Nancy Frey is a professor at San Diego State University in Educational Leadership where she focuses on policies and practices in literacy and school leadership. Nancy is also a teacher leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College, an award-winning open-enrollment public school in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego that she co-founded in 2007. For nearly 3 decades, Nancy has dedicated her work to the knowledge and skills teachers and school leaders need to help students attain their goals and aspirations. Nancy just released The Distance Learning Playbook with co-authors Doug Fisher and John Hattie.

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Show Highlights

  • Win the school year by using these plays from Nancy’s playbook
  • How to pivot in a pandemic or any other crisis
  • Tips to build, maintain and foster relationships when we’re at a distance
  • The loss of learning in times of crisis is counterintuitive
  • Why national test scores increase during times of crisis
  • This isn’t crisis teaching. Create cohesion and consistency with these scheduling strategies
  • Future proofing students
Nancy Frey: The Distance Learning Playbook

“What I want a Ruckus Maker to remember is that our job is to be a Ruckus Maker. As educators, I think that we sort of have a self concept that we maintain the status quo. Now more than ever, we need to disrupt. We need to innovate. Schooling has needed to be innovated for a long time. This is our chance.” 

Nancy Frey

Full Transcript Available Here

Daniel (00:04):

Early 2020, everything changed in education. Schools were closed. We went into crisis mode opening back up in a virtual setting. What was that experience like for you? What were the biggest challenges? What would you do over? In what ways did you actually improve what you offered your students at the time? It would have been very helpful if you had a playbook and good news. Now, not only do you have your experience, which you can rely on, but today I’m joined by Nancy Frey, coauthor of the distance learning playbook, and we’re going to dig into some of the ideas she shares in that resource. Of course, you can pick up your own copy to go deeper into those ideas. And just so you know, I linked the book up for you in the show notes, Hey, it’s Daniel. And welcome to the better leaders, better schools, podcasts, a show for Ruckus Makers, those out of the box leaders making change happen in education. And we’ll be right back after these messages from our show sponsors.

Daniel (01:13):

All students have an opportunity to succeed with organized binder, who equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning. Whether that’s in a distance hybrid or traditional educational setting, learn [email protected]. Today’s podcast is brought to you by Teach Fx. It’s basically like a Fitbit for teachers helping them be mindful of teacher talk versus student talk, get a special 20% discount for your school or district by visiting teachfx.Com/BLBS. In the Mastermind, we believe that questions are better than answers and that there’s power in connecting with other elite performers. Kevin, a principal in Tunisia had this to say about his mastermind experience. I feel more connected to the everyday changes in education. In addition to being more informed, I feel empowered to bring new educational ideas and strategies to my team at my school. We’d love to serve you in the mastermind and we welcome your application and role today at better leaders, better schools.com/mastermind.

Daniel (02:28):

Hey there Ruckus Maker today, I am joined by Nancy Frey, a professor at San Diego State University in educational leadership, where she focuses on policies and practices and literacy in school leadership. Nancy is also a teacher leader at Health Sciences High and Middle College, an award winning open enrollment public school in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego, she co founded in 2007. For nearly three decades, Nancy has dedicated her work to the knowledge and skills teachers and school leaders need to help students attain their goals and aspirations. Nancy is here today to talk about a newly released book, the distance learning playbook with coauthors Doug Fisher and John Hattie. Nancy, welcome to the show.

Nancy (03:16):

Oh Daniel, thank you so much for being here and hello to all the Ruckus Makers out there, because that’s what we’re here to do today.

Daniel (03:24):

That’s right. Love the energy. We’re so happy that you’re with us. Let’s start with the book, Distance Learning Playbook, which is out now and obviously very much needed. It’s not your typical book. So tell me why you took the approach of the playbook first

Nancy (03:42):

The playbook, that structure for us was really important. We’ve actually done a couple of playbooks already, and they’ve really been received very well by practitioners by school leaders. The idea of a playbook is a lot like for anybody who’s ever coached any kind of youth sports then hopefully you can relate to the idea of a playbook and certainly you would never go into a game or a match and simply perform the first play simply because it’s something that’s on the first page, based on the context, based on what it is that you need, based on how things are evolving. You pick the play that you need at the time that you need it. The idea behind this playbook is especially that readers, that users go into the modules, go into the place that speaks to them that resonate with them and their context at that moment. So in other words, we’re giving you permission to hop around.

Daniel (04:44):

That’s great. It’s an agile and flexible approach, which is already a necessary skill, I think for leaders to have but much more so today.

Nancy (04:53):

Yeah, absolutely. That idea of being able to pivot really rapidly. My goodness. We’re certainly being put to the test on that right now. Aren’t we?

Daniel (05:01):

Yeah, absolutely. I know that you started a school a while ago in 2007 and we’ll get back to the book, but since we’re on the topic of pivoting, what are some of the pivots that you’ve seen and have had to make within that school on these days?

