Ready. Set. Pivot!:  4 Things you can do to Prepare for Impromptu Learning at a Distance

By Caroline D. Haebig, Apple Distinguished Educator and Author

As school systems continue to face the pandemic, many educators are still working on how to pivot when students are unable to attend school in person. The purpose of this article is to help educators build a foundation of the work they are already engaged in.  Specifically, this article outlines routines and strategies that can support learners and their families in face to face learning environments and ease the transition to distance learning when needed.

While many educators have jumped into the intricacies of remote learning and technology platforms over the past year and a half, others are still trying to figure out how to juggle the complexities of in person, distance and blended learning. This article will outline simple entry points within traditional learning environments that will better prepare educators, learners and their families to pivot when needed.  While these entry points parallel the work that is typically already in place, it is important for school leaders to provide educators with the opportunity to understand the goal and process of this work, clarify expectations, and incorporate the time to engage in this work.

Whether you are preparing for an individual student or half a class unable to attend in-person learning, these strategies will enable all learners to move forward.  In addition, these methods create opportunities to increase engagement and personalized learning even if you never have to pivot. This article outlines four specific strategies educators can use to create a simple, yet powerful foundation for supporting learning no matter where it ends up taking place.

1. Implement a Learning Management System (LMS) or Workflow tool no matter what.

Get ahead of the game, and maximize learning management systems and workflow tools before it is a necessity.  Don’t wait till you have to implement distance learning to get your LMS platform up and running. Infact, doing so provides an opportunity to develop students’ executive function and regulation skills and connect families more closely to the learning taking place in school. Learn about specific ways for how to do this.

2. Identify and incorporate at least one way learners can engage with course content using digital platforms. 

Do you have access to a curriculum resource that you can share with students to support their learning? Having at least one source of content for students and families to access provides a sample of the learning taking place.  In addition, sharing curriculum resources  offers learners and families access to just in time resources to keep learning going until you can add more. Whether you are linking to student companion curriculum resources sites or digital textbooks, posting a great video demonstration of a key concept, uploading a PDF, collaborative document or presentation, or incorporating resources such as Newsesla, try to have one resource available for students to access for the content they are learning.

3. Create routines for how students demonstrate learning using a variety of tools and modalities. 

Are you already engaged in formative assessment work? This is an opportunity to maximize what you are already doing. For each subject area create at least one opportunity where learners use a digital tool in order to demonstrate learning. This also can provide opportunities for learners to engage in structured choice, explore and use different modalities and mediums to engage in and demonstrate learning. In doing this, students and teachers will also develop a workflow for creating and submitting products using digital platforms. Not to mention, this will also help educators become more familiar with how to provide formative feedback on digital products.View specific examples of the types of products learners can create and tools they can use here.

4. Incorporate consistent opportunities for reflection, goal setting and visible thinking. 

Are you already working on ways for students to regulate their own learning and progress? Visible thinking routines offer powerful strategies for helping learners demonstrate not only where they are in their learning, but also provide opportunities for learners to reflect on gains they have made, where they are going next, and identify questions they still have. Use your learning management system and other tools to engage learners in this work. For example, for each unit or chapter etc, create at least one opportunity to invite learners to engage in visible thinking and reflection.  View sample visible thinking strategies and tools here. 


There is no question about it, the work of educators is complex.  Some of these complexities can be managed by taking the time to put foundational practices in place to support the use of digital tools to organize learning experiences, no matter where they occur. When teachers and school leaders can connect the dots of learning for families and students during traditional and non-traditional circumstances will put all stakeholders at an advantage.  


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