Originally published in The Indianapolis Star – February 9, 2020
I have been in education for a long time, both as a teacher and as an administrator. I have also taught in multiple school settings, including in a traditional classroom as well as in a virtual one.
Having a front row seat to various learning environments has taught me that it does not matter what kind of school a student attends, there is no longer a one-size-fits-all approach to learning. The challenge that exists, however, is that some school administrators and leaders tend to still have a silo mentality when it comes to the different approaches.
I want to share some of my experiences in different school settings to challenge my peers to think more holistically about how best to prepare students for a successful future, especially as the definition of “school” continues to evolve.
Today, I run an academy in Indianapolis that provides a unique mix of traditional brick-and-mortar schooling and online learning for students in grades K-8. This blended setup gives students the ability to receive both in-person instruction from a state-licensed teacher and off-site/online learning facilitated by a learning coach.
While traditional brick-and-mortar schools have been around forever, the past decade has witnessed a rapid expansion of the virtual school sector, largely as a result of the changing education needs of students. Today, millions of students receive some form of online instruction. Unfortunately many teacher education programs still have not embraced online learning, to the detriment of all educators.
It doesn’t matter what classroom setting a teacher is in, student engagement is everything. Because a virtual classroom offers different challenges in this area — namely not having the daily face-to-face interaction with students — my view is that if you can engage a student in the virtual world, you can definitely engage students in-person.
A few semesters ago at the college where I teach students who are becoming educators, I had five excited students who wanted to teach in a virtual setting but were not permitted. As I am also an adjunct professor, this broke my heart. I would like to see more incentives offered by states to allow for virtual education as part of teacher certification requirements.
An area where I have had success in traditional public schools and want to see more of an integral part of the virtual learning experience is in partnerships with outside groups and organizations.
Partnerships are so critical to learning, especially since they help prepare students for their professional futures. When I was an administrator in both traditional public schools and charter schools back in North Carolina, I was successful in forming partnerships with colleges and universities.
A couple of areas where I think there is a real opportunity for teachers in both brick and mortar and online classrooms to connect is in professional learning and development as well as resource development and sharing.
I believe that if we can work together on professional learning, teachers in both traditional and online settings would improve because there is so much we can learn from each other.
Second, there needs to be a system that allows both school types to share resources. When I was teaching in virtual schools in North Carolina, I regularly would ask my local public school district if I could borrow textbooks and other teaching manuals since they had a surplus.
While approaches to education have historically existed largely in a vacuum, my experiences have taught me that the walls that separate the different classrooms of learning are not as distinct as they once were.
I urge all education administrators, across all platforms of learning, to see each other as partners in learning so that we can utilize what works best in each environment for the collective betterment of all students.
Janice Silver is the head of schools for the Hoosier Academies Network of Schools in Indianapolis.