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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Collaborate With Colleagues to Make It Through This School Year

By Larry Ferlazzo — August 07, 2020 12 min read
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(This is the third post in a four-part series. You can see Part One here and Part Two here.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

Using the framework of “Dos and Don’ts,” what would you list as the do’s and don’ts of teaching in a COVID-19 environment?

In Part One, Emily Golightly, Guadalupe Carrasco Cardona, Amy Klein, and Ann Stiltner shared their recommendations.

In Part Two, Amber Chandler, Kiri Sowers, and Kiera Beddes contributed commentaries.

Today, Kellie Lauth, Gina Laura Gullo, and Dr. Theresa Capra write about their suggestions.

I’m adding these posts to All Classroom Q&A Posts on the Coronavirus Crisis.

You can find the next “question-of-the-week” at the bottom of this column.


Kellie Lauth is the district STEM coordinator for Adams 12 Five Star school district in Colorado as well as the CEO and president of mindSpark Learning, a nonprofit focused on creating professional learning experiences to elevate and upskill educators, allowing them to prepare the current generation of students for a modern workforce and global economy. A former elementary teacher and principal, Kellie launched three STEM schools in high-need communities, all of which focused on equity and innovation through a problem-based learning model.:


  • Seize the opportunity to create innovative, agile models to educate all students.

  • Know your why. With time being a commodity, carefully evaluate what you are asking of your students and staff.

  • Learn from robust industry and entrepreneurial models. Look outside of education for partnership.

  • Play the long game while attending to what is in front of you.

  • Give yourself permission to fail fast, fail forward, and pivot quickly.

  • Utilize an “and” mentality for problem solving—how to create a remote learning environment AND continue to engage students in experiential, deeper learning models?

  • Invest in systems-thinking, futures-thinking, and strategic-thinking ideologies. Train your entire staff and engage your students in these opportunities.

  • Anticipate, advocate, and strive to create agency throughout interactions with students, staff, and families.

  • Manage and train for resilience. Require a shift in mental models to embrace complexity, uncertainty, and interdependence.

  • Continue to embrace and scale career literacy, skills-based outcomes, viable pathways to family sustained wage, computer science and AI, and STEM. The economy of education was important before COVID and is even more important now.


  • Sacrifice quality for lack of knowing how.

  • Let go of what was working prior. Instead, figure out how to replicate and scale what is worth doing well.

  • Rely solely on traditional management approaches.

  • Settle for poor-quality instruction or simply pushing content or practices that you know will not be accessible to all students. It did not work before and it will not work now.

  • Expect to be perfect. Imposter syndrome is real, so give yourself some grace and know it is a journey.

  • Put yourself on an island. Now is the time to embrace your colleagues and COLLABORATE!

  • Blame others, especially your students, for common frustrations. It serves no purpose; we are all in this together and experiencing a new normal.

  • Provide short-term Band-Aids to wait out the pandemic. Embrace the “new normal” and innovate!

  • Rely on hope alone! Instead, design and cultivate strategies now to be responsive. Planning is critical, so put in the time!

  • Act like a sidelined participant. Instead, play a key role in advocacy and seek out leadership opportunities.

“Don’t assign students work that requires parental interaction”

Gina Laura Gullo is an educational equity consultant with GLG Consulting and a researcher of unintentional bias and interventions that serve to lessen the impact of such biases. She also adjuncts and mentors in educational leadership at several Mid-Atlantic universities:


Expect that all students have reliable internet access—even in high socioeconomic districts.

Even as programs making the internet accessible increase, the reliability of internet access remains questionable in many homes across the U.S. Differences in internet speeds mean that even students of high income can suffer from lag stemming from the extensive use of programs such as Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate. Furthermore, families share the same web connection, which is now used by parents working from home, siblings in classes, and those seeking entertainment—further declining internet speeds. Even in the best situation, students can lose access through service interruptions, power outages, or computer challenges. Understanding limitations for Internet access and reliability is critical to supporting all students.


Create content with online and offline options.

When creating content for student learning, aim for internet-inclusive Universal Design that offers accommodations to all students rather than only students with expressed needs. This strategy helps to make all students feel included while offering a similar level of instruction to students regardless of accessibility. Further, it accounts for challenges that any student could face when considering internet reliability. Teachers can include activities with online needs or lecture but should also offer offline alternatives. For example, a video of a lecture could have an alternative of a textbook reading. Teachers might even create lessons that highlight offline learning and instead offer online enrichment. Consider not only student access but equity in materials to support all students during COVID-19.


Use online translation tools to create home-language parent materials.

The need for effective parent communication during COVID-19 is more critical than ever. While offering parent communications in a student’s home language is best practice, using online tools such as Google Translate introduces many issues with translation accuracy. These programs translate word for word rather consider the full context and meaning of the communication.


