There's No Playbook for This!

Nicole Tucker-Smith

Overnight, schools all over the country were thrown into an emergency distance learning situation. We’re all looking for help on how to navigate these unexpected circumstances. Teachers, principals, and parents are all looking for support and recommendations. And, honestly, as someone who fits all three categories, I find the emails with the subject “101 Distance Learning Tools” to be unhelpful.

As an educator who frequently presents on how to implement Universal Design for Learning in the classroom and in professional development, I’ve received several requests for “UDL in distance learning” resources.  As a parent whose two children are using a combination of five different platforms for their daily virtual learning, I asked them what would help their 11 and 13 year old selves navigate this uncharted territory.

What I learned was profound for me. Whether they are using Google Classroom, Zoom, Canvas, Seesaw, or Instagram, what mattered most to them was routine, consistency, and expectations. They wanted the daily assignment and class meeting routines to be predictable. They wanted their class procedures to be consistent for individual teachers and from teacher-to-teacher. And they wanted the teacher’s expectations to be empathetic to the fact that this is new for everyone. My son noted, “Moving from learning in the classroom to learning virtually is a bigger jump than the first day of school. But at the beginning of the school year, teachers take time to make sure you are comfortable in the environment and understand what to do.” Before jumping straight into online lecture and turning in assignments, my kids would have benefited from a morning meeting to check in on how they are feeling, opportunities to practice with procedures, clarifying consistent expectations, and time for reflection.

Putting my UDL hat on, we organized a set of think-about questions that educators may consider when putting together their distance learning playbook. Regardless of the virtual learning tools schools are using, these guiding questions help educators anticipate barriers and provide supports.

The questions in this infographic are helpful for creating an overall playbook. If you’re looking for guidance in planning daily and weekly instruction, this resource from Share Professional Learning helps educators design a blueprint for one week of distance instruction.

If you use these questions to create a distance learning playbook for your school or district with your specific online tools, we’d love to hear your story. Feel free to email me,, or send me a tweet @MsTuckerSmith.

The most important thing to remember is that worldwide we are all experiencing a traumatic event for an extended period of time. Let’s share lessons learned, be open to feedback, and act with empathy as we all learn to swim these turbulent waters together.

Tags :  Professional Development, blended learning, blended learning tools, Design, Instructional Design, Professional Learning Community, teacher learning, supercharge

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Nicole Tucker-Smith