School districts are grappling with how to resume school safely in the fall. I’ve followed international news about how schools in Europe and Aisa are reopening slowly. Schools are implementing a range of hybrid schedules to reduce the number of students in a classroom at one time. Schools are experimenting with a variety of alternative schedules.
I am concerned about the number of schools in the United States that have not articulated a clear plan for reopening. I realize schools are facing immense pressure from all sides. I do not envy school leadership and the tough decisions they have to make. That said, whatever shape the school schedule takes teachers will be expected to “make it work.” Without a clear picture of what fall will look like, many teachers are feeling anxious, scared, and paralyzed. If they are going to use the summer to plan and prepare for fall, they need a clear picture of what to expect.
What I want to avoid is a situation where teachers are presented with an alternative schedule in August and given a handful of professional development days to figure out how to adjust a semester’s worth of curriculum for a hybrid schedule. Teachers will likely be expected to engage students at least part time online, which may also require that teachers spend time this summer engaged in professional learning focused on online pedagogy and technology training.
The two schedules below may hold promise for schools looking to welcome students back in the fall while prioritizing the health and safety of students and staff. I realize that every alternative schedule has drawbacks and will not please everyone, but schools need to decide on a strategy and move forward.
Schedule 1 has the student population divided into two groups: Group A and Group B. This way, 50% of the total student population is on campus at any one time allowing for social distancing. Group A and Group B would spend half of their day on campus attending the face-to-face portion of their classes. One group would begin the day at school attending classes from 8-11 AM, and the second group would participate in face-to-face classes from 12-3 PM. When students are not physically on campus attending class, they would be engaged in self-paced online learning either from home or in a supervised location away from home. This schedule reserves Wednesdays for teacher preparation and deep cleaning.
Even though this schedule has students on campus attending class four of five days each week, it is unlikely that secondary students could take the same number of courses on this schedule. Schools may need to get creative when it comes to their course catalog. Some schools are extending the length of classes on this modified schedule to limit student movement and condense a year’s worth of curriculum into a semester.
Another option is to supplement the blended learning courses that combine face-to-face and online learning with entirely online courses. In the past, schools have offered online courses to help students pursue credit recovery or take advanced coursework not available on campus. For example, my daughter is enrolled in one online advanced math course next year because there are not enough students at the school in need of this course to offer it in a traditional format. Schools could provide students with the option to supplement their face-to-face learning with an online course (or courses) that they could work on during the Wednesday “non-student” day. Schools could partner with an online institution to offer these supplementary courses or train teachers who are immune-compromised to teach these courses from home.
Schedule 2 also divides the school population into two groups: Group A and Group B. Group A attends face-to-face classes from 8-3 PM on Monday and Tuesday and learns online Wednesday-Friday. Group B engages in online learning Monday-Wednesday and attends face-to-face classes on Thursday and Friday. This schedule would limit the total number of people on campus on a given day, but it would be more challenging for families in terms of childcare because students are attending school two days and learning online for three days each week.
The aspect of both of these schedules that I appreciate from an educator’s perspective is the non-student Wednesday. This day provides teachers with time to design the online learning portions of their classes and offer virtual office hours for students who need additional support. Regardless of the hybrid schedule that a school selects, teachers will likely need to invest significant time reimagining their courses. Leadership must build this time into the teachers’ workday. Teachers will also benefit from continued opportunities to collaborate and learn to improve their blended learning courses.
If your school has adopted a hybrid schedule they plan to pilot in the fall, please take a moment to share the plan here so we can crowdsource a collection of alternative schedules.