Nancy (05:19):

You spend that many years with teenagers and with families embedded in a community. You find out that there are lots of pivots that you need to do in our school in particular partners with a large health care organization. And so depending on what’s happening at the healthcare organization, that has a lot of influence on what it is that we’re doing and what it is that our students are doing when there have been flu epidemics, for example,that has had an impact on how our students are doing their internships. We have certainly been through, here in California where I am certainly, economic downturns that have greatly impacted what the school has been able to do. We’ve had new standards come online. Every year, when you think about it every year has something new with it this year coming up, probably the newest year we’ve ever had,

Daniel (06:19):

Can only imagine it. There’s that partnership with the health industry and is there anything you can tell a Ruckus Maker who is considering, how do I build stronger partnerships with businesses or health industries or any industry, anything you’ve learned along the years that you could pass on?

Nancy (06:41):

I think what’s really important in building partnerships like that is to not go into the conversation, talking about how much it would mean to you, how much your organization would benefit, but rather to flip that script and make sure that your leading conversation is how this partnership would benefit them. What are the gains that they can possibly have from there? Of course, then we can start collaborating, then we can start figuring out what are the mutually beneficial aspects of the partnership, but you go in there and your first argument is always, how will this partnership benefit your organization?

Daniel (07:26):

So it should be a lot less Me, me, me more about you, more about us, we, and that kind of perspective is what I’m hearing there. Let’s go back to the distance learning playbook. I’m curious just from your creative side, was there a favorite content piece or chapter that you worked on

Nancy (07:47):

That teacher, student relationships to me, I think are no pun intended closest to my heart because I believe as much as anything, that’s what all of us are being challenged with all over the globe. How is it that we can build, maintain and foster those relationships when we’re at a distance? I was really eager, in particular to dive into that content because our overall message is this. You didn’t forget how to teach, just because the platform changed. And so we know a lot collectively about teacher, student relationships and how important they are, take a deep breath and keep in mind what it is that, you know, works, what it is that, you know, matters and then get about the business of figuring out how it is that you’re going to use that to your benefit and to your students’ benefit in that virtual platform

Daniel (08:49):

Makes a lot of sense. Nancy, you definitely wet my appetite. I know the Ruckus Makers, if they haven’t yet uploaded the distance learning playbook, I know they’re going to go get themselves a copy. In terms of those things that did work, share a tip or two from that part of the book, in terms of relationships between teachers and students, what could we do?

Nancy (09:10):

Well, here we are here in North America poised at the beginning of school. We’re all going into those first couple of weeks of school and in a face to face environment. What teachers always do is really get busy with building relationships with kids, finding out what their interests are, personalizing the environment for those students. You can do exactly those same kinds of things, personalize your environment, such that kids see their names on the background that you use during a live session. You might not be able to put their names on the desk, but you can certainly put it in the background that’s behind you, make sure that you’re collecting those interest surveys, those interest activities that you always do so that you can begin to build a dossier if you will, on every child and what it is that matters for that child, that gives you an opportunity to be able to bring materials in that are relevant to those students. And that is going to snowball into the way that we had designed engaging tasks, the way it is that we ramp up learning and accelerate learning.

Daniel (10:28):

We are comfortable with wait time. Those that work with me know that I’m the King of silence. So it’s okay. Even in a podcast, I want to frame this question that way, because I’d like you to really think deeply, you might have an answer right away, but while doing the research and putting this resource together, was there anything that you found to be helpful and engaging and that works that was possibly counter intuitive for the reader?

Nancy (10:57):

What was counterintuitive for me was what it was that John Hattie brought to this text and I’ll put that into more context. Doug and I have done a lot of work with John over the years, but what he brought forward was a whole body of research that I was unaware of around how it is that schools have responded whenever disasters have occurred in their environment. And the fact that a feared loss of learning in those communities was not nearly as great as everyone had feared. For me, that was counterintuitive. He brought forward the research from New Zealand on that Christchurch earthquakes and the aftermath of that when schools were closed for so very long, the bushfires in Australia, the research on a devastating fireworks factory that exploded in the Netherlands back in the early 2000, the aftermath of hurricanes, Katrina and Rita in all of those cases, schools were closed for a long period of time.

Nancy (12:15):

And as schools came back, what teachers got busy with was really focusing on what it was that kids knew in order to be able to teach them what it was that they needed next. In other words, it wasn’t business as usual, once they came back together, it wasn’t, Oh, it’s October. And so this is what we always teach in October. Teachers got busy in really being able to focus on what it was that kids knew and didn’t know. And the loss of learning in all of those cases turned out to be much smaller than had been feared. That for me was very counterintuitive.

Daniel (12:56):

Let me try to reflect that back to you. So essentially we’re going to be okay that during a crisis, the fear of how the kids might suffer or the loss of learning that would be endured wasn’t as significant as what we predicted and by teaching in a way that was very responsive. Here’s a kid in front of me, not normally doing what we do in October, but here’s what they know and are able to do. Now let’s get them to the next level. We’re going to be again, flexible, agile in our approach, is that right?

Nancy (13:30):

Yes. And we’re going to be okay and we need to make sure that we’re doing what it is that we need to do in order to be able to find out deeply what it is that kids know and to work from there, I’ll share a story. In New Zealand, After the earthquakes, there was a large call to kind of suspend the national test for that year, because there were so many schools that were closed for such a long period of time. John was one of the people that argued, no, we should still have those national tests if for no other reason, because we need the data. We need to be able to find out what it was that has happened so that we know how to respond. What they were surprised to learn was that in that particular year, the test scores nationally actually went up in that crisis moment.

