Teaching and Learning in a Pandemic: The Hybrid Approach
Safely reopening during a pandemic? It’s a task many schools are unequipped to handle – one that not only requires dedicated teachers, the right technology, and carefully thought-out health and safety protocols, but also enough space to make physical distancing possible. In addition, a successful reopening must include provisions for students continuing to learn at home for health reasons, even as many of their peers return to campus.
Fortunately, The Potomac School was up to the task. Thanks to our beautiful 90-acre campus, careful attention to health metrics and the advice of medical experts, and the tireless efforts of trustees, administrators, faculty, and staff, Potomac achieved the goal that many other schools have found elusive, reopening its campus this fall. Key to this success were a multi-layered strategy to protect the community’s health and safety, and an innovative hybrid instructional model designed to meet the needs of both students on campus and those learning at home.
Adapting to this hybrid model required some adjustment. Teachers in all four divisions were equipped with wide-angle cameras and tripods and quickly learned to position these so that students at home would have the clearest view of classroom activities. Working simultaneously and seamlessly with two groups of learners – those in front of them and those whose images they see projected on a whiteboard in the classroom – also took some getting used to. But Potomac’s faculty quickly adapted their teaching strategies to keep both groups engaged in class activities and ensure that every student gets appropriate attention and support.
Juna Kim McDaid, Potomac’s assistant head for academics, reflects, “We anticipated that it might take some time for the teachers to get comfortable with the hybrid approach. It requires a lot of recalibration – rethinking how lessons are delivered and how best to keep students involved and connected. But now our teachers are feeling more at ease, having discovered new tools and ways to engage their students. Even those who might not have considered themselves tech-savvy before the pandemic are now expert at incorporating technology into their teaching to better serve all learners.”
Potomac’s academic technologists, Jenni Ashley, Beth Brundage, and newcomer Gwen Hicks, have provided invaluable support as faculty and students have adapted to new approaches to the classroom experience. Jenni says, “I value each conversation I have with our teachers, as I help them master new technology and find creative ways to keep their instruction engaging. One of the silver linings of this pandemic for me is the great interactions I’ve been having with my colleagues.”
Like the teachers, Potomac’s students have made the required adjustment. With hybrid instruction, those in the classroom and those learning at home can see and hear one another and interact in real time. They are also having fun using online tools to collaborate on projects and create interactive presentations.
Juna observes, “One good thing that has come out of this very challenging situation is an increased appreciation of the value that technology brings to education. Tech has opened up new doors for exploration, inquiry, and hands-on learning. I think enhanced use of technology in our work is here to stay, even when we’re all back together in one place!”