Schools and the Space-Time Continuum
By LeiLani Cauthen
It’s almost Fall, and the clock is ticking. Talk of time and space are swirling all around us, and confusion is rampant.
Some states aren’t really open yet, and others are closing down. In the education biz, it feels like the Wild West out there. Discussions are happening everywhere about how to pull this hybrid learning model off. Some districts are just now getting around to surveying parents. Will it work for parents if we open only two days a week for elementary and two days for middle school? How are we going to do this? It is a tough time to make all these decisions.
There are so many important conversations out there, like contact tracing. It’s a scary term, but when it comes to health, it gets a little less scary, and it’s very important. Some districts are turning to micro-schooling. They are leasing some local retail spaces to put separate, smaller entities in place, so the kids are more separated. Maybe this group goes over here, and this group goes over there. So suddenly, the network complications take on whole new meaning because you’re not just using your own buildings.
You might be using multiple buildings that you hadn’t used before as part of your extended campus. How are you going to disinfect areas? How about separation and mask-wearing? Different states have different rules; kids under 12 in certain states don’t have to wear masks, but all the teachers do. Or maybe classrooms can only house up to 15 kids. And there’s more.
Buses and social distancing adds a huge fly in the transportation ointment. How do you keep the kindergarteners apart? They like to run up to each other and hug very hard. We had one superintendent just tell us when they put their kindergarteners on zoom meetings together for the first time, they all just got on screen and cried. They were so happy to see each other.
Scheduling options are all over the board nationwide as well, having to do the four-day week thing or going to A/B schedules, either by grade categories across a week or separate weeks. Some places are using a two-day model. The impact of partial week scheduling on parents is not known yet. There are a lot of places, even during quarantine, that still had to have a place for the first responders to send their kids because they were going to work. So, some of that’s already been happening. Then there’s the question of day-spacing of elementary kids going back first, then middle and then high schoolers, who spend much less time on campus.
There is the idea of homerooms or houses. Like in the Harry Potter world, cohorting or breaking grades into subunits of grades or subunits of multiple grades. It minimizes contact with the other cohorts, having people come into particular cohorts only through one door and exiting through another door, assigned by a doorway. Lindsey Smith, on one of our webinars, shared their planning all the way down to minutes by subject in remote learning. It was very sophisticated work. Kimberly Robinson from Prince George’s County also shared their alternate schedules happening across the district based on the school. It’s pretty wild stuff. The complexity and repercussions on curriculum and technology are huge.
We played our Personalized Learning Twister game at our national gathering in Dallas this past year. It is a snapshot of what the future looks like for real hybridization and “uberization” of learning all the way down to the personalized level. The change in structure, space, and time is huge. When we first presented this, we had no idea that changes would be coming so fast and furiously.
When you look at your schedule options, you think about one essential thing, which is a school needs to have appeal. You need to have people want to be there. When you think about options and working parents, that time issue is the fact that when both parents work, they need someplace to put their child. They may not have a relative in the same city or anyone they trust. So that’s going to be huge.
These are simply human challenges. The complexity on the tech side has been multiplied exponentially. Scheduling the access for so many combinations and permutations will be a logistical miracle. We still have the challenges of connecting every family with sufficient bandwidth and a sufficient number of devices.
With all these changes, there is only one thing I feel certain about. We can do this. During my seven years conducting on-site regional and national events, I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of superintendents, state directors, curriculum directors, technology directors, principals, an