ATLIS Virtual Town Hall, 29 April 2020: Leadership and Contingency Planning, Holding Onto Innovation

This archive continues to record and summarize the key ideas and questions shared by technology leaders in independent schools from around the world. On April 29, the group openly shared their contingency planning, questions on their minds for next year. They began to reflect on what they wished to hold onto for the future from their transitions during the coronavirus crisis, and they shared numerous ideas for reaching out to parents and maintaining school culture. -- SD [25 minute read; 1 hour video]

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ATLIS Virtual Town Hall
April 29, 2020
Video Archive


As we begin to think go closing one academic year and plan for opening another, schools are still struggling with managing multiple options. They are starting to plan beyond the day-to-day and the end of the current academic year. Plans include those for summer PD for faculty, opening of school in the fall, and delivery of content under less than optimal, full-on F2F circumstances seem to be perpetually on old.  At this point, we have more questions than answers.

Leadership and Contingency Planning

How are school technology leaders dealing with planning for the future under these circumstances? Here are some ideas on what you can do when everything seems out of your hands.

  • Take part in an area task force to discuss responses to your state’s evolving plans for re-opening
  • Allow yourself the room to wait until new administrators are on hand, if you are in the midst of a transition.
  • Conduct a survey about what school could look like if it is delivered virtually in the fall
  • Consider the possibility of physical or online classes, or both, for summer
  • Consider charging a different rate for remote vs. other learning, and think about what this would be
  • Weigh the school’s liability if physical sessions go into place
  • What if 20% of teachers have to stay at home?
  • What about people who don’t feel safe? Can we make employees come? 
  • What equipment would be in a classroom next year?
  • Image a school schedule split by subject matter (full days divided accordingly and more Project-Based)
  • What will the classroom need to be equipped to meet our needs in the fall?
  • Create different prototypes for how school can be delivered next year. For example, 50% of classes on campus and the other half remote and conferencing into the classroom.  

We asked, "Are these conversations taking place at your school, and are you a part of them?" There was a general feeling expressed by this group that some leaders just don’t want to face the possibilities of what the future might hold. Some were actively and directly involved in all of the contingency plans for their schools and many were not. However there are more questions than answers on many of our tech leaders' minds.

What Questions Are You Asking About Next Year?

  • Will we open as virtual or F2F?
  • Can we even have Boarders at all?
  • What will class size look like?
  • We’re definitely going over budget!
  • How can we equip our teachers to work in a blended mode with some students at home and some in the classroom?
  • What does a post-quarantine school (and society) look like?
  • Do we push our start date up earlier so we can build in time for a second wave of the virus?
  • How do we distribute devices to students at the start of the year if we are online from the get go?
  • Can international students get visas? 
  • What will be the summer melt as the economy tanks further? 
  • What percentage of our students and faculty will be remote as opposed to on campus? And how do I create the tech footprint to support that?
  • What are going to be the physical restrictions that we would have to plan around?
  • What equipment do we need to support teleteaching in each classroom?
  • If we open remote, how do we onboard new faculty? students? families?
  • How best to approach blended learning to meet the needs of students on campus and those off campus?
  • How do we beef up everyone’s project management skills immediately?
  • How do we switch from emergency remote learning to true hybrid, blended, or distance learning?
  • Will school be safe to start for teachers and students?  Would teachers feel pressure to teach even if they fall into a group that feels vulnerable to the virus. What about parents who don't feel comfortable sending their kids to the physical space? How do we implement such a hybrid?
  • We pivoted once we had already created classroom culture and exceptions. How do we start the year remote and build this in a remote setting?
  • All teachers would benefit from training about teaching virtually. The tech tools are easy to learn. The art of teaching virtually is missing for many teachers who have just shifted their in-class to virtual and not adapted to a new environment.

What are some of the innovations you will want to hold onto?

  • The chat feature in teams is useful to reach out to kids, whether asking for them to quietly hang back after a Zoom class or to text them about missing work throughout the day. This is where they live.
  • Building an online teaching portal where we can keep everything in one place
  • Hoover Chan: “This is something that I've been passionate about. This choice of online, F2F, synchronous/asynchronous, etc. I think they're all needed and fit particularly well  even from a multiple intelligences perspective. I'd want to have all of these tools available.
  • For staff, we had been offering Lunch, Learn and Lead PD sessions two days a week. Now we continue to do this each week online.
  • We moved all continuing non-academic activities into "The Hub,”  a place in our LMS to communicate opportunities with students and families.

Our conversation shifted to the present, as our participants discussed current plans for content delivery in case of teacher absences and other topics claiming their attention right now. An enormous outpouring of ideas and sharing followed.

How are schools planning for content delivery if someone gets ill?

  • Arranging for more team teaching.
  • Train subs in Zoom.
  • Make use of staff and faculty who have less to do now; they can help teachers manage at home students if they are also teaching on campus.

How are you checking in with families?

