DeSoto ISD Offers Anytime Anywhere Learning

DeSoto ISD Offers Anytime Anywhere Learning
Posted on 04/03/2020
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In DeSoto ISD, teachers and leaders believe that learning can take place anytime and anywhere.  

While the district’s campuses closed mid-March and remain closed indefinitely during this COVID-19 global pandemic, DeSoto ISD continues to provide virtual educational experiences and resources through the Anytime, Anywhere Learning Plan.  

“Anytime, Anywhere Learning is providing access to high-quality learning experiences for every single child through the creativity, collaboration, and solution-orientation of our teachers and leaders,” Chief Academic Officer Celeste Barretto said. “We seek to remove barriers to those learning experiences for every child, and to move beyond the bounds of the brick and mortar school building or the limitations of the clock. It means blended and tech-free learning opportunities for every child, anytime, anywhere.” 

The Anytime, Anywhere Learning Plan is an opportunity for students to take guided ownership of their learning so that they not only retain current knowledge and content but that they grow, ensuring that they remain on track academically. 

While early phases of the district’s distance learning plan were centralized, the Anytime, Anywhere Learning Plan provides a district-guided framework for flexible, consistent and continual high-quality, localized instruction facilitated by DeSoto ISD teachers in the digital space. 

Tamesha Brown, Advanced Academics Specialist at Katherine Johnson Technology Magnet Academy, has been staying connected with her students through Zoom, a cloud-based service which offers video conferencing. 

“I do weekly Zoom meetings to continue to check-in and ensure that my students are doing well while providing opportunities for them to journal their thoughts and send videos of themselves discussing the social impact COVID-19 has had on them and their families,” Brown said. “In addition, I’ve allowed them opportunities to engage in hands-on activities that encourage them to problem solve.” 

Brown added that her approach to teaching, planning and collaboration has changed as a result of the current closure. 

“With more time, I have been cultivating my technology skills. I have been attending webinars that provide insights and ideas to better facilitate non-traditional modes of teaching,” Brown said. “I will be an expert on so many things when we return to school.”

Nicole King, who serves as an Instructional Coordinator at Ruby Young Elementary which has a Medical and Environmental Science Magnet Academy, has spent the last few weeks helping parents and students gain access to the various digital learning programs such as Istation, IXL, STEMScopes, and Pearson.  

“This week, I gained an additional role and am privileged to serve as the Virtual PLC Facilitator for a second-grade team of teachers,” King said. “Within this role, I facilitate the process of creating systems and structures for our teachers to collaboratively plan lessons and learning experiences for different content areas. The second-grade team has been phenomenal and are rocking and rolling with their virtual planning efforts.”   

The Meadows Elementary Principal Leon Darden said he is looking forward to what his teachers will create.

“My favorite component of Anytime, Anywhere Learning is the limitless opportunity for autonomy—good autonomy,” Darden said. “The framework is rooted in exceptionalism, but it doesn’t overpower, and leaves room for ingenuity and creative expression in instruction.”

With students now working remotely, DeSoto ISD educators are providing service and support to students as well as the people at home who may be assisting them. 

DeSoto ISD educators will be available 12 hours a day, Monday - Friday through virtual office hours which are facilitated from teachers’ homes while campuses are closed as a result of the executive orders issued to schools across the state to close in response to this current public health concern. 

“Giving our parents and students an opportunity to discuss the assignments during the proposed virtual office hours and providing opportunities to ask questions remotely, personalizes the learning experience,” said DeSoto High School Principal Shon Joseph. 

For teachers, virtual office hours occur daily in 4-hour shifts and can include answering email, providing feedback on student work, delivering online instruction, leading discussion boards, and running virtual small groups, among other opportunities to serve and support students and families in the learning process. Because our focus is on children and families, we understand that our teachers are also parents responsible for the management of their households and guiding the learning of their own children. The weekly 12-hour availability affords us the opportunity to support a healthy work-life balance for our teachers in DeSoto ISD.

Allowing this sort of people-centered flexibility was paramount to DeSoto ISD Superintendent Dr. D’Andre J. Weaver as he laid out the vision for the Anytime, Anywhere Learning Plan.

“We can’t educate children if the adults in our system aren’t well, and I feel responsible for making sure that each adult in our system is seen and heard,” said Weaver. “Educators, and those who work in this field, give so much of themselves on behalf of others; my job is to make sure that they’re thinking about themselves and their families as well.”

