction, families struggled to keep up with the demands of work, multi-aged school children, and dealing with the stress of staying close to home 24-7.
Intentional remote learning worked to address this by expanding options for teachers to deliver instruction and alleviate the burden on families. Throughout the summer, GFPS administrators sought out and explored solutions, especially in light of public demand for remote learning options in the fall.
Crisis remote learning and intentional remote learning both want solutions, but with a different intention.
Crisis response seeks the quickest and easiest solution, but intentional response strives for the most effective solution. This fall, as families continued to sign up for remote learning, GFPS took its mission of successfully educating students to navigate their futures to heart.
With enrollment numbers for remote learning in mind, elementary K-6 and secondary 7-12 departments strategically chose online learning platforms to best deliver instruction for the significantly higher than usual number of students. Recruitment and assignment of teaching staff was also deliberately planned to meet the needs of students and the demands of accreditation.
Intentional remote learning is about delivering the highest quality of instruction, in spite of less than ideal circumstances.
Remote learning is not the best possible teaching or learning situation, but with experience and careful planning, GFPS continues to strive for intentionality rather than crisis response.
One of its belief statements is “District programs and staff are flexible, adaptable and strive to provide choices that meet the changing needs of all students,” and intentional remote learning is a demonstration of this belief.
Remote learning is more rigorous this year with the goal of offering high quality education, as our students deserve the opportunity to be taught and taught well.
Together, we can work with intention towards that goal and move away from crisis response, upholding yet another GFPS belief: “Quality education is a partnership of students, staff, family, and community engagement.”
Partnering together with intention to see success for our students is a worthwhile endeavor, reducing the impact of the firestorm called COVID-19.