Distance Learning Plan Overview


Sidwell Friends School is committed to delivering a dynamic educational experience for all students. Yet there are rare occasions when external circumstances or world events will impinge upon the School’s ability to operate the campus or a teacher’s ability to deliver lessons on site. Under these circumstances, the School is compelled to develop alternate methods for teaching and student learning. For this reason, the following was developed to ensure the continuity of learning and intellectual engagement for our students. The following distance learning plan outlines an approach to maintaining instruction and learning using digital and online resources in the event of an extended period of remote learning or campus closure. Information regarding School plans in the event of an emergency are communicated by the Head of School or Communications Office. This document focuses instead on the distance learning platforms and approaches teachers will use to ensure continuity of student education should an event cause a disruption in campus operations.

Emergency Response Task Force

In the event of a major disruption of campus operations or urgent campus closure, the Sidwell Friends administrative leadership team will convene to assess the situation and make recommendations for the School’s response. The Emergency Response Task Force, clerked by the Assistant Head of School for Finance and Operations, includes the Head of School, Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs, Chief Information Officer, Chief Communications Officer, and Director of Health Services. The Head of School will maintain close communication with the Clerk of the Board of Trustees and members of the Executive Committee of the Board, which will advise and direct the Emergency Response Task Force in the planning and response to any situation that leads to a protracted School closure. The decision to close the School campus and initiate the distance learning plan will be made by the Head of School, who will work in consultation with the Board Clerk and the Executive Committee of the Board.

Depending on the cause for campus closure, the School may be required to delay the initiation of the distance learning plan. For instance, in the event of a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tornado, the School may need to stabilize the campus infrastructure (i.e., information technology network, digital platforms, physical campus, buildings and systems, etc.) before we are able to initiate online instruction. In the event that there is no advance warning for campus closure, the School will communicate with families on the timing of the start of distance learning as early as possible. In the event of campus closure, the School will communicate with students, parents/guardians, and employees using the SFS website, and email, including the exact date for the beginning of distance learning for students, and the designated workdays for faculty and staff to initiate remote work. The first two days of campus closure will be dedicated to teacher preparation and will be designated as workdays for all School employees. Students will be expected to begin engaging in distance learning on Day 3 of a campus closure. 

Campus Closure Scenario: An Example

The Head of School announces that the campus will be closed for an extended period beginning the next school day. All faculty and staff will be required to report to work (either remotely or physically, depending on the situation and as conditions allow) for Day 1 and Day 2 of campus closure. By 4:00 p.m. on Day 2 of a campus closure, teachers will post lessons for students. Distance learning for students will be initiated on Day 3 of a campus closure. The School will send a communication with the exact timeline for the initiation of distance learning as early as possible. The initial communication will be followed by additional communications with more detailed information, and instructions from principals, assistant principals, and teachers. 

Sidwell Friends Distance Learning Approach

We all recognize that distance learning cannot replicate the kind of learning experience that takes place in a dynamic and inspiring school environment where talented teachers and bright students engage through personal, daily contact, and nuanced discussion.

However, when such an experience cannot be possible, there are many alternative and effective approaches available to our teachers in order to continue instruction and to engage students in meaningful learning. The use of the most effective teaching and learning technological tools in the classroom is not new to Sidwell Friends. At all grade levels, our teachers are accustomed to using technology to advance learning goals for students.

In a distance-learning mode, teachers make use of a range of technological tools and online platforms that are already available to them and their students, ensuring greater familiarity. By utilizing familiar tools, our students can adapt easily and smoothly to a distance-learning approach. Students continue to engage in learning by reading a range of texts and materials designed to develop critical reading skills as well as provide content knowledge in specific subject areas. Students also continue to develop math skills by solving problems on paper as well as using online platforms to submit work and receive feedback. While not an exact substitute for classroom learning, teachers can maintain productive and developmentally appropriate lessons using a broad range of resources, approaches, and methodologies. 

Guidelines for Parents/Guardians

We understand that a shift to a distance learning approach will require our students and families to make adjustments. Yet a continued partnership with parents and guardians can play a vital part of ensuring the success of the plan. Divisional principals, learning support staff, and teachers are all available to support and guide students should they need help. Below are some guidelines for parents/guardians to enable students to become successful at distance learning:

Establish a Regular Schedule for Your Child and Stay Engaged with their Learning: Once distance learning is initiated by the School, it will be important for parents/guardians to help students establish and maintain a routine and structure for their day, beginning with a regular bedtime and wake-up time each day. While some of our students may want to stay up late and sleep in, establishing a regular school day routine will help your child retain a sense of normalcy and stay engaged in learning. Be sure to help your child build in “breaks” during the school day, encouraging them to stand up and move around so they are not remaining sedentary throughout the day. Begin and close each “school day” with a brief check-in as well as checking in throughout the day at regular intervals to ensure that your child is successfully engaging in distance learning. Reach out to your child’s teacher if you observe your child struggling to stay focused. Setting clear expectations with your child about regular school day hours will help your child maintain a schedule and stay on top of his/her school-work.

Create a Study Space for Your Child: Productive learning relies on a conducive environment. We recommend that you create a separate, quiet space in your home for your child to study. The family room sofa with close proximity to a television or your child’s bedroom may not be the optimal place for your child to learn. We recommend that you choose an open area in the family living space (kitchen table, dining room, etc.) to avoid isolating your child and to allow parents/guardians to monitor your child’s learning and screen activity. A room with strong wireless connection will also be important. 

Stay in Communication with your Child’s Teachers: Your child’s teachers and the divisional principals will maintain regular communication with parents/guardians. The frequency of the communications will depend on your child’s age, developmental stage, and level of independence. While teachers are available as resources for your child and for you, please keep in mind that our teachers will need to be in regular email communication with all of their families (depending on the grade and class, some teachers teach more than 60 students), so we ask that you be mindful when communicating with teachers, strive to be succinct, and focus on the essential.

Encourage Independence and Allow for Productive Struggle: Stay engaged in your child’s learning by asking them questions and having them share their thoughts while encouraging their independence so they can take ownership of their own learning. Some productive struggle is essential to learning, so we ask that parents allow their children to grapple with problems and come up with ideas for tackling them. Stepping in too quickly to help solve problems will deprive your child of the opportunity to learn, try new approaches, and gain greater independence and confidence. If your child becomes discouraged and/or overwhelmed by school-work, please reach out to your child’s teachers and the learning support team.

Help your Child Maintain Social Contact with Peers: It will be very important for your child to stay in social contact (through virtual means) with their friends and peers during a campus closure. Encourage your child to interact with friends through Facetime/Google Meet or through phone conversations. They can form study groups created by their teachers or informal groups that they develop on their own. Social interactions, even through virtual means, will help your child stay connected and feel a part of the School community.

Encourage Physical Activity and Movement and Monitor Student Stress: Our physical education teachers and coaches will develop online instructional guides for students. Physical movement and exercise are vital to maintaining physical and mental health, reducing stress and anxiety, and improving concentration and focus for more effective learning and retention. Parents should monitor student stress levels and reach out to the divisional psychologist/counselor for advice as needed. 

Distance Learning Plan


We are grateful to the following peer schools for sharing their resources and plans for distance learning:

UN School in Hanoi
Nishimachi International School
The American School of Japan
Singapore American School