  • Nurses are calling staff members as a wellness check.
  • Administrative team has divided up to check in on families.
  • Weekly temperature check surveys.
  • Advisors or other staff are calling families.
  • Weekly webinars from the HOS and Assistant HOS.
  • The Admissions Office is checking in.
  • Grade-level coffees are being held with families.
  • Admin team is working with parent group to identify families in need and reach out specifically.
  • Working with faculty to create opportunities for small breakout rooms for quick check-ins. Everyone misses the hallways where we just stop and chat with each other. And every time we get a small breakout room of 4 or 5 people, the conversation flows much more freely. It’s replenishing to lots of folks!
  • We are doing bi-weekly surveys with parents and administrators are following up with
  • We still hold virtual chapel. Our All School Chapel is next week.
  •  We continued with school assemblies, grade-level assemblies, community time, after 3:00 pm, there are activities hosted by teachers and older students (all virtually).
  • The majority of our interactions with families has been through the homeroom teachers.
  • Our advancement chair has reached out to families asking for things like a joke of the day -- students send in their video and it gets posted to social media.

How are you trying to maintain school culture?

  • School traditions have all been moved online -- some have been successful and some have been flops. Sometimes students think we are trying too hard. Perhaps there is a lesson learned here about acknowledging the current circumstances and not pretending they don’t exist.
  • A private community calendar allows us to post new opportunities for students to connect, for example, in a virtual study hall and other kinds of gatherings.
  • We hope to hold some type of on-campus photo op for seniors in caps and gowns and other school traditions.
  • School teams (US, MS, All-School) have provided great support for faculty and staff with social challenges, meetings, entertaining videos. House Teams meet in small groups.
  • This week, we are running a week-long virtual Field Day, which is one of our big events in the spring.
  • We have Friday Spirit days, a community calendar with extra options, online clubs, virtual lunches and study halls.
  • Weekly virtual Bingo night, parent teas, yoga for families.
  • Virtual new family events to strengthen our mentor pairings.
  • Students created a  YouTube channel to help keep it together.
  • We even did Student government elections virtually. 
  • Virtual snack tables for our LS kids.
  • We are hosting Declaration Day for seniors to Zoom. We have done virtual plays and talent nights. We even had a back-to-school night on Zoom!
  • Campus-wide fitness challenges and weekly performing and visual arts master classes.
  • Lunch with the Head of School weekly for faculty.
  • Students are taking upon themselves to create virtual clubs.

What can summer in-house PD look like?

  • Will we be offering classes, and/or or required faculty meetings over the summer?
  • Our school provides summer grants for school work. This year it is all online, and everyone is required to take something. We are surveying interest and will have different faculty presenting the most popular topics. We also have some teachers taking GOA summer PD classes.

Any idea on devices for preschoolers? 

  • iPads, Center-sets for PK-1st and class sets for 2-5th grades
  • 1:1 iPads for PK3, PK4, and K
  • iPads for PK family owned), implementing SeeSaw 

What is your school doing to help keep tech leaders (and yourself) sane?

Technology leaders are feeling caught between a rock and a hard place. Pressure is building to create the right technology landscape for the 2020-2021 school year, but other school leaders are not always there with the guidance or direction they need. How do you respond?

  • You have to do it now and justify it later.
  • You have to recognize that some leaders are terrified and others are leading well.
  • Making a decision is better than no decision.
  • Future planning requires us to be agile. Every day is a start-up. We must still try to plan for the future, even if it is all out of our control. It’s not useful to look at the news, which just intensifies the uncertainty.
  • Stay present within your community as a tech leader. Encourage parents to stay present as well.
  • Working on house projects.
  • Faculty happy hours
  • Morning prayer.
  • Exercise and yoga.
  • More walking, more sleep.
  • Mindfulness meetings.
  • Waffle Wednesday is the best! Today, our chef shared his recipe for his Wednesday Waffles!
  • We are holding a cooking class online on Monday afternoons.
  • Once a week, we buy takeout for our faculty from a local restaurant.
  • Hide self view on Zoom. It definitely helps with fatigue.
  • Practice “pragmatic optimism.”

Problems We’re Still Solving

  • Equity issues of bandwidth and devices
  • Planning for options A, B, and C all at once
  • Providing the right support for parents
  • Setting boundaries and expectations with adults regarding being "always on"
  • Looking for quality PD for faculty on delivering online instruction

Resources Shared

Greg Bamford, It’s Time to Design for Resilience, Blog, 24 April 2020.

DataLab at Tufts

Mia Major, How to Plan and Execute a Virtual Graduation Experience that Truly Honors Seniors, Finalsite Blog, 9 April 2020.

Edward J. Maloney and Joshua Kim, 15 Fall Scenarios, Inside Higher Ed, 22 April 2020.

David Rauf, Delivery Delays Likely for Chromebooks, iPads Under COVID-19, Analyst PredictsEducation Week, 27 April 2020.

Glen Whitman and Ian Kellerher, Neuroteach: Brain Science and the Future of Education 

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