Work with a native speaker of a language to translate communications.

Native speakers understand the nuances of a language, and many can even offer insight into cultural relevance. Furthermore, native speakers understand positive and negative connotations, dual-meaning words, and conceptual and contextual relevance. Many districts have a list of interpreters used for individualized education program meetings that can help you appropriately translate home communications.


Assign students work that requires parental interaction.

While many parents have worked from home during this pandemic, not all parents have such access. In some cases, students might not even have direct access to parents with exposure to or even infection with the coronavirus. Parents who work from home often have high-level work demands that require extensive focus that remains challenging while students also learn from home. Considering the specific situation of every student and their family is not feasible while creating remote learning; however, understanding that parental access might not be practical helps to further socio-cultural awareness and recognition.


Offer students and their families interactive enrichment activities.

With the need to stay at home more often, families might have more time to engage in activities together—especially those that complement student learning. Consider writing a weekly or monthly email to parents to discuss what students will learn and offer ideas for enrichment such as online field trips, conversation starters, or topics to research as a family. Teachers can include these suggestions on remote learning assignments or share the publications with older siblings. While requiring parental engagement fails to respect the socio-cultural differences in families, offering enrichment items allows students to explore the material further with any familial member at a time that works for that individual.

The dos and don’ts to get remote right!

Dr. Theresa Capra is a professor of education and clinical supervisor for teacher-candidates. She is the founder of Edtapas, which focuses on research, trends, technology, and tips for educators:

Educators at all levels will be teaching remotely to some extent when the school year commences. In most cases, this also entails designing online and remote lessons from scratch. Smart teaching starts with smart design. But learning to adapt teaching methods while simultaneously creating curriculum is no easy task, even for seasoned instructors. However, there are practices to make the process easier. Here are a few dos and don’ts that can be applied to many classrooms.

Don’t be a copycat!

This has plagued fully online courses for years. Instructors begin the design process with the goal of compensating for physical classroom time by layering similar tasks upon each other during weekly modules. Students read textbook chapters, take quizzes generated by test banks, and answer factual questions on discussion boards. It’s hard for students to discern one task from the other; consequently, finishing the assignments becomes the objective rather than the assessment.

Don’t stress, aim for less!

A less-is-more approach can help prevent copycat syndrome. Start by examining the learning objectives and standards. Next, make a substantial list of potential assignments that could meet those objectives and evaluate where they would fit in the unit. Then select only a couple that will give you the best bang for your buck. Be sure to choose at least one assignment that engages students on the higher levels of learning theories such as Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Don’t abuse synchronicity!

Remote instruction is poised to sink into the pitfall of an overreliance on synchronous, virtual sessions to substitute classroom time with a purpose of just because. Using technology such as Zoom and Google can indeed make remote teaching effective and personable, but it shouldn’t be overused. Consider identifying the content or topics that absolutely require a face-to-face virtual forum and plot them out across the unit. Supplement the sessions with appropriate tools that can offer deeper dives and collaboration.

Do go small!

Although literature on the benefits of smaller classes is conflicted, smaller classes are at least more personable and shown to improve achievement for at-risk populations. Remote learning affords an ideal mode to go small. Consider breaking the class into smaller groups when leading synchronous sessions. For example, if you’re teaching 4th grade mathematics, deliver direct instruction to subsets while other teams work in Google Classroom toward reinforcement and application. In secondary and postsecondary survey courses, deliver mini lectures or demonstrations to smaller groups and utilize discussion boards for deeper dives. Breakout rooms are perfect for lecture and direct instruction in a platform such as Zoom. Simply divide your class into a few sections and enter each room to present the lesson while the other groups work on an overarching project or complimentary assignment.

Do assess!

A universally agreed upon characteristic of highly effective teachers is a commitment to assessment. Formative assessments are daily evaluations of the extent to which students are achieving the lesson objectives. Remote instruction does not have to be void of this. Integrate formative assessments such as open-ended prompts during developmental lessons, comprehension questions, and exit slips in the same manner as traditional instruction. During synchronous sessions, pause, ask students to work independently on a question or prompt, and then ask them to show their work or justify their answers.

During whole-group discussions, monitor a virtual chat to gauge comprehension. As the lesson is concluding, ask students to share their muddiest point—a quick scan of a chat room beats sorting through a stack of handwritten index cards when the day is over. Consider a virtual tool such as Poll Everywhere that permits anonymous polling during synchronous lessons and lectures. Assessing individual comprehension can be even easier in remote classrooms when appropriate tools are combined, especially for older students who may be reluctant to share in person.

These simple ideas can allay some of the stress of teaching in a COVID-19 environment.

Next question!

The next “question-of-the-week” is:

What key lessons that you learned in the spring are you planning to bring to the new school year and what will they look like on a day-to-day basis?

Thanks to Kellie, Gina, and Theresa for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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