Building a model of distance learning is a big challenge, particularly in the times of an epidemic when we are working with little time and limited resourced, both financially and competence-wise. It is important that we do not give in to the temptation to move the school online 1:1, since this idea has a high risk of failure. It is, however, worthwhile to act as well as we can in a crisis situation- building cooperation and diagnosing resources, and then using our shared potential, while remembering that problems and mistakes are a part of this process- monitoring the situation and facing challenges as they occur are key aspects of such work. Let us also remember that a distance learning model includes non-digital methods such as the telephone, text messaging or using the traditional post. What matters is that we do not leave our students on their own in such a difficult situation.

First of All- Relationships

School principals are facing many new tasks regulated by the new order of the Mister of National Education. From communication, through coordinating the cooperation between teachers and students and their parents, covering the curriculum, monitoring the results, to evaluations and ensuring that every student and parent has the chance to consult a teacher. The principals’ role in a crisis situation and their desire to meet the challenges are certainly not easy. The order does not define how exactly these tasks should be fulfilled so creating a space for the faculty to cooperate, as well as carefully defining the possibilities and potential obstacles, are key. All our actions should be guided by, first and foremost, concern for students and teachers, attention to relationships and communication, without which there can be no quality education.

What is Important at the Start- Not only during the epidemic

A proper diagnosis of the students’ and teachers’ situations is a prerequisite of creating a successful distance learning environment. Looking at Internet access, assessing the level of digital competence, defining the possibilities and obstacles will help us more effectively go through an accelerated process of creating a new model of work and cooperation. It is a good idea to catalogue our human resources- look for leaders who will support us and others, not only in a digital context, but also psychologically, organizationally and assessment-wise. We can also create a list of legally available programs, tools, equipment- we will know what we have at our disposal and what we need to immediately purchase or obtain to tend to our community. We should also take care to support the faculty’s competences- online training courses, online meetings in small work teams – these are good practices which are very effective in the current situation.

Space for Cooperation

Only through good faculty cooperation can we ensure the quality and purposefulness of our actions, as well as avoid chaos and overwhelming the students and teachers. Examples of good practice in this area include shared mini-projects from teachers who work with the same class and lessons in interdisciplinary blocks. It is important to schedule, at least once a week, a meeting between the principal or vice-principal with the teachers- support, hearing their needs, looking at the processes- these are very important aspects of work, not only during a pandemic.

Strategy for Today

We are at the stage of rapid planning and testing, so let us remember that this is a strategy which should involve monitoring, that is collecting feedback from students and parents, so that we can start implementing improvements quite soon as well. If we see that something is not working- react, improve!

How to Work?

Purposefulness, a good plan, flexibility, clearly defined goals and expectations- these are important tips for the principal and teachers. Not every student can be present in an online class in real time, some might not have adequate work conditions, not everyone feels comfortable in a situation full of various tensions and worries. We should focus on relationships and moderation, using the tools that we have.

Sometimes it might be an online class register- for sending homework. It is important that it not be the only communication channel- then we lose to ability to maintain relationships with students and education boils down to a long list of instructions.

You can use webinars and podcasts to record lessons- students can then watch or listen to them at a convenient time (Clickmeeting, Zoom, Free Audio Editor examples of tools which can be used for this purpose).

It is a good idea to organize a videoconference at least once a week (if it is possible to do so), to talk to students, listen to them, explain what is happening, support them (useful tools include Zoom, Teams, Webex, GoogleMeet). It is also important to establish a specific time for a teacher’s “office hours” when students and parents can contact them and indicate clearly what channels of communication are available.

Many teachers use messaging software and social media groups- it is certainly not the most optimal solution, but it is better than nothing.

Some teachers create blogs or virtual white-boards with their materials and links to prepared scripts and lessons online (WordPress, Trello, Padlet – offer many possibilities in this area and websites such as or provide quality content).

The most optimal and systemic solution is creating classes in the cloud, thanks to which we can collect materials for students, give and receive feedback, and conduct videoconferences, all in one place (Office 365 and Google Suite are examples of this). With the support of an expert, even in a crisis situation, this solution can be implemented within 3 days.

Distance Learning and Reality

Covering the curriculum is an important aspect of remote educational work, but it is worth remembering that education is, first and foremost, the relationship between student and teacher (supporting development), so tending to this area should be our priority.

