ATLIS Virtual Town Hall, March 10, 2021: The BIG Portal Shifts with Special Guest Will Richardson

Our latest Virtual Town Hall introduced our audience to Will Richardson, keynote speaker for ATLIS 2021: Undaunted, and launched a discussion of the major shifts in our schools over the course of the past year.  Next we wondered what you think will stick after the pandemic has passed. We then ask what is the best vision of schools we can imagine for the future and how technology can undergird the vision we share. - SD [10-minute read; 1-hour video]

  • May 19, 1 pm Eastern: Save the date for our next Virtual Town Hall. Registration is required for new Virtual Town Hall participants and is free and open to all. If you have previously registered, you will automatically receive an invitation to join. 
  • Complete Virtual Town Hall Video Archive (Wakelet)

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ATLIS Virtual Town Hall
March 10, 2021|


Special guest Will Richardson, keynote for the ATLIS 2021: Undaunted Annual, suggested the metaphor of a portal for understanding where schools are at this moment in time, as we sit in the transition space that lies between one world, our old, pre-COVID world, and a new world. He challenges us to think about how we can reset and reinvent in this moment. We must keep in mind that to begin this process of reinventing, we must first take a closer look at where we are. “Not knowing” is okay, but we must also be in this moment and make sense of it before we focus on whatever awaits us down the road, a sentiment that he fleshes out in his recent blog post for ATLIS, "One More Time. Let’s Not Go Back to Normal."

Learn more about what we need to be thinking about in the coming months as we transition through the portal in this free ebook from the BIG Questions Institute.

So, naturally, we were asked to define learning. Here’s a sampling of what we came up with:

  • exploring things that challenge and interest you.
  • obtaining any type of information, experience, or idea that you didn't know before
  • growing to be your best self
  • making sense of the world and your place in it and figuring out the skills you need to fully understand how you fit in
  • the process of discovery leading to understanding
  • the ability to grasp a concept and transfer that understanding to something new
  • adapting to the world around you
  • a journey of discovery that leads to action or change
  • acquiring new skills or perhaps struggling to gain new skill
  • thinking about new things in new ways, figuring things out
  • gaining control of something, whether it be a fact, an idea, a skill, or something else
  • using what you know to expand and augment your understanding of the world

Richardson called 2020 “a profound learning moment” that required “real-time problem solving,” a time when there was a “dissonance” between our experience with learning in this moment and how we frame up learning in schools for students.” Schools now have a chance to build the conditions in classrooms for learning to happen.

Many of these ideas can be found in the new ebook available from the BIG Questions Institute, 9 BIG Questions Schools Must Answer to Avoid Going “Back to Normal “ (*Especially Since “Normal” Wasn’t That Great to Begin With). One participant commented, “
My main takeaway from the BQ book was the idea that sometimes the best time to make major change is during a time of adversity.”


What is the main shift you’ve experienced at your school -- good or bad -- that you believe is here to stay?

  • Flexibility -- We have a unique open window that requires us to be flexible. How do we capitalize on it? How can we use this window of flexibility to look at the year ahead?
  • Focus on the social emotional aspects of learning -- We are asking, “Are students belonging in the spaces for learning that the school provides, especially if we look at this through a technology lens?
  • Virtual meetings -- These provide the opportunity to offer drop-in office hours for students and teachers, as well as some special programming that claims more attentive interaction and less distraction than an in-person school space would provide. Virtual gatherings are better attended and engender meaningful interactions.
  • An awareness that infrastructure matters -- The immediate need for a strong response means attention to getting stuff done. Even if people may be looking over your shoulder, they are providing support. Users are learning the functions of the various platforms.
  • Expectations have changed across the board. Kids, teachers, and parents are all using technology with more confidence and success. They’ve learned they don’t have to have control over every little thing. 
  • Community was the word of the year. We have a better understanding of what community is and we have an eye on what we want it to be. 
  • Online/virtual learning is here to stay.
  • Tech skills have leveled up for everyone.  You really need to have those fundamental skills down.  
  • Formative assessment during class (for example, using Pear Deck)


  • Imagine the change in attitudes towards assignments and assessments, with students going at their own pace and working towards mastery with flexible due dates.
  • On the teacher side, perhaps there will be a more progressive pedagogical approach. One the student side, we can shift them out of their comfort levels and expose them to new and better opportunities for learning. 


  • We need to manage expectations from the get go. Schools must be realistic about what their infrastructures can accomplish. Tech is not a magic bullet, and it also can’t happen overnight. The Internet and wifi are finite resources, even if we think of scheduling all the kids on computers all the time. We don't need to keep pouring money into things that aren’t solving every problem.
  • We’ll need more subscriptions to larger, higher quality, community spaces. 
  • We’ll need to address devices and access.
  • We’ll need to attend to security and privacy. 
  • I’m concerned about the mental health of faculty. How can we adapt to this new vision and feel a little more mentally healthy?
We need boundaries around sending emails at night. 
We need to be able to work remotely without it being questioned. 
Use Sortd to create a to-do list out of emails
Hybrid puts a strain on faculty, and it’s not good for learning either.
  • Managing software via a spreadsheet helps leverage users to share what they are using and how they are using it throughout the school year. Analytics allow for better budgeting and planning, and the spreadsheet creates a tracking process. We can’t fund every app for every teacher’s dream use. 
  • Teachers must now fill out a form to request new software. A workable number of teachers needs to be interested for us to be able to subscribe -- there is some internal pressure for them to rally the interest in using the tool before we subscribe.
  • It has been necessary to draw a line for the tools the tech department will pay for and what the division or department must pay for.
  • Professional development has evolved into a weekly tech update.


  • Hourly employees are being overtaxed, yet overtime is NOT allowed for Help Desk hourly workers -- this is a Federal requirement meant to protect them, but it is causing problems for school technology personnel. HR says that Help Desk must be hourly. In some cases, Help Desk duties have been distributed to everyone on the Technology Team. 
  • Job descriptions have had to be rewritten.
  • Bonuses need to be given to recognize the overtime hours being spent on Help Desk tickets.
  • Boundaries need to be set for providing help. We are human, yet everybody needs tech all the time. In some cases, technology leaders are running interference for Help Desk issues and triaging to protect their teams.
  • It may be important to track the additional support hours you have invested directly in working with families, especially those who are remote. If the school is investing in remote learning, they will need to invest in the support required to maintain it.ATLIS 2021 Annual Conference.
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