Expert Advice

Delta Variant at School: 5 Things Parents Need to Know

We ask a hybrid learning expert what parents can expect this school year
24 September, 2021 | Dr. Tracy Weeks
  • Delta Variant at School: 5 Things Parents Need to Know
Dr. Tracy Weeks

What are the brand new challenges Delta creates, as teachers and parents battle constant flux in their classrooms from repeated quarantines, absences and broader closures?

The combination of the Delta variant and back-to-school means educators and parents are finding themselves in a state of flux. Last school year was challenging enough for teachers to figure out how to quickly transition all their instruction to a remote environment, and to creatively assess how much students were learning and retaining. The challenge with Delta is teachers, students and their parents are now battling constant change, with classes or entire schools temporarily shuttering and then reopening. Couple that with conflicting safety protocol mandates coming from state and district levels. The reality is pockets of students are coming in and out of the classroom due to quarantines, or sickness. All of these challenges are disruptive to the learning environment at a time when many teachers were already playing catch up with students. 

How are some states and districts rethinking their hybrid learning approach?

Nationwide, hybrid learning is becoming a permanent fixture in schools that will have a lasting impact on education well beyond the pandemic. As a result of federal stimulus funds like the CARES act, states and districts are utilizing money to purchase technology solutions that can provide an infrastructure that teachers can use to organize and deliver instruction if needed, in both in-person, hybrid and fully online environments. This would also be helpful to keep students learning during weather emergencies, illnesses or extended absences. Many of these solutions like Instructure’s Canvas learning management system can help to make learning more personalized and student success more equitable. Hybrid learning frameworks can also offer opportunities to do new things, like expand curriculum. For example, schools can team up to open their campuses virtually by offering students classes online that are not offered at their home school.  

What role formative assessment will play in helping teachers and parents to catch up from last year, and stay on track for this one

With everything teachers were asked to do during the transition to remote learning, they had little time to dedicate to assessment. They were focused on connecting with students and promoting students’ wellbeing--the most important work educators do. While most teachers did eventually find ways to effectively assess students over the past year, we are entering a new school year during which we will need to determine the impacts of the shutdown on each student. Therefore, we are seeing a renewed spotlight on assessment, particularly classroom formative assessment, as educators look to identify what students learned and retained. Educators want and need the insights they get through assessment so they can best meet students where they are and give them the support they need early and often. 

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Teachers are some of the most innovative people on the planet and they know there are countless alternatives to traditional testing. The most popular alternatives seem to be formative or actionable forms of assessment, as well as the more authentic assessment like project or performance-based assessment (i.e. using portfolios to gather and analyze student work). Formative assessments are used by teachers in the classroom to quickly identify student levels of understanding so that teachers can immediately target students for interventions. But one thing that we don’t emphasize enough is that these classroom formatives give educators insights to evaluate their own instructional efficacy--they are one the key tools teachers can actually use data to adjust and improve instructional practices. I get really excited when I see teachers implementing multiple assessment strategies, including formative assessments as well as authentic forms of assessment, to allow their students to demonstrate their learning and  better understand the needs of their students. 

Are there any tips you can share that are aimed to support overwhelmed teachers, parents and students throughout the process, and de-stress assessment?

Both educators and parents must approach assessment thoughtfully.  Leaders at the school district level should seek effective assessments that teachers can quickly use and benefit from, offering reliable assessments in easy-to-use formats. That includes proper training and development to build the basic skill-set required, with specific tactics for how to use assessment data to support hybrid learning if necessary. In addition, teachers and parents need to be careful not to overwhelm students as they adjust to being back in the classroom. We know students are entering the school year with increased anxiety, and assessment is an added stress-point. Overall, the mindset towards assessment needs to shift for us all and should include embracing an actionable approach to formative assessment that's a seamless part of the regular curriculum.  

What can parents do to make sure students are getting some consistency at home?

Consistency at home starts with setting up a routine that can be followed as much as possible.  Setting specific times to do homework is key to helping students keep organized and focus on learning.  However, also clearly scheduling time for relaxing is also very important to a student’s overall well-being.  A routine outlining both can help reduce anxiety and keep students on track for success both in school and at home.   

Other considerations include: 

  • Establishing a designated quiet and organized space to work to help your child maintain a routine.  
  • Parents/guardians need to learn the ins and outs of the school’s learning management platform to help students manage school projects and homework.
  •  When possible, coordinate schedules to align so a parent/guardian is home during homework or other times of learning to assist when needed and help students keep motivated.
  • Lead by example – consistency starts with establishing and helping your child settle into the routine while also displaying ongoing support and positive feedback along the way.

Should families be considering homeschooling?

Online education has opened the door for more families to consider homeschooling especially as COVID upended the traditional school model and gave families a taste of what it’s like to learn in a home environment. The good news is in today’s world there are many ways to approach learning whether it be in a classroom, at home, online, or a combination of all.  There is no longer a “one size fits all” approach to education and parents and students alike must assess their own situation and research a variety of options to determine the learning method and environment that best suits them.


About The author

Dr. Tracy Weeks is the Executive Director of Government Affairs at Instructure, a leading education technology company dedicated to helping everyone learn together. Today, Instructure supports more than 30 million educators and learners at more than 6,000 organizations around the world.


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