In March, like so many other schools in the state of Florida and across the nation, Liza Jackson Preparatory School in Fort Walton Beach responded to the pandemic by closing its doors to in-person learning while embarking on a virtual learning program. The transition was decisive and it was sudden — we left for spring break at our normal time, having no idea that we’d be unable to return to the building for months.
As you can imagine, that change had the potential to be disruptive. As a public charter school serving over 800 K-8 students, we had to take charge of managing the change process on our own. We had to make the best decisions for our students, communicate to families, and in the meantime determine how best to prepare our teachers for the new reality.
Our 3-ring origins
Most schools understand the benefits of curriculum mapping, even if they haven’t yet found the time to follow through on it. However, even for those who have done so, it often looks very similar to the way we used to do it. That means a lot of paper.
We used to enter everything by hand, over spreadsheets and more spreadsheets, manually aligning curriculum to the relevant standards. We would then share it with each grade level, as our school is centered on groupings, teams, and collaboration.
When it came time to use the curriculum maps to inform lesson planning, we would find it in one place: a three-ring binder, up on a shelf in our office, which had a lot of good information but remained static once compiled. It was certainly better than nothing, and was the result of much hard work, but mostly it remained on the shelf.
The introduction of online curriculum maps
Thanks to the perseverance of a sixth-grade Spanish teacher, we began the process of taking our curriculum maps online four years ago. We began using Chalk, a planning and analytics platform that brings curriculum, instruction and assessment together. Everything is accessible online. Before long, what began as “dusty documents on a shelf” became a living guide — a functional plan — with ongoing input and collaboration.
While we didn’t anticipate a pandemic years ago when we started this process, it paid off in a big way when COVID-19 arrived. If we didn’t have our curriculum maps and instructional plans available online, instruction may have come to a standstill when we moved to remote learning. Teachers would have had no way to track standards, match up lesson plans and or keep students on track during the building closures.
When we first started to plan for online instruction, we were able to lean on our curriculum maps in Chalk. This combined with our use of Markboard, another part of the Chalk suite, which integrates attendance, lesson plans and grades together with the curriculum maps. Despite the (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime disruptions of the spring, we felt that our teachers and students didn’t miss a beat.
Lessons learned on lesson plans
Here are a few lessons we learned about using Chalk to make planning and instruction more effective.
- Access information any time, in real-time. This is a big one that came into play when we had to transition to remote learning, but is just as relevant when you have educators spread across a building or a district, all trying to align to the same standards. Putting curriculum into a functional online platform — meaning one that keeps you up-to-date with meaningful real-time data that guides your actions — makes a difference in ensuring continuity and equity in your instruction.
- Plan ahead and plan together. Teachers used to only share one lesson plan at a time; now, we can share many weeks’ worth at a time! Teachers can collaborate and share — when one is typing and doing a lesson plan, it frees up the other teachers’ time. The taxing clerical work is reduced and work is spread among faculty members.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. The use of a saved history is an often-underestimated advantage to an online approach. By having access to last year’s data, teachers can build upon what worked, rather than starting over. It allows for more focus on other areas, such as remaining aware of the standards and improving on areas that didn’t go as planned.
Although we’ve now returned to in-person classroom learning, it’s essential to reflect on how we managed, survived and thrived in keeping our students on a successful learning path during the pandemic. With uncertainty still in the air, we can take some key lessons from these past several months. Learning and individualized student management remain part of the process as we grow.
Michele Bailey is the Middle School Assistant Principal and Leiah Coraine, NBCT, the Elementary Assistant Principal for Liza Jackson Preparatory School in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. They use Chalk, a planning and analytics platform that brings curriculum, instruction and assessment together.
Like this article? Sign up for our Edtech news briefing to get news like this in your inbox, or check out all of SmartBrief’s education newsletters, covering career and technical education, educational leadership, math education and more.
More from SmartBrief Education:
- Free resources for educators during the coronavirus pandemic
- Distance learning while respecting students’ home lives
- 8 ways to make vocabulary instruction more effective