How a CU Denver professor phoned schools worldwide to understand how they adapt during coronavirus

To understand the challenges school districts face during the coronavirus pandemic, University of Colorado Denver Professor Scott McLeod called school leaders across the world.

The 10-minute interviews, McLeod said, led to an informal study that shows districts are going through similar experiences in how they adapt to the unprecedented global event. McLeod is sharing his analysis from interviews that include schools in Colorado, China, and Italy to show the lessons learned.

“What I was hoping to do is try to distill some common leadership lessons or actions that seem to be working for people,” said McLeod, whose research includes how schools redesign instruction and school leadership.

The brief interviews have led McLeod to recognize a pattern in how districts cope.

First, McLeod said districts focus on the basic needs of every student, such as food delivery, and then begin to build an academic structure to serve students.

University of Colorado Denver Professor Scott McLeod. (University of Colorado Denver)

After that, McLeod said, districts settle into the routine of the new remote environment and experiment with how to teach new information to students.

And last, McLeod said educators can take a much needed breath, innovate, and look to the future.

He believes the innovations can help improve experiences for students, such as students being allowed to choose what they want to learn or teachers finding opportunities to engage the district’s most in-need families.

“What I’m hearing from a lot of these leaders is that while they’re simultaneously focused on basic survival right now, they’re also trying to figure out how to create some new opportunities for the school system,” he said.

McLeod said he believes Colorado schools are closer to the second phase of remote learning. Denver Public Schools moved to require online learning last week and some districts, such as Jefferson County Schools, have been teaching online for a few weeks.

University of Colorado Denver professor Scott McLeod called schools across the world and synthesized their responses to the coronavirus pandemic. (Scott McLeod)

Jefferson County Schools Technology Director Mary Beth Bazzanella said teachers over the last several weeks are adjusting and learning new skills to engage students and parents. The district hasn’t been able to reflect on all that’s been learned yet, she said.

The plan, she said, is to use the new learning environment to empower all parents — regardless of background — to advocate for their child and create systems that meet individual student learning styles.

“The hope is that we use technology to empower our students and give them choice and a voice in their learning and that our students are given the opportunity to create and demonstrate their learning in new ways,” Bazzanella said.