My school district in central Texas began the school year in late August with three weeks of online learning only. On September 9, we allowed families to choose between online learning or face-to-face learning, and we have now been open for three weeks with about 50% of our students on campus. In that time, we’ve faced many challenges and decisions that I wish we had been able to more fully consider before we opened our doors. If your school hasn’t yet welcomed students back in person, here’s some things to consider.
- Buy more chargers. Lots of chargers. Between losing chargers, sharing devices between siblings, bringing the devices to school and leaving the chargers at home, we needed a lot more chargers than we thought we would need. This week, a student came to me to ask for a new charger because her bunny chewed her cord.
- Prepare for the library to be a flex space, whether the gym needs to be sanitized, the physics class is too big, or more space is needed for testing, which usually takes place in a computer lab. All these groups will need a place to go and the first place your administrator will look at is your library space. Prepare a shared calendar or spreadsheet to document which groups are in the space at which times. This document can be consulted if the need for contact tracing arises as well.
- Get familiar with webcams, green screens, editing software, and Screencastify. Teachers are going to ask how to use them while on campus. They are creating videos for both students at home and students in the class, and they need help creating those tools. Some software they might have been using at home in the spring may not be available on school devices without extensive approval processes from IT admins. Get ready now!
- Buy more headphones. Lots of headphones. Students are listening to videos, listening to lessons, creating videos, and joining Google Meets with teachers. It will make your life so much easier if you can purchase some inexpensive, individually wrapped headphones and hand them out when they “forget” theirs.
- Consider all the ways your library is going to offer students and staff access to library books, and start designing fliers, videos, and how-tos, whether curbside pick-up, book bus delivery, campus homeroom delivery, campus pick-up, or e-books. Reach out to transportation and see if their department can help.
- Start converting your English class novel sets into e-book class sets. If you use Sora, look into their “simultaneous use” model (usually for older classics) and a new model they’ve just introduced, “concurrent use for 100 users.” These will save you a bundle rather than buying one user/one copy licenses or metered access. You’ll need to have a conversation about which department pays for these purchases–library instruction, curriculum, or reading/ language arts? What about the other classes, like foreign languages?
- Keep track of whether your school/district is purchasing/renewing licenses for some of the educational apps it tried in the spring, such as Peardeck, Flipgrid, Screencastify, Padlet, Edpuzzle. Find out the date of expiration or renewal. You can call the company and ask for a usage report to see which tools were used and which aren’t worth the license price, as well as the general number of teachers who “just tried it once” versus how many got really proficient with it.
- Parents and students often work on class assignments after usual “teacher” hours. We’re finding that many of our assignments are turned in between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., and for our high schoolers, many assignments come in after midnight. Consider extending your tech help-desk hours to include evening hours. Each of our digital learning coaches takes an evening shift where they are “on call” for trouble tickets that come in after hours (to a certain point). We also have teachers signing up for after-hours homework help.
- Listen with your heart, not with your head. Although we told students and parents that once they made a choice of remote learning or in-school learning they’d need to stick with that for the rest of the quarter, circumstances change. Sometimes for families, they change quite abruptly. Although some states have a moratorium on evictions, we still are faced with students who become homeless or housing instable, and they really need to be in school each day rather than left at a shelter. Parents who were out of work but now have a new job might need to return to the workforce abruptly, leaving children with no one to assist young learners at home. Students who thought they would do better at school are wanting to return to the safety of their own rooms at home rather than an unfamiliar school setting. For so many students and parents, the anxieties and gut realizations are hitting them that the choice they made might not have been the best one for them now. Although it’s difficult to change mid-quarter, in some cases some allowances might need to be made.
- Students still want to read, so reach out to them. Right now our students are overwhelmed with Google notifications, Remind texts, robocalls, and online assignments. Sometimes sinking into a good book is just what they need to relax and unwind. I reached out to my super readers from last year and made sure they knew about our book bus and our new e-book platform. I created short “how-to” videos and sent them to reading and language arts teachers to drop into their Google Classroom to show students how to access our books. With each passing day, I began getting more and more hold requests, book bus requests, and online checkouts. With library promotions such as Banned Book Week and TeenTober, I can still create custom carousels in our Destiny Follett library catalog or curate a collection in Sora. These fun displays remind students to challenge themselves to trying something new and maybe finding a fun new author or genre they would not otherwise have accessed.
So if your district has not yet gone back to having students on campus, you still have time to make some crucial decisions about how you will use your space, your time, and your budget. Take it from me, once the students arrive back on campus, the days will fly by!
Author: Deah Hester
Deah Hester works at Georgetown ISD in central Texas as a high school librarian. This is her seventh year as a librarian and her eighteenth year as an educator. She received her MLIS from University of North Texas