We Stand Stronger When We Stand Together

Stephanie Huie

How Windward Persevered To Launch Its Remote Learning Program

In 2020, our collective vocabulary has grown to include new words and phrases that are now woven into our everyday conversations and actions—pandemic, Coronavirus, social distancing, Zoom, and flattening the curve, just to name a few. For educational institutions like The Windward School, remote learning has become the universal issue dominating the thoughts of educators and parents everywhere. What does a remote learning program look like for our school? How do we transition from an intentionally designed classroom setting to a virtual platform? How can we ensure our students, faculty, and staff are equipped with the tools they need to succeed? What needs to be done to protect the wellbeing of our community?  

The Windward School began grappling with these overarching questions in February when Head of School Mr. Williamson led the administrative team in proactively developing remote learning plans. Then, once it became clear that all New York schools would be mandated to close for a prolonged period, the challenging and painstaking process of implementing the remote learning plans was immediately rolled out. From creating a user-friendly learning management system for accessing daily classroom materials to building an online remote learning hub to training faculty in technical tools so they could conduct virtual lessons, administrators, faculty, and staff members worked tirelessly behind the scenes during 16-hour days to prepare for the massive undertaking of recreating The Windward School online. Finally, after weeks of exhaustive efforts, Phase I of Windward's Remote Learning Program launched on April 1. The technology adopted far surpassed anything the School had practiced before, so translating Windward’s academic offerings to a virtual format was a triumph and milestone for a historically pencil-and-paper-heavy school.  

Nonetheless, like with anything new or unfamiliar, there were some hiccups with Phase I of remote learning. The first learning management system suffered from server issues that affected the entire east coast. The balance between synchronous (live and real-time) and asynchronous (pre-recorded videos) classes did not adequately support student needs. The 20-minute periods allocated for each subject were restrictive for the teachers. After receiving constructive feedback, Windward quickly rectified the Phase I schedule, and Phase II of the remote learning program launched on April 13, which remained in place until the end of the school year. 

Happily, the Phase II program proved to be more successful, and students and teachers enjoyed a smoother learning experience as they adjusted to the new rhythm of a virtual school environment. Students in all divisions had a full weekly class schedule with seven periods a day, 30 minutes each, plus extra afternoon time dedicated to open teacher office hours and guidance counselor appointments. Research has always informed Windward’s multisensory direct instruction teaching model, and, although studies on K-8 programs are slim, studies on online learning show that students benefit from more face time with their instructor. Therefore, Windward's remote learning program incorporated as much synchronous learning into students’ schedules as possible, while also being mindful of the amount of screen time that would be developmentally appropriate. 

Windward’s Remote Learning Program Offerings 

Synchronous Learning 
Offers live, real-time interaction with faculty 

Asynchronous Learning 

Offers flexibility with pre-recorded videos 

Lower School  

  • Language arts 

  • Math 

  • Social Studies 

  • Science 

  • Read Aloud 

  • Physical Education 

  • Art 

  • Music 

  • Library 

Middle School 

  • Language arts 

  • Math 

  • Social Studies 

  • Science 

  • Skills 

  • Computer 

  • Library 

  • Physical Education 

  • Art 

  • Music 

  • Drama 

Whether the classes were taught synchronously or asynchronously, the chief priority for the remote learning program was that Windward continue to deliver its program as faithfully as possible. That is why from day one of the remote learning program, all lessons retained Windward's methodology of following the seven steps of direct instruction:  

  1. Aim - beginning each lesson with an objective

  2. Motivation – encouraging student learning through teacher enthusiasm 

  3. Review of prior learning - reminding students of prior building blocks 

  4. New skill - introducing the daily lesson 

  1. Practice - applying new skill taught 

  1. Observation - providing individualized feedback 

  1. Closure - reflecting on how students did in learning new skill 

The academic leadership team is, and has always been, passionate about its responsibility to every Windward student’s education, so the research-based curriculum and methodology never faltered, even though the classroom setting fundamentally changed. 

Establishing the academic piece of the remote learning program had been the foremost priority from the outset, yet the administrators and faculty understood that there was another highly important aspect of the daily school experience that needed to be addressed—students’ social and emotional needs. The student support team of guidance counselors and psychologists distributed numerous resources to parents and guardians to help them and their children navigate the anxiety and stress of a global pandemic. The support team was also available every day for one-on-one appointments with students who sought guidance. Furthermore, the lower school psychologists created their own video series surrounding topics like managing feelings of uncertainty during challenging times and how to approach a problem. 

In addition to the systems in place by the guidance counselors and psychologists, students also needed time simply to socialize with their friends. So, on April 27, Windward began incorporating supervised snack time into the weekly schedule so homeroom groups could gather informally to connect in a non-academic setting. Offering a mid-morning social break allowed an opportunity to recharge, as Windward recognized the demands that a full schedule of virtual classes had on students’ mental and emotional energy.  

Windward’s remote learning program totaled just over ten weeks, from April 1 to June 15, to close the 2019-20 school year. However, due to the unprecedented circumstances, the School announced in May that a four-week summer program would be made available exclusively for Windward families, at no additional cost, as a continuation of learning for students. In July, students who were enrolled during the 2019-20 school year will have the option to participate in a virtual half-day program focusing on language arts and math. Graduating students in eighth and ninth grade will also have study skills offered to them to prepare them for their next school. In order to offer a summer program for Windward families, the School canceled its typical summer program that is open to the public so all efforts could be devoted to preventing any summer learning loss for the Windward students affected by the altered school year. 

Whatever may come in 2020-21, the past school year has proven that The Windward School is a capable, flexible, and unwavering community; that is thanks to the dedication of the young students to their own education, the parents who stepped in to provide at-home encouragement, the staff behind the scenes who kept operations running at full capacity, and the teachers who bravely endured when navigating an unknown educational landscape.  

As alumni, alumni parents, current families, grandparents, incoming families, trustees, faculty, or staff, we are all in this together as one community of The Windward School. As we look ahead to the next year and to the future, we know that we stand stronger when we stand together.