Nancy (14:28):

As teachers responded in really responsive kinds of ways, student learning actually increased. Now here’s the really interesting part. Daniel as schools, the following year got back to the way things had been: the test scores that had risen the previous year in that crisis here went down and returned to their pre-earthquake levels because schooling didn’t change. Everybody went back to business as usual that I think is amazing. You know, Winston Churchill said, “never let a crisis go to waste.” I hope that in this time of pandemic teaching that we also are able over the longterm to take away what it is that we are learning at this moment, because it’s amazing, what it is that we’re learning and transport that into the new grammar of schooling. In other words, to make schooling better, whether it’s distance, whether it’s blended, whether it’s a physical school,

Daniel (15:36):

I couldn’t agree more. That’s a great idea. We are going to pause here for a message from our sponsor, but this idea of how do we make school better. So let’s pause here. And when we get back, we’ll talk a little more distance learning playbook. Today’s show is brought to you by organized binder, organized binder develops the skills and habits. All students need for success. During these uncertain times of distance learning and hybrid education settings, organized binder, equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning routines so that all students have an opportunity to succeed whether at home or in the classroom. Learn more at organizebinder.com. One of the top concerns of educators during COVID is how to boost student engagement in remote in in-person classrooms. Teach Fx is combining virtual professional learning with its job embedded voice technology to give teachers instructional strategies and actionable feedback that increases student engagement online and in person to learn more and get a special offer visit Teachfx.com/BLBS that’s teachfx.Com/BLBS. All right. Welcome back Ruckus Maker. We’re here with Nancy Frey talking about the Distance Learning Playbook. Nancy, the playbook was released with great success. I’m curious, have people been writing in and what have they said has been the most helpful part of the distance learning playbook?

Nancy (17:21):

The feedback that we’ve gotten overall is that the most helpful part is the reassurance, the reminder again, and again, you didn’t forget how to teach just because the platform changed and that opportunity to be able to take a deep breath and to be able to say, yes, there are things that I know already has given people, some of that confidence back restored. Some have confidence that they have felt a loss of over the last couple of months. The other feedback that we’ve gotten that’s been really helpful is not surprisingly and the ways in which you can engage students, both synchronously and asynchronously, to be able to utilize some principles that we know are important in a face to face classroom and use those in that environment. So for example, consistency, every good teacher, every good school leader knows that consistency is an important part of how it is that children and adolescents learn. We also, in a distance learning environment, have to make sure that that consistency is there for students and for families. For example, how it is that we organize our learning management systems. There needs to be consistency across the grade levels, how it is that we schedule times and classes with students, families need for us to not have the chaotic kind of scheduling that we had to do during the spring that was crisis teaching, but this isn’t crisis teaching. This is an opportunity for us to bring back that cohesion that we know is so important.

Daniel (19:13):

Beautiful. And Nancy, let me ask you, I love finding out what positive message you’d put on a school marquee. And if you could do that around the world, what would you say to your students and your school community?

Nancy (19:29):

I would say we’ve got this. I think our biggest message that we need to carry forth in the fall is to help restore the confidence for families and for students and for communities that we’ve got this and that we know what it is that we’re doing. We’ve had a great opportunity to be able to learn things and we’re going to take care of you this year.

Daniel (19:55):

I’m really excited to hear your answer to this question because you’ve lived it. You’re building a school from the ground up. You’re not limited by any resources, you’re only limiting your imagination. How would you build your dream school, Nancy? What would be your top three priorities?

Nancy (20:12):

My top three priorities start with a culture of inclusiveness and belonging. If we do not dedicate serious amounts of time and effort and energy into making sure that every student and every family feels a sense of belonging. Anything that we do after that is lost on an important part of our student body. The second aspect is that rigor and knowledge have to be our currency. Students need to learn and we need to make that learning as relevant as we can for them. I like this idea of future proofing students. How can we future proof those students so that in any environment they’re being able to function and function well? Well, here we are. Distance learning suddenly has to figure out how it is that we need to future proof our students. The third is to develop those deep community partnerships so that we’re taking in as much from them as possible, their knowledge, and we are value-added to those communities as well. Those are my three priorities.

Daniel (21:32):

Well, Nancy, thank you so much for being a part of the better leaders, better schools, podcast of all the things we’ve talked about today. What’s the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember

Nancy (21:44):

What I want a Ruckus Maker to remember is that our job is to be a Ruckus Maker. As educators, I think that we sort of have a self concept that we maintain the status quo. Now more than ever, we need to disrupt. We need to innovate. Schooling has needed to be innovated for a long time. This is our chance.

Daniel (22:12):

Thanks for listening to the better leaders, better schools podcast for Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel @better leaders, better schools.com or hit me up on Twitter @alien earbud. If the better leaders and better schools, podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at @alienearbud and using the hashtag #BLBS level up your leadership at better leaders, better schools.com and talk to you next time until then class dismissed.




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