With Illinois schools closed until at least the end of April due to COVID-19, the teachers at Distinctive Schools are getting creative around how they deliver distance learning to their thousands of students. They’re leveraging technology – everything from Google Hangouts to Zoom to Facebook – to keep kids engaged and following a schedule similar to what they’re used to at school. So far, it’s a hit with teachers, students, and parents.
“Feedback from parents has been phenomenal,” said Molly Quinn with Distinctive Schools. “Knowing that at least a portion of their children’s schedule is being maintained is a huge stress reliever.”
These days, instead of gathering on the rug in the classroom or taking their seats behind their desks, a student’s school day begins with a Morning Meeting via Zoom. Teachers greet the class, students share their thoughts and questions around current events, and then their teacher lays out the day’s agenda. It’s a great way for classmates to still connect with one another and “see” each other every day.
The rest of the day’s coursework varies from student to student and is focused on self-directed learning, something students practice during the typical school year. Students connect with their teachers and classmates via Zoom and Google Hangouts throughout the day. After the Morning Meeting, students might join a guided reading group, a virtual yoga class, a call to review comprehension skills for the week, or watch the previous day’s math and science lessons to master the material. Each day, students set a goal and write down the steps they’ll take to achieve it. Teachers provide daily one-on-one check-ins with students to discuss their goals and help when needed.
Distance learning is not without its challenges. Distinctive Schools is continuing to work on providing balance between teachers’ school responsibilities and managing their personal commitments during the stay-at-home order. They’re also working to ensure that all their students have access to the technology needed to complete distance learning. Distinctive Schools equipped as many students as possible with a personal technology device prior to schools closing but recognize that more students need to be accommodated.
Despite the challenges, Distinctive Schools has nearly a 90 percent daily participation rate from students, and they’re hopeful they’ll reach even higher rates in the future. Quinn said Distinctive Schools’ culture of collaboration, commitment to trying new approaches, and focusing on making the classroom – whether a physical or virtual space – a joyful place to learn, contributed to the distance learning program’s success.
“Our culture and what we call the joy factor, has positively impacted the way teachers and students responded to the need for e-learning,” said Quinn.
Distinctive Schools operates high-performing public charter schools in Chicago in cooperation with Chicago International Charter School. The Distinctive mission is to support each child in becoming an engaged and curious learner, a confident self-advocate, and a creative problem-solver by setting high expectations and nurturing a positive culture that honors diversity, collaboration, and optimism.