March has always signaled the beginning of the planning process for the upcoming school year. Leadership changes, budget, staffing, master calendar, senior activities for high schools, and spring break with the promise of time to hit refresh.

However, this past March has had a slinky sort of rhythm, at least on the West coast, and I suspect in other parts of the country as well. Hybrid A/B schedules for the youngest learners, followed by governor mandates for all students (if they choose) to return to part-time in person learning by post Spring break. Schools closed again with students or staff with positive Covid tests. The on and off, stretch forward, snapback has caused fatigue at all levels of the system.

As an educational leader for many years, the figurative pogo stick and forward motion was my wheelhouse. Not so for this spring, when the time change was the least of concerns for those with the mantle to make all things spring forward, happen safely. Amidst this pull forward and spring back motion that is the state of practice in many districts, there are three critical planning steps for fall that will provide the ability to spring forward in 21-22 plans.

Plan now for a remote learning option for your students

A percent of your student body and staff will not feel safe in August/September to return to in person instruction five days a week. From those that won’t take the vaccine, younger students who can’t be inoculated, multi-generational homes, unforeseen health situations. Yes, there may be parts of the country that start on a more typical calendar, but what option will you provide that meets your students and families that will enroll in other virtual learning options if their neighborhood school doesn’t and will take their FTE and contribution away from your community?

Plan to communicate to your school community now through August and beyond

If you feel like the slinky spring, think about your students and parents. Facebook fires up with every new rumor and possibility. The more in front of this key information about personalized learning options you can be, the more sustainable your remote learning program will be. Seriously contemplate that “on demand” learning is not going away. 

Stories abound about why crisis, aka distance learning, didn’t work and though true in many cases, there is a slice of your demographic that feels like they are in control of their student’s schedule, learning, and value system for the first time. Those families are far less likely to load their kids on the yellow school bus because they know now there is a different path. 

Families are shopping for school options from January through August. Offering an option, even if not fully scaffolded at this point, can be a win for those families, demonstrate your desire to meet their needs, and allow them to stay in your learning community.

Plan for dynamic vs. static

This is not an option that will have crisply defined policy and margins. It is messier than a 6.5 hr x 5 day a week schedule. There are positives and negatives.  No longer scheduling around the gym’s availability is a plus! Defining roles and responsibilities is a challenge, but forging a team that has seen the value of personalized learning for some students and believes in this modality, is true differentiation.

One size does not fit all and the industrial model of education finally has permission to craft a new season of practice. Most of virtual/online education is still within a 20 year infancy. The past year has forced the examination of static and predictable. Providing learning options for students is SEL smart, too.

Again, that demographic of students that doesn’t want to do the social scene of school has had the opportunity to thrive and be who they are without judgement or pecking order. Innovation in developing a model that works for your students and staff is the reason you are a leader. This work is much more like the pogo stick in terms of energy and forward momentum.

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By Darlene Wilgus | April 5, 2021, 11:40 am PT


Meet the Writer

Darlene has 35+ years of experience in education spanning teaching and leading private and public schools K-12. She has also served as an adjunct professor in both education and university administrative programs for George Fox, Seattle Pacific, and Heritage. Her passions lie in student-centered practices, program development, and best practices approaches for teachers to employ. Her undergrad work was at Northwest Nazarene University, MED in School Administration from Central Washington University, and her Superintendent’s license was earned through the Executive Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University.

During her tenure in alternative learning the past 14 years, she became an NBCT, led a 10 member cohort with 80% certification in year one, and facilitated two district-level program cohorts. Her focus for the past seven years became a lightning rod for today’s educational paradigm: developing and implementing a successful district online learning program.