District, students find footing in at-home instruction

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Lessons are being learned every day in Liberty Hill ISD – by both students and teachers – as the learning from home program launched in late March continues to build steam toward the May 21 end of school.

The district has been intent on making sure students have the tools to learn and solid lessons to learn from, but has tried to focus on a balance that recognizes the challenges in the new situation.

“Our intent was to go slow because we knew kids needed time to adjust as well as families in trying to find that balance,” said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Accountability, Dr. Toni Hicks. “Our whole mantra has been grace over grades and consideration over compliance. We want to be sensitive to what’s happening in the lives of our kids and our families, and understand the access to materials and resources varies depending on the household.”

Hicks said the district and teachers are in learning mode as well as the new learning environment evolves.

“Our teachers have been incredibly understanding and very cognizant of what they’re putting out for our kids to ensure it is adaptable to the many households we serve,” Hicks said. “Our first module that went out last week, while our teachers did an amazing job with it, we also learned things from that and the second module is reflecting those lessons learned.”

The focus has been shifted from detailed instruction to comprehension of larger concepts.

“What they’re finding is what we would want in our classrooms is not what we should expect in our households and we’ve got to be mindful of every kid in our class and our district and how they will be able to reach the big idea of the lesson and what supports can we provide to assist them in reaching those big ideas,” Hicks said. “It’s not all the details of a lesson we would typically do in a classroom, rather it’s capturing the big ideas of the lessons.”

To make sure the comprehension is there and make teachers available to students, the district created guidelines for meetings between students and their teachers.

“That first week we sent some guidance out to our principals and said our teachers need to communicate with our kids via Zoom once a week and then with phone calls twice a week, and I think teachers are probably doing more than that,” Hicks said. “It is a balance, making sure to not overwhelm but also making sure to provide the right level of support for our kids.”

But that meeting time has served a much broader purpose than just questions and answers on lessons.

“Our teachers created office hours so they have time built in to each week where they can video chat with students, not just about their understanding of the lesson, but about their well being,” Hicks said. “The struggle has really been that there is a grieving process in this. We miss our kids and we miss our teachers so part of that video conferencing is for our kids to be able to see their teachers and also allow our teachers to keep that connections with our kids.”

Soon, the district website for learning from home will include a place for parents to provide feedback for the district as well.

“We’re adding a feedback link to our learning from home website to get feedback that we will them share with principals and learning coaches,” Hicks said. “We want to make sure that our site is easily accessible, that everything is there for our families that they need, then we will give that feedback to our principals so we can continue to adapt.”

Whether it is encouraging band students to practice outside for all to enjoy, or family-focused physical education lessons, teachers across the spectrum are finding ways to adapt lessons to home versus the classroom.

“As one example, our kids are utilizing measurements through cooking then reporting back to our teachers on that,” Hicks said. “Our teachers are being very mindful of the resources that are in the home that they can tap into because the resources we would use in our classrooms are not in every home.”

The challenge doesn’t stop once school is officially out on May 21, as Hicks said there will be a plan in place when students return in the fall to make sure any gaps in learning are filled to prevent any students from falling behind next school year.

“What our goal is that our students are making progress and they are having access to the learning big ideas we would want in our classrooms,” Hicks said. “Do we recognize there will be gaps in learning? Absolutely. We’re going to have a plan in place at the beginning of next school year for that. Every kid is going to be different in narrowing and closing those gaps and our goal is that no one slides backwards.”

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