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"Adapt and Persist": Education and tech during COVID-19

Published October 29, 2020

Ten Forward has been privileged to work with a wide variety of clients in the education sector, many with an emphasis on increasing equity in the American school system. 

Given the upheaval education has faced in our country during the current pandemic, we reached out to some of those clients to learn more about how they've adapted their programs and structure over the last 9 months. 

Comprehensive Assessment of Leadership for Learning (CALL)



Madison-based Comprehensive Assessment of Leadership for Learning, or CALL, assesses school-wide leadership in K-12 educational institutions and provides action-based data and feedback for school improvement. Project director Dr. Mark Blitz says that Instead of focusing on any one individual, CALL provides an efficient and effective needs assessment for an organization as a whole. 

Additionally, "We have created various versions of CALL, including a focus on leadership for teaching English Language Learners and a version that examines district-level leadership."

How have your services or company changed during the pandemic?

Mark Blitz: "As schools began operating in the virtual school environment, we knew we had to be responsive to these immense changes. After all, CALL was developed to examine leadership in schools that operate in-person, in a building. We weren’t sure how relevant this would be during remote teaching and learning. Over the summer, we scrambled and worked hard to create a version of CALL for the virtual school environment. And we’re calling this version of CALL 'Long Distance CALL'. 

Long Distance CALL measures leadership practices in both the in-person and virtual school environments so that school leaders can assess how things are going now, how leadership practices now compare to the in-person environment, and where they should be focusing their resources going forward for school improvement."

Do you see any of these changes persisting after things are back to "normal"?

"My hope is that Long Distance CALL itself won’t be necessary for too much longer (because if it is still necessary, that means schools are still virtual and the pandemic is still raging). But we hope the data obtained from Long Distance CALL will be helpful for this year and the years to come. It could be that schools improved in some competencies during remote teaching and learning, such as more effective collaboration, for example. The opportunity for school leaders will be to maintain that improved practice even when schools go back to 'normal.' 

I also see our need to be responsive as something that will continue. Even when schools go back to in-person, we need to adjust what we do to support schools as they adjust, and re-adjust again, to an ever-changing landscape in education."

Regarding the U.S. education system at large, how do you think things might change post-pandemic?

"We will definitely see more virtual school options than there were before, which could be in the form of blended learning or hybrid learning, as some schools are doing now (some days in-person, some days virtual). This pandemic has revealed what many have already known: teachers are underpaid and under-appreciated, there are glaring inequities in public education between the “haves” and the “have-nots”, and leadership matters. 

Whether we are talking about leadership at a federal government level or at a school level, a crisis such as this pandemic clearly demonstrates where leadership has failed."

Any other comments or thoughts you'd like to share?

"The nature of the education profession requires adaptability. As a teacher or a school leader, one does not know what to expect when they walk into the building each morning, or in this case log on to Zoom. This pandemic presents a significant opportunity to adapt and persist. We can learn from teachers and be inspired by them. Some of us even need to be teachers at home right now. And while some people might choose to put some projects on the back-burner, teachers and students can’t afford that approach. As adults we must once again learn from our teachers: adapt and persist."

AIW Institute



Schools thrive when their instructors feel supported, and that's a central goal of the AIW Institute, based in Madison. The AIW Institute offers sustained professional development for K-12 and university instructors through experienced coaches who train and support interdisciplinary teacher teams via the Authentic Intellectual Work instructional framework. 

"Our school-based partners reflect diverse educational contexts and needs, but they contract with us because they all share a deep desire to improve instruction for all of their students and to simultaneously support their teachers," says Dr. Laura Lang, associate director of the AIW Institute. "The AIW Institute is unique in that we establish long-term relationships with our partner schools and districts, and we provide training and coaching support that is responsive to each partner's specific needs and circumstances." 

How have your services or company changed during the pandemic?

Laura Lang: "While the majority of our services need to now be offered virtually, there are some schools that are still offering face-to-face instruction and professional development. One of our coaches has conducted in-person professional development in a masked and socially distanced environment. The other coaches are currently providing all of their training and facilitation through Zoom or other school-based conferencing platforms.  

Because we work hard to develop strong, collaborative team cultures, this has required us to think deeply about how this can be accomplished in a virtual environment. Prior to the pandemic, our coaches all had experience conducting virtual learning opportunities, but these were primarily used to supplement, not replace, face-to-face trainings with our international partners. 

In mid-March, when schools began to close because of the pandemic, the AIW Institute offered synchronous AIW Community Conversations to our partners. These bi-weekly gatherings were designed to allow our partners to share their practices with each other, and they were quite popular. As a result, we decided to maintain these no-cost AIW Community Conversations during the 2020-2021 school year. We also developed additional online trainings (Mini-Courses) that allow AIW teachers, coaches and administrators from different schools to learn with and from each other."

Do you see any of these changes persisting after things are back to "normal"?

"We hope that the AIW Community Conversations and Mini-Courses persist, as they provide our partners an opportunity to learn from each other, across schools, states and continents!"

Regarding the U.S. education system at large, how do you think things might change post-pandemic?

