April 30, 2020
Modeling the resiliency we inspire in our students, MPA has been engaged in a collaborative, ongoing process of designing, implementing, assessing, and adapting teaching and learning to meet the needs of our students. Adjustments along the way have been guided by feedback from parents, students, and faculty as well as research on distance learning and best practices. The candid feedback from parents in the two surveys conducted over the past six weeks has been extremely important and useful.
The almost all parents are satisfied with MPA’s virtual school. The levels of satisfaction and appreciation measured last week are very similar to the results from our first survey given on March 26. While there are areas for improvement and growth, parents continue to see the value of an MPA education and notice a contrast with other schools.
Ninety percent of parents are satisfied, with more than 60% saying they are very satisfied. One parent expressed their gratitude in the following way: “I really appreciate how the teachers are teaching normally. I hear my child engaged in classes, doing homework, and having extra, ‘found’ time to work on the college search, test prep and independent reading. We feel blessed to have MPA leading our children, now more than ever.”
Teaching and Learning
Maintaining a continuity of learning means we continue to challenge students and know that rigor provides comfort and consistency. Holding high standards and expressing care and compassion are not mutually exclusive. Parents appreciate the level of teacher engagement and responsiveness as well as the individualized attention being provided. Ninety-four percent are pleased with the level of teacher engagement and 90% are happy with the individualized personal attention given to students.
Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning
Parents tend to prefer synchronous learning, but also see the value of asynchronous learning. A paradox emerges from the data, however. While parents favor synchronous learning, many are also concerned about screen time. In the lower grades, the need for parents to be more engaged to support their student’s technical needs to access synchronous learning is challenging for some.
The majority of teachers (44%) report they are balancing synchronous and asynchronous learning. Thirty-five percent are teaching mostly synchronously while 20% are teaching mostly asynchronously. According one faculty member, “For me, the mix of asynchronous lessons and using Zoom breakout rooms for students to work together on problems seems to work best. I can have meaningful interactions with a few students in each breakout room to help them. That is, I think, a much better experience than trying to do anything extended in a large group in Zoom.” This is a great example of how teacher autonomy matters at MPA—other teachers might have a differing opinion and that’s okay.
Homework was a major focus of both surveys. Teachers are very aware of the need to balance homework with student’s physical, social, and emotional health. Teachers report they are carefully considering the amount of homework assigned and are thoughtful about sustaining student motivation and engagement. One teacher explained it this way: “I assign work that has varying due dates—some work is due in a week, such as reading a portion of a chapter book and writing prescribed responses to literature. Some activities are meant to be done on that day only; some activities are given two days to be completed. I am trying to do a variety as families are coping with many stressors at home.”
Among parents, the amount of homework is frequently mentioned as a concern. Twenty percent of parents were either dissatisfied or highly dissatisfied with the amount of homework. However, while many are worried about too much homework, there are some that want their student to have more.
Fifty-seven percent of teachers report they are giving less homework, up 15% from our first survey. Teachers say they are giving more time in class for students to work and that if there is after school homework, it is because students are not taking advantage of the in-class time provided.
The amount of time students are on a computer is a concern for both parents and teachers. However, some parents are concerned about too much screen time while others want more group social interaction and enrichment activities that require screen time. Many teachers are moving toward a blended learning approach that begins a class online but then allows students to work individually for the remainder of the class, perhaps coming back together at the end.
Social Emotional Wellbeing
From the very beginning of MPA’s virtual school, we have placed a premium on the social and emotional wellbeing of our students, in keeping with our mission and values. Ninety-three percent of parents are satisfied/highly satisfied with the social emotional support being provided provide for students. When asked to describe how students are faring, teachers report that 53% of students are doing very well or pretty good, and 45% are doing as well as can be expected. The changes to the weekly schedule going onto effect on May 4 are intended to further foster social connections among students and promote their emotional health.
As a school, we have also prioritized supporting parents. Ninety-five percent of parents say they are satisfied or highly satisfied with the social and emotional support provided. The majority of parents (80%) state they are doing well but there are some (6%) who feel overwhelmed. Nearly one-third of parents say they are dedicating a lot of their time to assisting their student while another one-third say they are giving little to no support.
Most parents appreciate the communication coming from the school (98%), from division directors (97%), and from teachers (89%). However, some parents say they are sometimes overwhelmed with the number of emails and virtual meetings. A common suggestion is to streamline communication into one email or to better organize materials on Schoology. We are actively working to address this concern.
In reading through the results and the open-ended responses, our community is doing well. And, there are areas of concern. As we move through the next several weeks, we need to and will continue to be attentive and responsive. We need to continue to be thoughtful about the balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning, about calibrating the right amount of homework, about how we communicate and share information, about the time spent on screens, and how we are attending to the social and emotional health of students, parents, faculty, and staff. It is not always about doing more. It is about ongoing refinement and continual improvement. First different, then better.
Together with results of two faculty surveys, an overview of virtual school has emerged that speaks to the success of MPA’s work—and, it identifies areas for improvement that will help guide our continuous improvement. Please know you are always welcome to share additional feedback with MPA teachers and administrators.
Note: The data summarized is from across divisions and there are variations to be expected depending on the age and grade of students. However, we are able to disaggregate the data by division and will continue studying the results in depth.