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A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

School & District Management Opinion

Will the Hybrid School Concept Continue After COVID-19?

By Peter DeWitt — March 03, 2021 7 min read
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If I knew then what I know now, I would have invested in toilet paper, Peloton, Zoom, and Amazon exactly one year ago when COVID-19 became a pandemic. Unfortunately, I didn’t invest in any of those options because I was too busy trying to figure out how to transform my in-person workshops into remote workshops, which was the only option we seemed to have back then.

I was in triage mode.

Prior to COVID-19, Lenhoff et al. (2019) used the phrasing “triage, transition and transformation,” to describe how community-based advocacy coalitions help urban schools move from triage to transition mode, and then on to transformation mode where students can exceed their own expectations. Triage, transition and transformation took on a whole new meaning during COVID-19. We are all most familiar with triage. Triage was the experience so many teachers, students, leaders and families were experiencing because they were living moment by moment try to figure out how to engage in pandemic teaching and learning. Over the weeks and months after COVID-19 became a pandemic, many school communities moved to transition, which is where they honed in on what was working well and started to find creativity and less chaos. Transformation has only happened for some school communities. Communities in transformation are the ones who found what works, got rid of what doesn’t, and began innovations that will take them forward well after the pandemic ends.

Triage, transition and transform is not a linear process. Just like the grieving process, we can get to transformation and find ourselves back to triage because of a crisis that enters into our personal lives. We know that students, families, teachers, and leaders also had their individual as well as collective experiences of triage, transition, and transformation. In order to move toward transformation, during what we know is still an extraordinarily difficult time, schools should consider how they can continue a hybrid model long after we all receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Remote Schools Within a Public School?

The hybrid model I am referring to here is to have in-person learning like we have known schools to have for more than a century. At the same time, however, those same school districts establish remote experiences within that same school community. I will get to more of the how in a moment, but first I need to explain the reasoning. There are three reasons schools may want to opt for hybrid model. Firstly, COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere for a long time. We have a vaccine but not a cure, which means that COVID-19 didn’t go away with the election, like many conspiracy theorists believed. There is still we have a lot to learn about COVID-19, and we know that makes families and educators a bit nervous.

Secondly, we know that there were students who thrived during the experience. Whether it was due to their ability to learn at their own pace, they found it to be a more focused learning experience, or that they engaged in project-based learning that brought them deep learning experiences, there were many students who liked remote learning. The question is whether there are enough students to warrant a remote approach. We know most teachers and building leaders did not like it, but those are not the only voices we heard. Some students thrived, and we can look to this Edutopia article for reasons why that happened.

Thirdly, we know that many schools are experiencing budget cuts. Might it be possible for schools to look at how they can keep in-person students at the same time they market themselves to more students who want an online experience? What this means is that schools would have a remote school environment within their school community. Students who want to go back to school in-person are able to do that, but those students who find the remote experience more comfortable are able to continue to engage in that experience. What we know is that remote schools are growing and not shrinking.

In fact, in this blog my Education Week colleague Mark Lieberman writes,

The numbers are striking and consistent: Online learning providers are seeing a boom in enrollment as parents seek an alternative to chaotic remote school experiences this spring.

Florida Virtual School’s enrollment is up 54 percent year over year for its individual online course offerings and 64 percent for full-time programs. Public schools’ online programs managed by the for-profit provider K12 Inc. have grown from 122,000 enrollments in fall 2019 to 170,000 a year later. Applications to Connections Academy, a virtual school provider owned by Pearson, are up 61 percent.

This phenomena is not just because of COVID-19. This was happening well before COVID-19 entered into our lives, and with the right environment created by public schools, this remote option could keep growing after the pandemic. This also may create another benefit to school communities because it might create a new funding option. What I mean here is that those students who are attending professional on-line schools may opt to attend a public remote school instead. In a time when we all wished we invested in Zoom, Amazon, and Peloton in March and April, public schools may not want to miss an opportunity here. Too many schools are still in crisis mode when it comes remote and hybrid learning, but those ahead of the curve could be developing a more robust remote school that can bring in new students and new funding.

For school communities that feel they are in transformation mode, they may want to consider how to continue a virtual school within their school district. After all, public schools have the community element, where students will feel a part of a strong community, often within the same state where the student may live. If a student lives in N.Y., they are more likely to want to attend a virtual school within the same state and time zone for those moments of synchronous learning that many students have stated they do enjoy. Perhaps, they attend the remote option for learning but engage in after-school events like drama, sports, or STEM.

How might virtual schools within a school district work? They could do some of the following options:

  • Establish a registration date for students to sign up for remote learning
  • Make sure there are learning agreements between schools and those students who will engage in remote learning
  • Secondary teachers could opt to teach a couple of their class periods through remote means
  • Building leaders could designate some teachers as the full-time remote teachers at the elementary, middle or secondary level

In the End

It has been a year since COVID-19 became a pandemic. Sometimes I feel like that year has flown by and others times I feel like it has been much longer than a year. We all started that pandemic year in triage mode, and many of slowly moved from triage to transition where we became comfortable with the uncomfortable. As we enter into this home stretch where we all can get the vaccine but not the cure, there are opportunities to move into transformation. One of those opportunities is to create a more robust remote experience for students who want to continue learning from home.

The reality is that there are a majority of our students who did not like remote learning. This dislike of remote learning was due to many factors. Sometimes it was due to the student’s living conditions where they didn’t have a place in their house to learn. Other times it was due to the fact that they missed seeing their friends in-person. There were also instances that students didn’t like remote learning because they were not being engaged in discussions or deep learning experiences during remote class time. However, there are students who thrived during the experience.

Is it possible for directors of technology to work with their superintendents to create a virtual school within their district? This means branding the remote school and creating a more robust online learning experience for students using remote teachers. It means taking teachers (i.e., currently working, laid off, etc.) from an in-person experience and giving them the opportunity to teach in a hybrid or remote setting. Clearly, this is not an easy solution to budget cuts or competition from other types of schools, but many teachers and leaders showed they can be innovative and rise to the challenge of COVID-19. Perhaps this is the next step?

Citation: Lenhoff, S. W., Lewis, J. M., Pogodzinski, B., & Jones, R. D. (2019). ‘Triage, transition, and transformation’: Advocacy discourse in urban school reform. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 27(32).

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground 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.


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