Good practice in the area of covering the curriculum in a distance learning model involves:

  1. Filtering content- adjusting demands to the students’ situation as well as their age and abilities.
  2. Creating interdisciplinary blocks in place of individual lessons- includes the cooperation of teachers of a number of subjects- for example, humanities, natural sciences, STEM subjects, arts- who prepare work for their students together and take turns teaching classes.
  3. Creating mini-projects, individually by each teacher or in cooperation with their colleagues- the projects can include conducting observations or making notes on required reading or articles.
  4. Preparing a balanced set of tasks focused on problem solving and developing competences. Let us use the current situation to move away from the model of rote learning towards developing skills and competences.

Lesson plan– as I stated earlier, distance learning requires flexibility in one’s work. Thus, it is a good idea to create a framework for our activities- the time in which to complete a task or a deadline by which work needs to be sent in, office hours for students, a schedule for online meetings. We avoid the temptation to transfer the lesson online from the classroom in a 1:1 format. The experience of many schools shows that this model is exhausting to both students and teachers.

Documenting your work– a school can independently develop a model of documenting its work, while, of course, taking into account their cooperation with the supervising authority. An example of good practice is having the teacher prepare a collective, weekly report which includes a short description of what was done. Online tools such as Forms (Office 365) or Google surveys can be useful.

Evaluation– in the current situation, moving away from summative grades towards feedback and appreciating students’ efforts seems warranted. There are many schools which, with the parents’ approval- have decided to forgo traditional grades in favor of descriptive feedback, for as long as the school facilities remain closed and distance learning is practiced.

Monitoring activities and giving feedback– implementing the distance learning model is happening at an accelerated pace, so it requires on-going evaluation and improvement. An example of good practice is a survey for the students and parents which poses questions such as: “What is the biggest problem in the current model of remote work?”, “What can the school do to support the student in distance learning?”. The results of the survey should serve as a basis for a group discussion and an attempt to improve the procedures. It is also a good idea to conduct a similar survey among the faculty- asking about their biggest challenges, and the team’s needs in regard to support and improving the organization of work.

Working Remotely with Teachers

The quality of the distance learning model of education relies greatly on the good cooperation of the principal and the teachers, which means both supporting the faculty and receiving the teachers’ support. Good practices include online meetings between the principal and the whole team (or teams) at least once a week (it is important to make an agenda and set a time limit for the meeting), minimalizing the amount of emails sent to help avoid informational chaos and overload, limiting bureaucracy to a minimum, and ensuring that all our tasks are purposeful. It is important for the principal to be open to asking or help- after all, the number of new tasks is high!

Remote Cooperation with Parents

We all know how important cooperation between the parents and the school is. The current crisis makes it even more necessary for the principal to include the parents in the solutions and ensure that the relationship between teachers and parents is functioning well. It is a good idea to organize a weekly online meeting between the principal and representatives of the parents’ council as they will help us improve our model of remote work- they will suggest how to do it better, what to avoid. They can also support us in solving problems. You also need to institute a policy of open communication and keeping all the parents up to date via the online class register and the school’s website, as well as consider providing the support of a psychologist or guidance counselor, if we are able to do so.

Step by Step, Together

Under normal circumstances, building a school in the cloud takes at least 2 years (before everything functions optimally)- this is my experience as the principal of a public school in the cloud. What we can do today, is tend to relationships, ensure cooperation, take full advantage of the potential and capabilities of our community and environment, ask for support, learn from others. Step by step, as best we know how, develop distance learning for our students. This is already happening. So, let us look at what we can improve.


Oktawia Gorzeńska – Expert in innovation, change, leadership and digitalization in education. Graduate of the Leadership Academy for Poland. Supports teachers, principals and local governments in the process of creating and implementing strategies for educational change, including in the area of digitalization. Has served as principal for many years, created a school in the cloud and the Microsoft Flagship School. Author of the “Oktawia Gorzeńska- education, development, change” blog.


The article above is a summary of the Distance learning (not only) in the time of plague. It was led in polish by Oktawia Gorzeńska, expert in innovation, change, leadership and digitalization in education and Dawid Łasiński – Pan Belfer – nauczyciel z Internetów – a chemistry teacher working in the Bolechowo School Complex.