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As school leaders across the nation weigh the pros and cons of various scenarios for returning to school this fall, the traditional start to the academic year, in addition to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (2020) Considerations for Schools, there is no doubt that there is a lot that can be done as plans and decisions are fleshed out. Unlike this past spring where schools had to shift to emergency remote teaching and learning (ERTL) (Milman, 2020a, 2020b) in a matter of days or weeks, there is time – now and throughout the summer for schools to prepare for the fall. School leaders should take advantage of this precious commodity: time.


What can school leaders and teachers do now to plan for the fall in light of all of this uncertainty and to avoid emergency remote teaching and learning again?

There are many steps school leaders can take in the interim to prepare for the fall no matter what scenario is adopted.  And, even if a state/school system determines that schools should open like normal, summer planning and professional development should involve conducting needs analyses, designing and offering professional development, developing contingency plans, and upgrading/revising systems, policies, and practices. What this will look like will vary from state-to-state, school district-to-school district, school-to-school, and even classroom-to-classroom. However, there are numerous steps that school leaders should be working on while the clock is ticking. Below, I outline some recommendations, as a starting point, for school leaders.

School leaders undoubtedly will need to develop and modify plans specific to the scenarios adopted within their states/school systems. The following suggestions are not intended to address any specific scenario, but to build on what schools can – and should do to prepare – no matter the scenario. Time spent on these practices should help schools better prepare for the uncertainty ahead, and in particular for the possibility of the need to pivot online again to ERTL.

Avoid ERTL!

The following suggestions are not intended to address any specific scenario, but to build on what schools can – and should do to prepare – no matter the scenario. Time spent on these practices should help schools better prepare for the uncertainty ahead, and in particular for the possibility of the need to pivot online again to emergency remote teaching and learning.

As an educational technology professor and former elementary school and specialist teacher, I have spent my professional career investigating how to best design instruction to meet the diverse needs of students, no matter the educational level. I have learned through experience and research the crucial roles of school leaders not only in how they shape learning community, but also how they influence the integration and use of educational technology within their organizations. Moreover, school leadership is often distributed. In addition to superintendents and school principals, school leaders include teachers, technology specialists, students, parents/guardians, and staff who serve in leadership roles and take on leadership responsibilities.

Professional development for teachers, acquisition of hardware and software, safety protocols, contingency planning, and so much more have to be figured out. Yet, with so much uncertainty, it can be hard to determine where to start. Here I share a few suggestions for where to start. However, these suggestions are not intended to take into account everything that needs to be determined. Clearly safety is a priority and that will need to be a large focus. These suggestions are intended as a starting point for what can be done now in light of the uncertainty.

    1. Communicate plans frequently and candidly: Although school leaders will not have all of the answers, candid and frequent communication is important, as well as the ability for stakeholders to ask questions. Some school leaders have Q & A sessions weekly, whereas others post a statement on a scheduled basis on their district or school websites. Also, inform stakeholders as to when decisions will be made about fall and how that information will be communicated. The Donovan Group and EAB have some helpful resources. And, for an example, see: Alexandria City Public Schools.
    2. Collect data from all stakeholders to prioritize needs: It is important to recognize that we have been ERTL during a pandemic; yet, there is much to be learned from and with one another. School leaders should collect data from all stakeholders (i.e., teachers, staff, students, parents/guardians) about what worked well and what could be improved with ERTL. This information should help prioritize needs, inform decisions, and shape future plans.
    3. Identify and purchase needed resources: With the new fiscal year comes the opportunity to purchase resources that will support remote teaching and learning such as hardware, software, books, lab equipment, and other materials. The focus should be on longer-term needs and not just stop-gap measures that were used for ERTL last spring. For instance, is a new learning management system or phone system (to allow for remote calling) needed? A framework to help make such decisions is the 4 Shifts Protocol (McLeod & Graber, 2018).
    4. Design differentiated professional development (PD): It is important to design PD that addresses the diverse interests, needs, and experiences of faculty and staff. One-size-all PD is not the answer. Desimone (2009) explained that effective teacher professional development should have a content focus, active learning, coherence, duration, and collective participation. Moreover, this is an opportunity for PD to model the kind of educational experiences teachers should be prepared to lead, including designing quality, synchronous or asynchronous, technology-rich, learning experiences, and materials.
    5. Make accessibility, diversity, equity, inclusion, and social-emotional well-being priorities in all planning/decisions: These are all different and very important aspects of an inclusive community. Yet they need to be a high priority to ensure educational equity, access, and for all in the school community to feel included. A focus on anti-racist, anti-oppressive, and trauma-informed teaching will be critical – not only for students but also for all stakeholders involved in the school system.
    6. Curate resources: There are so many resources available it can be overwhelming. If you have not already, create a repository of resources that is easy to find, use, and comprehend. Several curation platforms exist such as Padlet or Wakelet, among others.
    7. Develop partnerships: Develop partnerships within and outside of one’s school and district. There is much to be learned from collaboration whether it involves developing professional learning communities within a school district or creating partnerships with universities and companies that might provide expertise, services, and/or products.
    8. Read the existing research literature about online and blended education: There is a large body of research about online and blended/hybrid education that already exists. What lessons learned from past studies might inform next steps? One place to start is the Handbook of Research on K-12 Online and Blended Learning. Also, another open-source text is K-12 Blended Teaching: A Guide to Personalized Learning and Online Integration.
    9. Promote and model well-being: School leaders have a lot of pressure and expectations to meet. To lead well, school leaders must focus on their well-being, as well as the stakeholders around them. Be sure to model and practice well-being practices.
    10. Develop plans to address the summer-and COVID-19-slides: Learning loss during the summer is well documented; however, many students have also experienced learning loss due to COVID-19, as well. Schools will need to develop plans to pre-assess students to gauge how to best support them to learn in the new academic year. New or revised screening procedures should also be considered, as the National Association of School Psychologists has noted.

School leaders may also wish to examine some of the “back to school” guides that have been developed by organizations such as the American Enterprise Institute’s “Blueprint for Back to School,” the American Federation of Teachers’ (AFT) “Plan to Safely Reopen America’s Schools and Communities”, and the National Education Association’s (NEA) “All Hands on Deck: Initial Guidance Regarding Reopening School Buildings,”

Finally, Scott McLeod (2020), one of the creators of the Silver Lining for Learning blog, asked the following as a prompt for guest bloggers. These same questions would be good for school leaders, teachers, staff, students, and their parents/guardians to discuss this summer, too.

What might be some silver linings for learning in the wake of the pandemic? What might we rethink or redo differently once this all settles down? What lessons might schools and educators learn from all of this, what skill sets or understandings might we have gained, and what could learning look like instead?


About the author:  Natalie B. Milman, Ph.D. is Professor of Educational Technology and Director of the Educational Technology Leadership Program at The George Washington University and a member of the interdisciplinary Human-Technology Collaborations PhD program and research lab ( Her most recent book is entitled, “Teaching Models: Designing Instruction for 21st Century Learners.” Twitter: @nataliebmilman