"We agree with one of the school administrators who attended a recent AIW Community Conversation; she explained that the pandemic has required her school to think deeply about what really matters within the curriculum. Teachers simply can't, and should not be expected to, cover as much material as usual. 

As our partnering AIW teachers have also shared, it is so much more important in virtual classrooms that students see value in their learning and understand explicitly how that learning helps them understand, resolve or clarify real-world issues and problems. Increasing students' depth of understanding, as well as a lesson's value beyond school, are core tenets of the AIW framework, and we hope that these are more of a priority, now and post-pandemic."




"We’ve been talking about 'rigor' in our U.S. education system world for ages now but we still, as a system, don’t agree on exactly what that is," says Sara Christopherson of Madison's WebbAlign, which offers professional development workshops to teachers, schools, districts, content developers, and state departments of education.

"To achieve widely shared goals of educational equity and the opportunity for all students to be appropriately challenged by rigorous educational expectations defined in today’s college- and career-ready academic standards, we need to know what we mean by rigor."

WebbAlign operates out of the Wisconsin Center for Education Products and Services (WCEPS), a non-profit organization that strives to continue and extend educational innovations that originated at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. The WebbAlign program began operation around 2011, in collaboration with Dr. Norman Webb, researcher emeritus of the University of Wisconsin's Center for Education Research (WCER). 

WebbAlign is based on Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK), a language system that is widely used to help educators, content developers, assessment developers, and others understand, communicate about, and evaluate the complexity of cognitive engagement within education materials. 

How have your services or company changed during the pandemic? 

Sara Christopherson: "We’ve always worked with clients from across the country -- and around the globe! -- so we are lucky to be able to build on a long history of experience collaborating remotely with clients. We’ve moved even more of our work into the Zoom-iverse, however, and are now conducting professional development and alignment analyses entirely remotely. While nothing can replace in-person collaboration, we are finding new ways to work together online and making the most of the opportunities afforded by the online landscape. We are proud (and relieved!) to report that we’ve received excellent reviews of our management and execution of all online work. As conferences have shifted from in-person to online, we’ve been able to participate in and attend more webinars, sessions, and symposia, as it is easy to pop in and out of a virtual setting.

In a dynamic, student-centered classroom, teachers are constantly tapping into student thinking and can use follow-up questioning and clarifications to adjust course as needed. But in a remote or blended K-12 learning environment, there are fewer opportunities for in-the-moment adjustments to instructions, prompts, and assignments due to the constrained opportunities for student-teacher interaction. Now-more-than-ever, therefore, it is important to plan ahead for the carefully crafted questions and prompts that will elicit student thinking at the intended complexity of engagement. We help teachers tease apart the interrelated ideas of difficulty, complexity of cognitive engagement (DOK), sophistication of material, and other topics to maximize intentionality in lesson planning. 

We have conducted remote alignment analyses for almost a decade, when travel costs precluded in-person work. (We even used land-line telephones!) Today, we have online video conferencing capacity and the pandemic has resulted in many, many folks building expertise with video conferencing platforms. We embrace a mindset of continuous growth and learning."

Do you see any of these changes persisting after things are back to "normal"? 

"While there’s no question of the value of in-person work, travel costs are a significant portion of the overall price tag for most of the services we provide for clients -- sometimes even accounting for the greatest portion of a budget. I imagine that people will be more selective about which events need to occur in person. Hopefully, we will all have learned how to shift at least some work into online settings, to promote cost efficiency when reasonable. That said, we also look forward to lively multi-person discussions without extended pauses, audio feedback, and audio cut-out. The ability to learn together over the same work table, craft solutions hands-on, and build camaraderie over shared coffee and lunch breaks is invaluable. We humans construct knowledge together in social groups, and there’s no replacement for actually being together to advance shared goals."

Regarding the U.S. education system at large, how do you think things might change post-pandemic?

"Nearly all of the issues/critical topics we are recognizing now have been made more visible, perhaps, during the pandemic but existed or held true pre-pandemic, too. For example, remote learning has spotlighted how critical the school-family / guardian / community connection is to student success. Remote learning reminds us that student engagement is more likely when students are provided opportunities for complex, relevant, and authentic work. 

The challenges of remote learning have focused the lens on the persistent lack of educational equity in this country. The extensive and varied repercussions of school closures show how our public school system anchors the national economy and provides services for communities far beyond academics. I hope that these will be enduring lessons that we, as a system, will retain. We have a unique opportunity to come out of these challenging times with redoubled commitment --and corresponding actions-- to support our public schools, teachers, administrators, and communities and ensure equitable, excellent educational opportunities for all students. 

The disproportionate negative impact of COVID on communities of color and indigenous communities has contributed to a national reckoning with police brutality and systemic racial injustice and the resulting burdens of 'dual pandemics.' No pandemic lasts forever, as they say. As we move out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not leave the 'other' pandemic behind. The U.S. education system, along with other agencies, and all of us in all parts of the system, must hold ourselves accountable for advancing racial equity and establishing anti-racist school culture."

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