Opinion Blog

Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

The Key to Getting Hybrid Schooling Right

By Rick Hess — June 29, 2020 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This fall, in many (or most) places, schools will operate in some form of hybrid model. Students will likely attend school for portions of the week or a shortened school day, meaning that remote learning will continue to be part of the picture. That is sure to summon frustrated sighs from parents, students, and educators who emerged from this spring deeply disenchanted with remote education. Despite the valid concerns and obvious challenges, too much of the discussion about distance education has featured bland assertions that schools just need to do it “better.”

Truly doing remote learning better will require much more than platitudes about additional training and better tech; it’ll require rethinking how educators go about their work. Beyond all the practical questions about access, devices, and curricula, what matters most will be what teachers and school staff actually do with their time.

After all, teachers perform scores of tasks in the course of a typical school day. They lecture. They facilitate discussions. They grade quizzes. They fill out forms. They counsel distraught kids. When I ask teachers to list what they do in a typical day, it’s no trick at all for a group to quickly generate a list of 60 or more tasks. Recent research by Matt Kraft and Manuel Monti-Nussbaum on Providence, Rhode Island shows just how many disruptions teachers really encounter—with local teachers suffering 2,000 interruptions a year, costing nearly two weeks of class time.

No one believes that all the tasks teachers perform are equally valuable—nor that all of these tasks benefit equally from hand-on-shoulder interaction. Yet, when I work with teachers, they almost invariably report that they’ve never been part of a disciplined effort to unpack what they do each day in order to focus more energy on the things that matter most.

While always significant, the importance of distinguishing high-value from low-value work grows exponentially when we introduce remote learning, where teacher interaction with students has been slashed. It’s a mistake to spend class time doing things that can be done just as well remotely. If teachers only have limited time in classrooms—or online chats—with a student, it’s vital that the time be used wisely and for things that really benefit from face-to-face intimacy.

After all, relationships are much more important for some instructional tasks than for others. For instance, assessing a child’s grasp of math operations works pretty well as an automated task. Figuring out where a kid is stuck, though, benefits immensely from direct student-teacher interaction. And, when a student is growing frustrated with a tricky idea, in-person contact can make a huge difference.

I’ll try to be a little more concrete: Consider a middle school language arts class. There are books to read. These can be read remotely. There are quizzes to give. These can be administered and graded remotely. There are essays to write, critique, and discuss. Such work can benefit enormously from one-on-one conversation, ideally in person—but with tele-sessions a workable facsimile. There are conversations to be had and reading strategies to be taught and explored; things that lend themselves to in-class discussion. Depending on pedagogy and context, this breakdown may be all wrong. That’s fine. The key is to develop a coherent vision of what gets done where and why.

As schools try to accommodate staff who are at heightened risk from COVID-19, thoughtfully design hybrid programming, and provide students with the supports they need, this kind of deliberate unpacking can help faculty succeed—and provide students with more of what they need. It may mean designating one teacher as the homework coach tasked with supporting students while they’re at home so that in-school teachers can focus on lesson planning and in-person instruction.

By the way, given concerns about student well-being and social-emotional health, note that all this applies equally to nurses and counselors. A counselor may be hugely effective at helping a student with scheduling or CTE requirements via virtual sessions; the story is different when a student is dealing with emotional trauma. Handing paperwork and routine duties off to dedicated remote staff can allow in-school staff to offer students relationship-based support.

None of this is uniquely about the response to COVID-19. This is really just about good teaching and organizing schools to serve students—something I fear gets far too little attention. Even before the pandemic, we needed to unpack and rethink what we’re asking educators to do. Now, it’s taken on an even greater import.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP