Silver Linings: What should educators keep after a year online?

The Covid-19 pandemic has (and continues) to disrupt lives in unimaginable ways. In the United States the shift began in March 2020 as some workers moved to a work-from-home model, while the majority of students and schools shifted to virtual learning at least in the short term, and in some cases for the following school year. The immediate and universal change from in-person to virtual learning challenged schools to engage students while entirely redesigning policies, procedures and norms that had been in place for decades. 

As we begin to think about what the fall will look like in our classrooms, it is important for educators to reflect on what can be learned from the virtual schooling experience to better improve our practice. Organically the field experienced broad implementation of strategies intended to broaden access, increase practitioner knowledge and provide diversity of choice for stakeholders. While the temptation to revert back to the “old way” is understandable, it is important that teachers and educational leaders not abandon innovative approaches to student learning that evolved during the pandemic. Analyzing, identifying and encouraging these innovations can provide enhanced educational experiences for students returning to in-person learning this fall.

Here are a few “silver-linings” from a year online that I believe can be captured and enhanced during our return to in-person learning. 

  1. Ubiquity of learning materials

One of the first things that felt out of place when I got back into my classroom after 15 months of virtual learning was the old filing cabinet that I used to fill with paper copies from class. The purpose of the filing cabinet was to have extras ready for the students who missed class or who lost their papers from the previous day. However, as I stood in my room I found myself staring at that filing cabinet much in the same way that I look at fax or scantron machines. Throughout the pandemic I had been forced to rethink and revise the way that I shared information with my students, and without even considering it I had developed a far superior system that made my filing cabinet obsolete. 

According to a national survey conducted by Digital Promise, one of the most common supports that instructional technology coaches provided to teachers during the pandemic was related to training and supporting the creation of Learning Management Systems (LMS). Through tools like Google Classroom, Seesaw, Desire2Learn, Blackboard, Schoology, etc. teachers developed ways to meet students wherever they were, whenever they needed it. While the issue of internet connectivity remained present for far too many students and communities, LMS’s provided an anchor point for students to access the materials that were independent from their location or individual obligations. This affordance can be enhanced by continuing to utilize tools that allow students to access learning from home and after the final school bell. While some students will gladly abandon the daily practice of logging into Google Classroom, for others it can continue to be a way to minimize disruptions to their learning by providing a constant and reliable location for support materials. 

  1. Alternative  Assessments

As learning moved online and students moved from classroom desks lined up in rows to kitchen tables and shared bedrooms. Many teachers found themselves reconsidering their modes of assessment as they lost the ability to micromanage every student movement during “test time”. In an environment where teachers couldn’t tightly regulate the assessment space, many pivoted away from multiple choice and rote memory assessments instinctually. The outcome of this constraint was the experimentation with creation based tools, and student choice being more broadly incorporated into assessments. 

Some teachers began using podcasts and video creation platforms as avenues for students to demonstrate their understanding. Others found creation tools like Adobe Spark, Buncee and Skratch for students, allowing them a blank canvas to paint evidence of their learning. All of these alternatives allowed students to not just show their learning in a pandemic, they allowed students to show their learning authentically. 

Education leaders can assist in the continuation of alternative assessments by emphasizing this best practice regardless of the mode of learning. As teachers return to buildings, professional development opportunities can be harnessed to allow peer-to-peer learning, where teachers share the ways in which they were able to assess student learning while engaging in an online environment. Through the sharing of these alternatives in a sanctioned space and time, leaders will send the message to their staff that this type of innovation is not only accepted, but encouraged. 

  1. Informal PD

As the educational world pivoted from an almost entirely in-person experience to an exclusively virtual experience overnight, many educators found themselves cobbling together information, training and resources wherever they could find them. Whether it was in building specific Facebook groups, Twitter chats, via department Zoom meetings or even informal text threads, teachers sought advice and guidance from colleagues throughout the pandemic. While these avenues of professional growth were certainly evident before the pandemic, teacher participation grew significantly as educators of all age levels and content areas found themselves trying to address the same pressing questions. 

The networks of learning that were created during this time of severe constraint shouldn’t be abandoned because the constraints lessen. Instead, educational leaders can provide oxygen to these informal learning networks and help them grow within their own contexts. As research shows, teachers are just as likely to adopt a technological initiative because of peer support as they are any other element  of support provided.(Frank, Zhao, & Borman, 2004)  To encourage these avenues of professional growth it is imperative that leaders provide space and time for them to happen in-person, without falling into the trap of trying to institutionalize them. The key to these informal PD outlets is that teachers felt comfortable exploring them without feeling as if they were being mandated to utilize their findings or judged for their lack of knowledge or experience. The key for leaders is to find ways to keep the culture of exploration and peer led learning amongst their staff without succumbing to the temptation to control and dictate its outcomes. 

  1. Flexibility 

An almost constant refrain in education circles throughout the past year and a half was “Maslow’s before Bloom’s” –  the need to meet student’s immediate needs (Maslow’s Hierarchy) as priority over instructional goals (Bloom’s Taxonomy).  As every industry tried to figure out how to adapt to the sudden and drastic alterations to daily life, there was a shared sense of understanding that everyone needed a bit of grace and flexibility. Teachers had to adjust to leading class during toddler nap times, or while assisting their own children with online classes. Students needed to share devices and internet bandwidth with a house full of online users thrust into the same situation. Across the board, a sense of shared experience developed as all stakeholders felt the same obstacles and struggled to adapt. 

 Teachers, schools and districts developed new norms in the face of these needs, and many relaxed policies on due dates, homework requirements, attendance and assessment retakes. As leaders consider what school looks like in-person it is important that the policies that were viewed as non-essential during the pandemic be thoroughly analyzed before being reinstated. While there are obvious benefits to some of the policies that needed to be relaxed during the year online, others may fail to prove their worth upon further examination. If the purpose of an assignment is to promote student understanding through practice, does that understanding truly change if the assignment was submitted at 8pm on Tuesday night as opposed to 2:30pm Tuesday afternoon? Before the code-of-conduct and classroom rules are reinstated, there should be some time taken to consider the purposes of said policies, and if the post-pandemic classroom would be better off without them. It was easy for educators to prioritize flexibility when the constraints were felt by all stakeholders, but it is important to remember that many students regularly face similar constraints under non-pandemic circumstances. The grace, latitude and prioritization of the learner above all else should remain a core foundational value for all institutions even after the acute impacts of the pandemic have subsided. 

While I am sure there are many more themes and strategies that have developed over the past year that deserve to be considered, these are a few of the key ideas that I will be reflecting upon as I welcome students back into my room this fall. Throughout the past eighteen months old procedures and strategies have had to be jettisoned in the face of circumstantial necessity. While some of those priors should return with encouragement when we arrive in-person this fall, we should all remember to keep questioning the true purpose and outcome before blindly implementing past strategies. I truly believe that student’s learning can only be enhanced by the continued prioritization of improving student access, student centered assessments and encouraging avenues of flexible learning for both staff and students. 


Bakhshaei, M., Seylar, J., Ruiz, P., & Vang, M.C. (2020) The Valuable Role of Edtech Coaches during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A National Survey. Digital Promise
Frank, K., Zhao, Y., & Borman, K. (2004). Social Capital and the Diffusion of Innovations within Organizations: The Case of Computer Technology in Schools. Sociology of Education,77(2), 148-171.

Ed Tech Pro Tool Belt – Jason Schultz

 Very happy that Jason agreed to do this post. Jason is a friend and colleague, but also an up and coming leader of both Ed Tech and education as a whole. Enjoy!

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Name: Jason Schultz

Position: 10th Grade World History Teacher

Location: Brighton, MI

Twitter Handle:  @jasnschultz

Personal Blog/Website:

Mobile Device: Apple iPhone 4s

Tablet: Apple iPad 2nd Generation

Main Computer: Apple Macbook Pro 15″

What apps/tools/software could you not live without?

Things (App): This has probably been one of my favorite apps on my iPhone. With the hectic schedule of a teacher, there’s always a lot of tasks that I need to accomplish in a given week. This app really helps me organize my tasks and my to-dos, which allows me to be more productive. Another feature I really love is how the app allows you to make tasks for big projects that you want to accomplish. Overall, this app has really improved my daily productivity and organization.

Evernote (App): What tech user does not love this app? It’s a great resource to take notes on your iPad or iPhone and have it synced throughout all your devices. I especially love it when I’m away from my computer and I think of a lesson idea or resource I could use within my curriculum. I’ve also been experimenting with taking note on Evernote during department and staff meetings or even profession development days. It can be tough to type notes on an iPhone, but it keeps my notes organized and their always available on my computer.

Twitter (tool): This is easily the one tool I could never live without. Checking my Twitter feed is a daily routine for me. My twitter feed contains various educators, edtech sites, news sites, and social studies handles that provide great resources and ideas that I can implement in my classroom. I also use twitter to share the lesson plans and ideas I have to get feedback from educators around the world. Twitter provides great opportunity for teacher collaboration that goes beyond the school district.

What apps/tools/software have you repurposed from its original goal or end product? 

The Twitter Project: One of my big projects during my student teaching was incorporating Twitter as an educational tool within my classroom. I wanted to use Twitter as a source for students to express their ideas, understandings, or misconceptions throughout class. Whatever we say or write becomes an expression of our position, giving voice to our ‘speak consciousness’ no matter the context. I developed a class Twitter handle for students to tweet using their mobile devices or devices I provided for them. During class, I projected TweetDeck on the side where students could Tweet anytime throughout a class period. It created a “backchannel” for students to express their thoughts, concerns, or Class Twitterquestions they may not have asked during class. It provided a great space for students who are normally shy or embarrassed to share their voice in class and also create student collaboration inside and outside of class. It also allowed for myself to check for student understanding and questions throughout class.

QR Codes: This great piece of technology was inspired from none other than Kyle Shack. Reading his experiences and utilization of QR codes really inspired me to try and incorporate it within my own curriculum. I developed a Bantu Migration simulation where students were divided into various African tribes and engaged in their own migration throughout the school. QR codes helped navigate the students through the school, provided various information and factors for migration. QR codes really provide a great way for students to quickly access information while utilizing technology.

Share an Ed Tech tip!  

Know when to use educational technology to its full potential. Allow any Ed Tech tool and resource as a way to create new tasks and improve the learning experience.

What is one app/tool/software you would like to learn more about? 

I would love to learn more about Coding and how to do it. It would be a great skill to have both inside and outside the classroom.

Favorite blogs, twitter handles or other resources from your Personal Learning Network: 

Edutopia, T.H.E Journal, and Education Week are great Twitter handles for ideas and resources when it comes to Ed. Tech. David Warlick is a veteran teacher who provides excellent feedback on Ed tech knowledge on Twitter. Even simply just plugging in #edtech on Twitter contains hundreds of different perspectives, tools, and resources that current and future Ed Tech enthusiasts can utilize within their teaching practices.

Best advice you have ever received: 

Never be afraid to try something new, especially when it comes to Ed Tech. Nothing you incorporate, with regards to technology, will ever work perfectly the first time. Ed. Tech is just like cooking, you have to constantly refine, adapt, and improve the process in order to make a great final product and a better learning experience for the students.

Is there anything else you would like to add that you think the Ed Tech community would enjoy/find useful? 

Using Ed Tech is a tough busy and it’s even more tough doing it alone. Utilize resources, educators, and tools in order to make the process easier. There are a lot of great educators and tech enthusiasts who have great ideas when it comes to incorporating technology within the classroom. Blogs, websites, and Twitter are great tools to help build and improve your ed tech knowledge base and arsenal.


Previous posts from the “Ed Tech Pro Tool Belt” series:
Guy Larcom – eLearning Designer @ Davenport University
Candace Marcotte – Technology Facilitator @ Glenview 34