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Independent Schools Make the Most of Remote Learning

by Audrey Noyes Ludemann

Campuses may be closed, but school is in session. A whirlwind of activity occurred at day and boarding schools this spring as they converted programs to serve students through remote learning. Faculty and administrators have invested countless hours to ensure that students’ academic, social, and emotional growth continues during this difficult time. The results reflect the high standards for professionalism, innovation, and dedication to students that make independent schools shine. Here is a sampling of how they are rising to this challenge:

Structuring students’ time.
With minimal loss of class time, independent schools launched schedules for remote learning that engage students consistently throughout the day. Parents and students are both grateful for this structure and sense of purpose. Schedules vary based on each school’s community. Some boarding schools, for example, have shifted class times to accommodate students in multiple time zones.  

Emphasizing personal connection.
Community is the glue that binds students, faculty, and families. Thus, independent schools are prioritizing platforms and activities that maximize relationships. The small classes that are a hallmark of independent schools are especially important in the digital format to ensure that students have the opportunity to speak up. In addition, students can find each other in online club meetings, informal get-togethers—even at virtual dances. All-school meetings are continuing. Some schools have offered faculty forums to answer parent questions. In many cases, group and individual meetings with advisors have increased in length and frequency as advisors help students stay connected and navigate this new environment. Faculty are holding extended office hours and evening dorm meetings; prefects are leading get-togethers; Senior Talks and Meditations are still taking place.

Strategically adapting curriculum.
Aware of students’ more limited attention span when interacting through a screen, schools are thinking deeply about how to best use synchronous and asynchronous learning, and how to balance class discussions with individual check-ins. Teachers are working overtime to streamline curriculum and hone in on the most critical concepts. In some cases, they are replacing entire units because students don’t have those books at home. In other cases they are exploring new opportunities to make use of digital resources. Teachers of arts, science, and other classes are problem-solving to continue hands-on learning experiences. Some are sending materials to students while others are converting lessons to focus on common household items. 

Promoting physical and emotional health.
Focusing on the whole child, independent schools are promoting athletics and wellness from afar. Many spring teams are meeting virtually, with coaches offering exercise routines that students can do at home. Schools are proactively offering students activities and building time into their school day for exercise and mindfulness. In addition, counselors and chaplains are continuing to offer opportunities to connect.

Continuing to innovate.
Amidst this dramatic reconfiguration, independent schools are not resting on their laurels. Their ability to respond quickly is a result of ongoing investment in professional development and exploration of the best practices in pedagogy. Recognizing this, they know that while this new situation brings challenges, it also brings opportunities. While it is far too soon to draw conclusions, schools know that when classes return to campus in the future, they will be reflecting on what aspects of this experience could be used to enrich future learning.  

This comprehensive response is why students and parents value independent schools: Their faculty’s dedication to students and professional excellence is evident. Even as I write this, remote learning programs are continuing to evolve. Independent schools’ ability to respond in this moment—to plan, review, pause, flex, and pivot—is a true reflection of the 21st-century learning that they are imparting to students.   

 

Audrey Noyes Ludemann helps families seek independent school education, including day schools and boarding schools, from elementary to secondary grades. She also is an invaluable resource for addressing different learning styles—serving families whose students are gifted and/or have moderate learning differences. She can be reached at audrey@thebertramgroup.com