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Rapidly transitioning to online learning: Part II

By Tom O'Donahoo on 31 March 2020NSWstaffroomUKstaffroomEdTechCOVID-19

Your communications plan

During this transition to online learning, the biggest challenge that schools are likely to face isn’t technology, but change management. Almost everyone that has successfully rolled out a digital learning program in their school has done so over months or years, not overnight. These days, many schools have already taken big leaps towards implementing robust digital learning programs, and many teachers are more experienced with these programs than ever. However, this skill and experience is not evenly distributed. In fact, it can often be quite a mixed-bag both across and within schools. To add to that, it often takes time to prepare the parent and student community for these changes. They’ll need to be prepared with how these new learning modes will work, what will be expected of them and where they can go to find further information or voice their concerns.

At this point in time, the sad reality is that most schools will need to plan for a full-school-closure, as well as some period of partial exclusion of a subset of students. This might be due to illness, quarantine or parents who decide to remove their kids from school. Preparing the communications needed to roll out your online learning program now is going to save a lot of confusion when more drastic steps need to be taken.

After talking to a number of principals at our partner schools I’ve put together a template communication plan. This is by no means exhaustive, but it should help to get you started.

Your potential comms plan

Download and view the comms plan as a PDF table.


Key update

An update on any changes to school policy and processes or to communicate information relating to health and safety.

  • Audience: Parents, students
  • Communication channels: Email; SMS; Print; Social network
  • Timing or frequency: Daily or as needed.

Notes and/or examples: There is a sea of information out there at the moment so key updates need to be very brief and specific. These often are best written in the BLUF format, (Bottom Line UpFront) so that people can quickly answer “what does this mean for me” in the first few sentences before you dive into detail. You can include answers to common questions or discuss the rationale behind any new decisions after you’ve got the main point across.

Don’t be afraid to send an update out each day, even if there is no change. People will appreciate the reassurance and knowing that you’re on top of the situation. However, make sure to clearly label key updates in the subject, e.g. prepend the subject line with “Important Update:”.


Survey for teachers

Initially survey teachers to forecast what potential issues you processes might need to handle and generate ideas.

  • Audience: Teaching staff
  • Communication channels: Email; Chat
  • Timing or frequency: Prior to setting a policy if possible, and then weekly thereafter.

Notes and/or examples: This needs to include questions such as “What issues do you foresee with a move to online learning?”, “What do you think your responsibilities are going to be during this time?”, “What can we do to better support you during this transition?”


Survey for parents

Initially survey parents to understand what potential issues you processes might need to handle and generate buy-in from your community.

  • Audience: Parents
  • Communication channels: Email
  • Timing or frequency: Prior to setting a policy if possible, and then weekly thereafter.

Notes and/or examples: This needs to be roughly the same as the survey for teachers. The team at St Mark’s very graciously shared with me the survey the sent out to their parent community. We'll share the findings of that in a follow-up article, and we’ll add a link here when it’s available.


Process guide

A document setting out how online learning will work at your school.

  • Audience: Parents, teachers, students
  • Communication channels: Email; Social
  • Timing or frequency: At the time your online learning plan is released.

Notes and/or examples: The more specific the better. Make sure to include how you’ll release updates to this process and where to go with questions about it.


Expectations for online learning

A document setting out the expectations of parents, teachers, and learners.

  • Audience: Parents, teachers, students
  • Communication channels: Email; Print
  • Timing or frequency: At the time your online learning plan is released.

Notes and/or examples: This sets out the expectations of each stakeholder in the process. It’s better to release this as a single document rather than one for each group so that everyone knows who’s responsible for what and what the expectations are of them. This will help each group hold the other accountable for making the process work.


Survey for students

Survey to understand if your process is working and what needs to be changed.

  • Audience: Students
  • Communication channels: Email; Chat
  • Timing or frequency: Weekly following the release of your online learning plan.

Notes and/or examples: Each week, send out a survey that at least includes questions to help you identify what’s working well, what’s not working well and what should be changed going forward.


Community group

An avenue for your school community to support each other and those in need.

  • Audience: Parents
  • Communication channels: Email; Print
  • Timing or frequency: At some regular cadence.

Notes and/or examples: Members of your school community might need help during this crisis. If you’ve got a Facebook group, community page, or something of that sort, make sure you’ve shared where to access it and encouraged your community to reach out both if they need help and if they can offer it.


Managing our communities

One important thing I want to note is that many families will be impacted by this crisis in more ways than one. We're now facing what will be one of the most profound economic slowdowns in history. As an education community, we are lucky to work in a sector that is relatively protected, but there will be many families that won’t be so lucky. It’s not just our job to keep learning going, but we have an obligation to keep our communities going.

For me, the reality of that hit pretty hard last week. After facing enormous and unprecedented cancellations, my mother had to close her corporate event management company after 28 successful years of operation, leaving her and her staff without an income. As someone who knows how hard it is to build a business from nothing, I can understand how shattering it is to face that reality. As it stands, many more people will be faced with the same predicament as this crisis deepens.

It’s a time to be at our best, to hold each other close (figuratively speaking) and to make sure that we do whatever we can to support those that need it most.

Stay safe out there and look after each other—we’ll pull through.

If you’d like to get in touch you can email me at tom@getatomi.com or reach out to our team at schools@getatomi.com


Related posts from The Staffroom:

Rapidly transitioning to online learning: Part I

Maintaining continuity during the Coronavirus outbreak

Atomi Brainwaves: Transitioning to online learning in the face of COVID-19


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