Guest post by Justin Reilly
I was recently asked my thoughts about what schools should be doing to help teachers teach during the pandemic. This is a tough question as I don’t think anyone could have been prepared for what we’re currently facing. Teachers have quickly had to adapt and figure out how to teach in new ways, how to engage students that they are only seeing via webcam, and how to tell if those students are doing okay, both academically and emotionally. It’s a tough task, not to mention these teachers are also human beings who are going through this pandemic too, and they’re feeling all of the emotions, stress and anxieties that come along with it. I applaud teachers for their perseverance this school year under very difficult circumstances. And I also commend the school administrators and IT teams who have worked hard to plan, implement and troubleshoot the slew of technology resources being used to support teaching and learning during the pandemic.
Although I expect most schools would say their response and experience has not been perfect, I believe our educators, administrators and IT teams have risen to the challenge and this shared journey will ultimately improve education – both in terms of what content is taught and how it is delivered. I’ve worked in education for nearly two decades, including as a teacher and an Edtech executive and CEO. I’ve worked around the world, including in some of the most remote and unstable regions in Africa. I’ve seen the positive impact a quality education and technology can have on children and their communities. As I look back on the lessons of the past year – and ponder the challenges that still lie ahead – I believe there are two overarching issues schools must consider in order to help teachers succeed in today’s difficult times and be prepared for tomorrow.
1) Provide equipment that allows teaching to continue no matter where it is taking place. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of being able to provide instruction remotely. This means having an IT team that is creative, innovative, flexible and ready to do what is needed to get a job done. It also means having strong school and district leaders who don’t shy away from making tough decisions to make sure learning can continue while also keeping student safety in mind, and having teachers who are able to persevere no matter how often plans change. When all of this is in place, the next step is to have the technology in place to enable IT teams, administrators and teachers to ensure continuity of education – specifically, technology that will support distance learning and hybrid learning. My company, Impero Software, has been a leader in helping schools support digital learning. Our cloud-based classroom management software, Impero class:room allows teachers to monitor student devices remotely to make sure students are on task and are participating in an assignment. This helps teachers manage the classroom without physically being in the room with the students. When adopting technology to support distance learning, schools should make sure the technology they are asking teachers to use is intuitive and that teachers are trained on how to use it. This will empower them to teach effectively whether their students are in the classroom or learning remotely.
2) Prioritize students’ mental health and wellbeing. Mental health concerns among young people have gotten worse since the pandemic began. According to Mental Health America’s 2020 report, 9.7% of youth in the U.S. had severe major depression, compared to 9.2% in the previous year. In September 2020, more than half of 11 to 17-year-olds reported having thoughts of suicide or self-harm. In addition to spurring increased anxiety and stress, the pandemic has also resulted in students spending more time online which creates more potential of being exposed to cyber bullying, online predators and other issues that can exacerbate mental health concerns. Teachers are often a first line of defense when it comes to detecting these types of concerns, but it can be difficult to detect issues if students are learning remotely. It’s important for teachers to understand what kind of warning signs to watch out for and what to do when they see those warning signs. For example, if a student suddenly refuses to turn their camera on, or stops logging into their online lessons this can be a sign that they are disengaged, or it can indicate that something more serious is going on. With the right technology tools, educators can track any concerns. Impero’s cloud-based product suite includes Impero back:drop, a free tool to help school leaders manage and record student safety concerns and Impero well:being which helps them stay on top of any potential concerning online behavior by alerting appropriate staff members if students are searching for or typing keywords that could indicate concerning online behavior. We have also published many useful resources to help teachers identify concerns and keep students safe during remote learning, including partnering with Mental Health America on a guide to help schools and parents support student mental health. In addition, our e-book on supporting student mental health and safety during remote learning offers tips and resources to help identify troubling behavior like neglect or abuse. We also hosted a roundtable on new strategies for student social-emotional learning during COVID-19. These types of resources and tools can help teachers monitor students’ wellbeing even if they aren’t together in a classroom.
The pandemic has required schools to lean on technology in new ways. Innovation is often born out of necessity and schools are increasingly turning to technology to help teachers teach in new scenarios and difficult circumstances. Technology should be intuitive and needs to go beyond the basics to help teachers both manage classrooms and support student wellbeing. I continue to be incredibly proud of the work our schools have done – and continue to do – to keep students engaged, learning and safe during these extraordinary times and I’m proud of our work to create tools to support teachers today, and in the future.
Justin Reilly is CEO of Impero Software which provides cloud-based solutions for classroom management, device management and student wellbeing. Reilly, a former educator, has a wealth of experience in the global education space and more than 15 years of experience leading Edtech businesses to success.