Here are 2 innovative ideas for virtual learning post-COVID

In one Texas district, virtual tutors will have a vested interest in student outcomes
By: | July 20, 2021
(Ector County ISD)(Ector County ISD)

Administrators are launching initiatives to maximize the effectiveness of online learning, even if the practice is no longer as essential as it was in the COVID-disrupted 2020-21 school year.

In Ector County ISD in Texas, ESSER Covid relief funds are allowing administrators to ramp up virtual tutoring and virtual teacher coaching for 2021-22. The district has not been able to hire enough in-person tutors or instructional coaches due to staffing shortages in the region, Superintendent Scott Muri says.

After a spring pilot program, the district has signed outcomes-based contracts with several virtual tutoring companies—which means the vendors will be paid based on the growth of students served, Muri says.

“The tutors were tied to outcomes,” he says, “This made everybody pay a bit more attention to ensuring overall success.”

English-language learners, economically disadvantaged students and students in special education will be prioritized for tutoring, which will be offered to students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Students will visit school computer labs to work one-on-one with trained online tutors before, during or after the regular school day. The sessions, in fact, will run just like regular class periods in a “very structured environment,” Muri says.

Tutors will lesson plan with classroom teachers to align instruction, with a focus on catching students up in English language arts and math. Throughout the year, students, who will receive about 60 hours of tutoring, will take regular assessments so educators can closely track their progress.

Muri expects to spend several million dollars on the program, which will account for a “pretty significant amount” of its ESSER funding. The Texas legislature earlier this year decided it would no longer fund online learning.

Virtual coaching

Also in the virtual realm, Ector County administrators are building an extensive virtual coaching program for the district’s teachers.

Classrooms will be equipped with an iPad on a swivel that will track teachers as they move through their classrooms. Teachers will wear mikes and an earpiece, so they can get real-time feedback from coaches elsewhere in the country.

The district also piloted virtual coaching last school year with its own staff, when Covid protocols restricted the number of adults who could be in a classroom at any one time, Muri says.

A key to working with external coaches will be providing time for them to build relationships with Ector County’s teachers, he adds.

“One thing we already knew as educators is when you have a healthy relationship, it’s easier to receive feedback,” Muri says. “We want to ensure coaches and teachers develop relationships before any coaching begins.”