Never has Jillian Raleigh seen such a wide variance in where her learners are socially, technology-wise and academically than now. Raleigh is a fourth grade teacher in Tabernacle, New Jersey, a small town considered a suburb of Philadelphia. Tabernacle Township School District’s 665 elementary and middle school students are one-to-one with devices. Following a year of hybrid instruction where student cohorts were in school for a half day every other day, then virtual on alternate days and in the afternoon, students returned to regular full days in the classroom in September 2021. Still, the school year is far from normal. Luckily, switching to Hāpara tools has helped make teaching and learning more efficient and effective.
“First grade was my fourth graders’ last normal school year,” notes Raleigh. She shares that while most learners were hybrid, one group was fully virtual last year. Others are new to the district, and some lack experience with school technology. “All this has contributed to the biggest gaps I’ve ever seen between skill groups.”
Learners are in the process of rebuilding social and in-person communication skills with peers, and many are experiencing anxiety for various reasons. Fortunately, the district has made a strong commitment to social and emotional learning. “We’ve been doing a lot of mindfulness and calming techniques built into our daily schedule to focus on how we can address feelings of tension and anxiety in a positive way,” says Raleigh.
With COVID omnipresent, at times individual students are at home in quarantine for a time period while teachers accommodate them through simultaneous livestreaming. Having Hāpara this year has helped Raleigh and other teachers at Tabernacle. They’ve been able to manage these shifting sands and meet students’ divergent academic, social and emotional needs.
Things were not always this way. In fact, Tabernacle Township schools began the school year using another popular classroom management system. There were many reasons, though, for switching to Hāpara.
More features and support at ridiculous cost savings
When Technology Coordinator Kyle Calderwood began at Tabernacle Township last year, he set up a tech forum of 12 teachers from different grade levels and special areas. The goal was to get direct-from-the-classroom suggestions and feedback on everything technology and edtech. Some of these teachers began commenting on difficulties with the classroom management software that was in place at the time. Similarly Calderwood had been noticing a steady drop in this particular company’s support and service. Chat was no longer available and his tickets took nearly a week to be acknowledged. That meant that getting help when something went wrong was next to impossible.
“I realize there’s a reasonable time frame for tech support, but when you’re dealing with a student who is remote and who is trying to get onto learning, if they can’t do that, their whole day is shot,” says Calderwood. “It was very frustrating.”
Tabernacle was already using Hāpara Highlights for K-12 Chrome browser monitoring. Raleigh tested it last year with her fully virtual group and found it very reliable. A Hāpara user himself since 2016, Calderwood knew switching to Hāpara across the district would solve many problems.
Along with seeing learners’ screens and pushing out links, teachers at his previous district also use Hāpara Workspace. It helps teachers differentiate tasks so learners can work at their level and get support without any stigma.
Despite the clear benefit of switching to Hāpara, he was still very hesitant to start from scratch and make a change of this magnitude in October with school already underway and teachers under pressure. He made it clear to Hāpara that he couldn’t risk a disaster.
The Hāpara team had everything up and running in a day, which Calderwood calls “a really, really good experience.”
In addition to quick response, personal attention and support, Hāpara’s additional features were a big selling point for Calderwood. That’s because they help reduce stress for learners and teachers. The clincher, though, for switching to Hāpara was price.
“To be honest, it was a ridiculous cost savings for us,” admits Calderwood. “For me to be able to go to the Board of Education and say we’re not losing anything and getting this much more for almost a third of the cost was a huge win, especially with ongoing state budget cuts.”
More personal attention for learners and less stress all around
Technology has been vital in facilitating the livestreaming for learners temporarily working from home. A second private computer enables teachers to run Hāpara separately from the visible class computer used for livestream. Technology has also helped teachers engage and break up the day for learners.
“My fourth graders haven’t had a full day of school since second grade and the content is very different,” emphasizes Raleigh. “The SEL lessons, along with our technology lessons and activities help us as brain-break activities, transitions between different academics and as extension activities.”
Hāpara in conjunction with other technology tools have played an important role in bringing this healthy balance to Tabernacle classrooms. Raleigh has split screened Hāpara and worksheets to see individual student screens. Instead of circling the room checking each student’s screen, she gets instant feedback with a quick glance at all the screens. This gives her more time to guide learners who need it.
The groups setting inside Highlights is another time saver and benefit of switching to Hāpara. Raleigh has groups set up for reading and math. Then when working with just one reading group, she can easily choose to send resources out to only them, proving to be a huge time saver. “Even if it’s just an extra 10 seconds, it’s 10 seconds that you can spend helping a kid.”
The ability for teachers to push out links and not waste time getting students where they need to be online is especially helpful for teachers working with younger students and those less familiar with school technology.
Products designed for what educators, schools and districts need right now
Unfortunately, being online with learners has risks that keep educators and parents awake at night. With Highlights in place, educators have nipped some potential problems in the bud. These problems relate to students straying online and student wellness, reports Calderwood.
Tabernacle had specific needs when it came to managing student compliance, so Hāpara added special adaptations to support them.
When Raleigh shared that she missed a few of the features she’d grown used to, Calderwood, who is familiar with Hāpara’s track record of integrating educator and student feedback into its products, told her to send them her suggestions. Within a week, Hāpara had implemented everything she asked for.
An edtech partnership that supports growth for the future
Raleigh, currently finishing her Hāpara Champion training, is already plotting her next moves. One is using Workspaces to differentiate reading groups and create individual learning paths to challenge students who want more. Another is setting up a challenge activity for her medium math group while the other levels go to math enrichment or math help. Calderwood similarly envisions teachers taking full advantage of Hāpara’s features in the future.
His department of two has their hands full prepping devices for students working at home and helping teachers juggle simultaneous virtual and in-person teaching. This leaves little time for professional development. However, Hāpara’s reliability, easy-to-access support and free training program for teachers has taken some weight off his shoulders. A recent opportunity to set up an esports club for middle school students reminded him of how much technology can enliven education. “I’m really excited to explore something new and exciting for the students. We’re finally getting to a place where we’re not answering tickets all day,” laughs Calderwood.
He realizes that hand in hand with functionality and design, effective educational technology pivots on what happens behind the product. That includes the support, the people and the potential for personalization, because every district is different. Whether it’s a relationship built over years like with Calderwood or a new one as with Raleigh, having a smooth working partnership with an edtech provider like Hāpara puts more time in the day for busy educators and the tech crew who supports them.