COE Susan Adams

The New Normal

Katie Grieze

from Winter 2021

I don’t think I have this perfect yet. How’s it going for you? What do we need to do differently?

Susan Adams, Professor of Education, has asked those questions to her students again and again throughout the academic year. Even as she adapts to teaching in a hybrid learning environment, with a few students attending her classes in person and most tuning in on Zoom, she’s been making sure to explain her choices, ask for feedback, and create learning opportunities for future educators.

“We are finding ways to make hybrid learning work,” Adams says.

“I am super comfortable on Zoom—I had already been using it for five years before we went virtual last spring. But the difference for me, in education, is that I also have to be a model for my students: ‘Here’s how you do this. Here’s what I’m thinking. Here’s why I’m making this choice.’ I’m trying to be transparent and vulnerable, letting them watch me struggle out loud with those decisions.”

One way Adams has done this is through implementing a practice she calls “class notes.” The shared documents are somewhat like weekly syllabi, outlining detailed plans for each class period and providing links to all the relevant resources. But unlike a typical syllabus that covers a broad schedule and might be updated once or twice throughout the term, “class notes” also serve as collaborative online spaces for students to share thoughts and reflections with one another.

“This is something I never would have thought of if we weren’t partially virtual, but I’m not going to stop doing it after the pandemic is over,” Adams says. “It’s just so beautifully practical, and it’s another way for me to be transparent about our class plans and my thinking behind them.” 

Other faculty across the College of Education (COE) have also made the most of hybrid learning, using it as a lesson on the need to stay flexible in the classroom. COE Professor Deb Lecklider, MSE ’89 serves as Director of Butler’s Experiential Program for Preparing School Principals (EPPSP). When it first became apparent last spring that reopening schools during the pandemic would not be easy, Lecklider and the graduate program’s cohort members switched gears to help provide school districts with the resources they would need to make difficult decisions. By the end of June, the class had interviewed more than 80 education experts and created a nearly 400-page guidebook of recommendations to support school leaders through the reopening process.

In the fall semester, Lecklider continued basing some of the program’s lessons on the challenges facing educators due to COVID-19.

“During this pandemic,” she explains, “there has been a lot of weight on the shoulders of teachers and school leaders. Not only do you have to be concerned about maintaining safety during in-person classes—with social distancing, masks, and so on—but you also have some students attending classes virtually. That means you have to prepare for both the students you’ll have in front of you and the ones you’ll have online with you. The adaptations teachers need to make with this HyFlex model are just enormous.” 

The hybrid learning environment was relatively new for both Lecklider and her graduate students, most of whom were simultaneously teaching their own classes in K-12 schools. Luckily, they could all meet twice a week to share what they had learned.

“It was different for me, and it was a lot of work,” Lecklider says. “But I have learned a lot from my students. We all just work together, and I try to be as supportive and understanding as possible. Extending grace during this pandemic has been increasingly important.”

Lecklider added a “cool tools” section to each class session, carving out time for students to teach one another about different technologies and online platforms that can make it easier to hold hybrid classes. During one meeting, a student taught the group how to use FlipGrid, a website allowing teachers to create video-based discussion boards. Lecklider learned to use the platform right alongside her students.

“With the experiential piece of the EPPSP program, we are in the trenches,” she says. “We cover things in class that students can practice on their own time, out in the field. With the pandemic, we are all in this at the same time and learning together.”