As we embark on our first-ever, hybrid, extended year summer program with a balance of in-school and remote offerings for Cotting School students, we want to reflect on the past several months of distance learning in the 2019-2020 school year or “school for home” as we have called it.
When remote school became a reality for the safety of students and staff all over the world, Cotting School dove into the deep end and quickly adapted plans to encompass as much of a regular day at Cotting as possible. With full 5 days a week schedules filled with class activities, lessons, one-on-one and small group sessions with teachers and therapists, social time, movement breaks, and more – we continued to educate and engage our complex learners and to offer resources to the broader special education community.
While every student, parent, and educator has learned, grown, and adapted in incredible ways over the past several months, this time has taught us so much! Here are 5 important lessons we’ve learned at Cotting School:
The Cotting connection transcends
We learned that the Cotting community transcends the remote environment. From the beginning of plans to change our learning environments in response to the global pandemic, we knew that we would have to work hard not to lose the community connection between our students and staff. Staff creativity, responsiveness, and our team’s ability to constantly revisit and revise our services made constant connection possible.
While we weren’t able to physically be together, we uncovered a variety of ways to feel connected. Classroom sessions took place on Zoom and became a joyous time for students and staff to see familiar faces and work on skills. Our Circle of Friends program for students turned virtual and allowed students to connect with friends for some social time! Even gestures like our performing arts invitation for students to record “open mic from home” submissions made a big impression allowing students to sing, dance, or share a joke – from home and view one another’s submissions together in video format – anytime they wanted to. Our community has watched the “open mic from home” videos hundreds of times over the past several months.
Connection, even virtual, is a critical part of any school day and while we might not be together, there are always fun and creative ways to remind students that we are always connected!
Education is about collaboration
Even prior to COVID-19, parents have always played an important role in their child’s education at Cotting School. Their role became paramount during school for home. At Cotting School a high level of integrated multidisciplinary teamwork already existed before school closure and allowed us to implement changes in plans immediately and to be responsive to our students’ many needs as best as possible.
So much of the success of our students and our program involve the engagement and dedication of our parents. We relied on our parents to help our students navigate this new digital world, re-enforce lessons, assist when possible, and most importantly, communicate with us when something wasn’t working for a student. This allowed us to work together with families to adapt individual students’ plans every step of the way.
Don’t let tech glitches get you down
When we rely on technology, we know that some glitches will happen. Expertise in educational and assistive technology has long been a strength at Cotting School. The high level of skill and training of our staff, particularly in the areas of technology use and familiarity with apps, websites, and other tools, allowed us to implement remote school changes immediately. Implementing helpful technology training and support for students, parents, and teachers during remote times has allowed us to stay connected and to continue our focus on the work at hand.
Whether it was young adults from HOPEhouse connecting to do some virtual trip planning, Ms. Piscopo’s students working on a recipe or live cooking demonstration together, or Ms. Cain’s students participating in a group dance break, technology has allowed our students the opportunity to explore and express themselves in creative ways.
While there might be learning curves and glitches, with patience and flexible thinking, our students and staff were able to utilize technology to help our students stay engaged in learning!
Moving our bodies everyday is important
Sitting in front of computer screens to connect with others is exhausting! For this and many other reasons it is key for our students to incorporate movement into their days.
Cotting continued to provide many ways for students to get the movement their brains and bodies need. Therapists in our OT/PT department collaborated to create an incredible online resource for students and their families. Our adaptive physical education classes occurred regularly online, staff lead students in movement breaks incorporated into their sessions over Zoom.
These frequent movement breaks helped our students regulate their bodies and emotions so they were ready to get back into an assignment or lesson.
Our students and staff are amazing
The most important lesson we have learned (or simply been reminded of) during this unusual school year is that our students and staff are amazing! Distance learning has been a difficult task. It is not the way our students learn best and it is not the way we prefer to teach, but our students and staff continue to rise to the challenge with flexibility, patience, and an eagerness to keep learning!
What comes from this?
Everyone has an increased perspective and points of view about what it is like to be in remote learning. We have our own experience of what the process has been like here at Cotting School, but we also have the shared expertise of the Massachusetts Association of Approved Private Special Education Schools (maaps) to spotlight the ways in which many specialized schools have responded. We will reflect on every resource and the highly skilled advisors we collaborate with to make decisions on moving forward in the best way possible for our students. We will also continue to celebrate the incredible Cotting School community and the important work everyone is doing in this historic time.
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HOPEhouse, a boarding program on the campus of Cotting School, offers an educational focus to support young adults in their experience living in a group, working together to learn independent living skills, and collaborating with their peers in a home-like supportive environment.
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