Dr. Weaver shared that although COVID-19 has completely upended everything people once considered normal, his focus is making sure that everyone connected to DeSoto ISD is well and stays alive to see another day. 

“I’m proud of our principals, counselors, and teachers who are calling kids and checking on their well-being. I am loving all of the live, all-class check-ins and celebrations that our teachers are leading,” Dr. Weaver said.  “My youngest daughter recently had a birthday during this crisis, and she received two Zoom calls: the first, was from her teacher and her classmates. They sang Happy Birthday, made her cards, and told her that they missed her. The second one was from her principal and school leadership team. Those two calls made not only her day, but mine as well. Our plan still values human connection and contact, but we’ve been forced to think about it in different ways. We’re making sure that the humanistic element doesn’t fade while we’re physically separated during these times.”

Barretto said that as she and the Teaching and Learning and Leadership Team created the Anytime, Anywhere Learning Plan, they started with the question of “What do we truly value?”

“We value excellence, empathy, and equity—this is how we ground our decisions for our response. As a cabinet team, and as a Teaching, Learning, and Leadership team, the safety, health, happiness, and educational development of our employees and our students is first and foremost for us—in that order, “said Barretto. 

The foundation of the learning plan is rooted in project-based experiential learning. Students are not required to be on a computer every day but will be given a weekly set of activities to build towards a culminating project. These are opportunities for students to receive teacher feedback through discussion posts, quizzes and other assignments to refine understanding.

From the teacher perspective, DeSoto ISD educators have multiple, regularly scheduled opportunities to lesson plan, calibrate with colleagues, offer and support instruction and engage with students and families.

While students will not receive grades in the traditional sense, students will continue to receive the feedback and instruction needed from their teachers to ensure continued learning. The district places emphasis on the completion of these performance assessment projects which will serve as evidence of learning to support students’ preparedness for grade-level promotion.

According to the Texas Education Agency’s guidelines, districts are encouraged to advance students for the 2020-2021 school year without penalty as a result of the adjustments students have undergone in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

DeSoto ISD instructional leaders have developed a revised localized grading policy that takes this guidance into consideration as teachers measure student academic performance in the Anytime, Anywhere Learning Plan. Students in grades 3-12 will have content-based performance assessments in the form of projects. The differentiation for high school students is that their projects are interdisciplinary and cross-content-based. For students in grades PK-2, these learning experiences are also cross-content-inclusive but are more focused on engagement.

For Dr. Weaver, who has two daughters who attend school in DeSoto ISD, his family has created a schedule that prioritizes multiple realms of learning. 

“Our girls start off with their daily devotionals during breakfast, then transition to I-Station, IXL, and Seesaw. They have 15 minutes of direct instruction in each content area with our resident expert teacher - mommy, and sometimes daddy. They have independent and quiet time, outside physical play time, create-whatever-you-want time, and then free play/tv time,” he said. “We’ve tried to personalize as much as we can for our girls, which has really driven the way I think about all of our students in DeSoto.” 

Weaver said, as a district, we are trying to build a system that ensures each student gets what he or she needs, anytime and anywhere. 

“We’re developing rubrics that make it clear what exemplary work should look like. We’re asking our experts - our teachers - to record videos of themselves doing what they do best, so that our students can view it whenever they may need to,” said Weaver. “And, as a system, we’re prioritizing all of those non-academic skills and experiences that make our children holistic human beings.”  

While the Anytime, Anywhere Learning Plan was developed as the district’s response to provide a continuation of learning for students during school closures, this approach will become the new normal for DeSoto ISD’s strategies for learning for the future, ensuring that DeSoto ISD continues to utilize and further develop a multi-faceted approach to instruction and education. 

“We see this as a moment to improve an already inherently flawed educational system, and this plan affords us the opportunity to scale and individualized student learning, meeting students where they are at a pace that works for them in a space that works for them.” said Weaver. “We are all experiencing one of the most traumatic experiences of our lifetime, and we are all doing the very best that we can. Providing this framework for digital, home-based learning also provides our students the balance they need to ensure they do not become overwhelmed or burdened by the current health crisis and that they maintain a sense of normalcy during these unprecedented times.”