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The Distance Learning Playbook for School Leaders

The Distance Learning Playbook for School Leaders
Leading for Engagement and Impact in Any Setting

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December 2020 | 152 pages | Corwin

Effective school leadership is effective leadership, regardless of where it occurs

In March 2020, there was no manual for leading schools and school systems during a pandemic. School leaders had to figure things out as the crisis unfolded. But starting now, leaders have the opportunity to prepare for leading schools through distance learning with purpose and intent—using what works best to accelerate students’ learning all the while maintaining an indelible focus on equity.

Harnessing the insights and experience of renowned educators Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and John Hattie, The Distance Learning Playbook for School Leaders applies the wisdom and evidence of the VISIBLE LEARNING® research to understand what works best. Spanning topics from school climate at a distance, leader credibility, care for self and colleagues, instructional leadership teams, stakeholder advisory groups, and virtual visibility, this comprehensive playbook details the research- and evidence-based strategies school leaders can mobilize to lead the delivery of high-impact learning in an online, virtual, and distributed environment.

This powerful guide includes:

  • Actionable insights and hands-on steps for each module to help school leaders realize the evidence-based leadership practices that result in meaningful learning in a distance environment
  • Discussion of equity challenges associated with distance learning, along with examples of how leaders can work to ensure that equity gains that have been realized are not lost.
  • Analysis of the mindsets that empower leaders to manage change, rather than technology
  • Space to write and reflect on current practices and plan future leadership strategies
  • The mindframes for distance learning that serve leaders well in any instructional setting and will position schools after the pandemic to come back better than they were before 

The Distance Learning Playbook for School Leaders is the essential hands-on guide to leading school and school systems from a distance and delivering on the promise of equitable, quality learning experiences for students.

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Chapter 1. School Climate at a Distance
Take Care of Yourself

Take Care of Your Colleagues

Leader Credibility

Instructional Leadership Teams

Stakeholder Advisory Groups

Virtual Visibility

The Feel of School

Chapter 2. Professional Learning at a Distance
Learning Beliefs at a Distance

Collaborative Inquiry Cycles

Input Training

Safe Practice

Virtual Learning Walks

Microteaching in Distance Learning

Personalized Professional Learning

Social Presence

Parent Education and Support

Chapter 3. Instructional Leadership at a Distance
Revisit School Goals in Light of Distance Learning

Align Goals to Expectations

Clarify Teacher Expectations

Ensure Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies

Use a Distance Learning Instructional Framework

Demonstrating in Distance Learning

Collaborating in Distance Learning

Coaching and Facilitating in Distance Learning

Practicing in Distance Learning

Chapter 4. Mindframes for Leaders From a Distance
I am an evaluator of my impact on teacher and student learning.

I see assessment as informing my impact and next steps.

I collaborate with my peers and my teachers about my conceptions of progress and my impact.

I am a change agent and I believe all teachers and students can improve.

I strive for challenge rather than merely doing my best.

I give and help students and teachers understand feedback and I interpret and act on feedback given to me.

I engage as much in dialogue as in monologue.

I explicitly inform teachers and students what successful impact looks like from the outset.

I build relationships and trust so that learning can occur in a place where it is safe to make mistakes and learn from others.

I focus on learning and the language of learning.

About the Authors


In our lifetime we have not had to consider how to lead schools during a worldwide crisis. The Distance Learning Playbook for School Leaders reminds us that what teachers and leaders do is really what matters, not the medium which they do it through. With the right skills and attitude, this timely playbook offers excellent tips and reminders that can easily guide school leaders on every level through crisis and into a  strong climate of excellence.

Zetha Nobles, International School Leader
Chief Strategist, Nobles Global Consultants
Cypress, TX

Timely advice for leadership teams to make instructional leadership a priority by providing opportunities, guidance and explicit action steps to increase administrator and teacher agency. No longer is teacher self-care, accountability partnerships, and applying safe practices before implementation taking a back seat as The Distance Learning Playbook for School Leaders shares how to set the foundation for supporting teachers, families, and students in this rapid transition to online teaching and learning through easy to apply research-based strategies. A must read for school district and K12 administrators.

Dr. Sonja Lopez Arnak, Faculty in Teacher Education
Allliant International University, Teach-Now/Moreland University
Washington, D.C.

The Distance Learning Playbook for School Leaders: Leading for Engagement and Impact in Any Setting is a great practical guide for managing both the stress and priorities associated with distance learning. As a new school leader navigating my way through principalship, this book references many obstacles that I have already faced in the first month of school and challenges that have presented itself along the way. The section on virtual learning walks really hit home because my district heavily focuses on this practice, so I was able to make meaningful connections. Also, the reflective guides embedded in the book give me useful tools to implement in either my leadership team meetings or school wide faculty meetings.

Amanda Austin, Director
Iberville STEM Academy
Addis, LA

This book is insightful, progressive, and just what school leaders need to move their organizations forward. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the field of education was forced to shift its ethos on a dime. This guide to distance learning will support the nimbleness and flexibility needed to create and implement and sustain a high-quality distance learning program with fidelity.

Mona Fairley-Nelson, Deputy Head of School - Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
Carol Morgan School
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

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