Dead Poets Society: Strategies for the Path Forward in Online Learning

December 11, 2020 Sarah Williamson By Sarah Williamson
Path Forward in Online Learning

In our latest podcast episode, we talk with Carl Hooker about his desire to see K-12 education become more like the 1989 movie Dead Poet’s Society. He believes we have the potential engage students to learn in unorthodox ways and to inspire them to pursue their dreams – now more than ever.

As the former Director of Innovation & Digital Learning for the Eanes Independent School District, Carl shares a mix of practical tools and ideas that educators can immediately implement. From his start as a teacher, to his current district technology leadership, he’s always had one common belief: students should drive their own learning.

Through a unique blend of technical expertise, educational experience, and flexibility, he believes districts have the potential to support students where they are to broaden their horizons and change their lives.

Carl helped spearhead the Learning and Engaging through Access and Personalization (LEAP), and he has been a part of a strong educational shift with technology integration since becoming an educator. 

In this episode, Carl shares his perspective on how the pandemic has shifted for students, families, and educators, and the curriculum districts are using.  


1) The role of the parent.

The role of the parent in their child’s education has dramatically shifted with the pandemic. Parents have become the at-home learning coach for their students. Carl believes this is one of the first times that personalized learning has been actualized and is operating as it was designed. Parents, caregivers or learning pod instructors are able to provide guidance and serve as partners in their child’s academic journey.


2) The role of the teacher.

Teachers are providing instruction and finding ways to creatively enable parents or learning coaches to support their student, too. For example, teachers are helping families navigate digital platforms they’ve never accessed before. They are also sharing videos with an overview of the year so parents know what students are learning and when. 

Some districts are also creating parent support programs where teachers are available certain days and times of the week to meet with families. This time can provide a critical review of the material they are covering and what students need to learn that week.  

Certain districts are also providing a parent liaison to help close any gaps at home. It can certainly be overwhelming trying to understand how to make all of the technology and curriculum work for your student. These liaisons can give parents the tools and resources to ensure their student is successful. It can also create better alignment with teachers and cultivate and deepen those relationships.

This commitment from educators can really benefit students in the end. When both parents and educators work together and become partners on the journey to educate their children, their child truly benefits in the end.

3) The student.

We like to consider our tweens and teens as digital natives. But that does not necessarily mean that they’re digitally proficient. Students may be able to create incredible Tik Tok videos using advanced editing and technology, but they still may not know how to submit their Google Document to their teacher. Carl stresses the importance of not making false assumptions in education. Providing directions that are not just verbal, but also including a video or a step set for how to access learning instruction is important for even digitally advanced students.


4)  The role of curriculum.

If there’s anything we’ve learned from this experience, it’s that you must have access to high quality digital curriculum to do the heavy lifting when teaching in a virtual environment. Educators have found that the quality of the curriculum they use can make all the difference in whether or not their students are engaged and truly learning the material. Ideally, digital curriculum is doing a bulk of the instructing and educators can support student with relationship building and when they need extra help.  



Focus on what’s important.

Throughout all of the challenges from this year, Carl reminds us to think more creatively about how we are engaging with our students. He recently reconnected with some of his former first grade students and enjoyed hearing their memories of his class. He notes that what’s interesting is they don’t recall the math tests or the reading exams. What they remember is the time they turned the classroom into a jungle and everyone dressed up as different animals or when they read Harry Potter and then went to the movie together as a class. It was those meaningful and unique events that made an impression on them.

Carl encourages all of us to channel our own Dead Poet’s Society Mr. Keating to engage our students in thoughtful and creative ways to inspire new thinking and opportunities to learn. Look out 2021, we are going to own this virtual learning thing!

Listen to the full episode:

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