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Leadership for Remote Learning: Strategies for Success

reviewed by Ahlam Lee - July 26, 2021

coverTitle: Leadership for Remote Learning: Strategies for Success
Author(s): Ronald Williamson & Barbara R. Blackburn
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0367688638, Pages: 200, Year: 2021
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In times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, when in-person interaction is unavoidably restricted, all school community members including principals, teachers, parents, and students need to be well prepared to transition from a traditional face-to-face to a virtual learning environment. However, there are barriers and facilitators in delivering quality remote instruction. In this regard, Learning for Remote Learning, by Ronald Williamson and Barbara R. Blackburn, provides practical insights into the ways in which school community members build teamwork for cultivating an inclusive and engaging online or hybrid classroom.

In Chapter 1, the authors state their intention behind writing the book and provide a snapshot of realities and challenges in the rapid shift to remote learning. Further, they define the terms related to remote learning. The authors underscore that the book is not intended to critique educators’ efforts at implementing quality remote instruction, but to help them optimize these efforts by suggesting leadership strategies and tools. In response to the realities and challenges, the authors craft brainstorming questions to refine remote learning, the answers to which are included in the subsequent chapters.    

In Chapter 2, the authors note that remote learning will continue to serve as an alternative learning format after the end of the current pandemic, given that several states already operated remote learning schools prior to the current pandemic and district leaders view remote learning as a workable option during inclement weather. To this end, the authors describe how school leaders can develop practicable strategies to establish a sense of urgency, begin to plan, and act to implement, sustain success, and evaluate and adjust the school’s performance in facilitating remote learning.

Chapter 3 provides practical guidelines for cultivating productivity in a remote setting based upon the theoretical indicators of school culture, which include rituals and ceremonies, heroes and heroines, stories and tales, and rewards and reinforcements. With consideration of school members’ resistance to change, the practical guidelines articulate ways to adapt the school culture indicators from a face-to-face format to a remote setting. The authors emphasize that the practical guidelines are not intended to change the current school culture, but rather to materialize the existing school culture indicators, tailored to the needs of a remote setting.

Chapter 4 centers on how to cultivate school community members’ engagement, collaboration, and shared decision making in the shift to remote settings, while pointing out both challenges and opportunities in such cultivation. A set of professional behaviors and attitudes are recommended, including sharing and analyzing data, reconciling divergent viewpoints, recognizing and rewarding achievements of others, and taking full responsibility for actions instead of blaming others or conditions. Virtual infrastructure for such cultivation can rely on various online platforms, expertise from IT stakeholders, and concerted efforts by school community members.  

Chapter 5 begins with 10 well-established principles of effective communication, and the authors describe several tips to integrate these principles into a remote setting. The tips help navigate the normalization of civility and mutual respect in an online community. Notably, all stakeholders are encouraged to take moments to think about whether their online messages could be offensive and to ensure others’ privacy prior to sending or posting.       

Chapter 6 articulates leadership competencies that enable school principals to ensure a smooth implementation of high-quality instruction in a remote setting. The leadership competencies are grounded in considerate, respectful, and supportive attitudes toward teachers who feel overwhelmed by the emergent transition from face-to-face to online learning, juggle multiple roles in work and family, and/or experience a sense of isolation while working remotely.     

Chapter 7 provides a virtual professional development (PD) toolkit that enables teachers to facilitate an online or hybrid classroom whose quality should be equivalent to that of a traditional face-to-face classroom. Well-planned PD is committed to the specific goals and needs for high-quality online learning and equity for all students. The specific goals and needs should be articulated based on a wide range of quantitative and qualitative data as well as research evidence pertaining to student learning processes and outcomes. The PD contents should be tied to the teachers’ multilevel psychological needs, including workplace survival, job security, a sense of belonging in the workplace, self-esteem at work, and self-actualization as framed by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The PD platform(s) should be designed based on the specific goals and needs, which would enable various stakeholders to fully engage in collaboration. PD could be facilitated with a mixture of various learning activities that include engaging the professional learning community, book study, lesson studies, discussing expectations, feedback loops, learning walks, unconferences, and personal action plans.

Chapter 8 addresses equity issues in the shift to remote learning given the reality that vulnerable students, such as students from low-income backgrounds, students from working families, students with disabilities (SWDs), and English Language Learners (ELLs) face several barriers to fully participating in an online classroom. Specifically, low-income parents are burdened by the costs of purchasing necessary technology devices and accessing reliable, high-speed internet for remote learning. Working families have limited ability to monitor their children’s school work. Online classrooms are not ideal to provide SWDs and ELLs with specialized technology or learning spaces. With respect to the challenges faced by the vulnerable students, this chapter articulates strategies to make remote learning more equitable and inclusive.  

Chapter 9 lays out leadership strategies to address four major concerns: how to react to a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, how to handle resistance from teachers in the shift to a remote classroom, how to work with a limited budget in creating a remote learning infrastructure for all students, and how to build partnerships with parents and families in ensuring their kids fully engage in remote classrooms. The leadership strategies’ core themes share the common thread of analyzing the best interests of all stakeholders, using a win–win approach to negotiation and broadening stakeholder participation for delivering high-quality, equitable instruction in a remote learning setting.                     

Chapter 10 provides self-management strategies for school principals who must deal with the overwhelming demands of school community members in the sudden move to remote learning. As the key strategies, the authors articulate how to manage time, maintain work–life balance, become a continuous learner, avoid decision fatigue, and manage the unexpected. These strategies signal the importance of maintaining rational thinking to manage multiple tasks in a limited time, in an effort to meet the various needs of school community members.   

Overall, this book is worth reading regardless of crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, because remote learning is becoming a viable alternative to traditional instruction during times such as inclement weather or natural disasters, when students are unable to attend school physically. Each chapter includes workplace scenarios that school principals may encounter, which helps readers develop a sense of reality by immersing themselves in real workplace situations. Further, each chapter includes a final note that encourages readers to apply the chapter’s key concepts to their current situations and identify actionable steps toward improving readers’ current situations. If the authors have an opportunity to publish another book related to remote learning or edit the current book, I would suggest they consider adding a chapter that focuses on teaching technology skills to students and preparing students for remote learning and the future of work in the digital age. As noted in the current book, parents, particularly working parents, are struggling to assist their kids to engage in the remote classroom, so that it is essential for students themselves to be equipped with technical skills. Beyond learning in a remote classroom, students are future workers who will be expected to be proficient in troubleshooting and solving technical problems in a (remote) workplace setting.        

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 26, 2021
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23799, Date Accessed: 12/8/2021 11:57:02 PM

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About the Author
  • Ahlam Lee
    Xavier University
    E-mail Author
    AHLAM LEE, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the school of psychology at Xavier University (Cincinnati, OH). Dr. Lee’s published works span across various areas including STEM education, refugee issues through an interdisciplinary lens, and confirmation bias. Her current research focuses on national culture, ideologies, and competition.
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