The advances in distance learning are turning out to be the biggest boon to schools everywhere during this pandemic. By definition, distance learning is a method of studying where there is physical separation between teachers and students; technology is used to facilitate lessons and communication.
The schools which adopted distance learning early on are the ones with testimonials of minimal disruption to academic progress when COVID-19 struck countries around the world. Stoneleigh-Burnham School (SBS) in Greenfield, Massachusetts is one of them.
The independent school immediately developed a comprehensive programme “Stoneleigh-Burnham MORE: Meet Our Remote Experience” to keep students and faculty members safe and healthy, as well as to ensure a consistent learning experience for students, no matter where they were.
Founded in 1869, SBS is an independent boarding school for girls from grades seven to 12, with programmes for postgraduates and international students. Its mission is to inspire girls to pursue meaningful lives based on honour, respect and intellectual curiosity.
On March 23, 2020, it embarked on another pursuit: effective distance learning that is so much more than the average online classroom experience. The results? Positive enough that educators are confident to use this method of learning for the fall 2020 term.
“Our school has met the current challenges with creativity, commitment, and energy, and we are confident that we will offer a compelling and comprehensive education to our students. No matter how we have to shift in these uncertain times, this is an exciting time in education to think about innovation,” says Head of School Stephanie Luebbers.
Through a bold redesign of their current educational methodologies, SBS has created innovative new ways of teaching, learning and communicating. Over the summer, faculty members participated in an intensive training programme in online teaching through One Schoolhouse, a leader in online education. With this foundation, the faculty developed new programmes that not only enhance the subject matter but also incorporate social emotional learning techniques and culturally-responsive teaching practices.
For the fall 2020 term, the comprehensive distance learning programme will use Canvas, a learning management system accessible worldwide and widely used at schools and universities. As an intuitive system that increases engagement, it provides students and teachers with a more connected learning experience. It complements SBS’s goal to unite the school community and prioritizes the needs and circumstances of each student.
Technology alone does not guarantee a good online classroom experience — hence why interpersonal teacher-student relationships will be prioritised further at SBS. Teachers connect with students and their families to assess individual home learning environments, scheduling needs and time zones.
Students will be encouraged to ask questions and share their thoughts directly and teachers will help make sure students are seen, heard, and ready to learn. Meaningful communication has been proven to challenge a learner’s thinking while moving them in the right direction when it comes to achieving their goals. This time is also meant for them to reflect on their own perspectives with ample guidance.
Co-curricular programmes and class meetings will also be frequently held, as well as remote social events so students can interact with one another outside of class. Health, wellness, and social-emotional support are paramount in online learning — SBS will continue emphasising these so students can perform to the best of their abilities.
In the spring of 2020, SBS’s transition to distance learning was very well-received by students and their families. SBS was also commended for their ability to provide students with quality education, dedicated support, and constant communication.
SBS’s enhanced approach to distance learning is set to transform the student experience, changing the way they learn for the better. The programme was designed to create an engaging and enjoyable learning experience for students that would in turn breathe a whole new life into the teaching experience.
Stoneleigh-Burnham School’s MORE programme was designed so that no student will have to take a back seat. The girls of SBS get to sit in the front row.