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Educators from Carolina Friends School in Durham explore the relationship between health and education.

is an independent Quaker school serving students 3-18. Contact the school at:

4809 Friends School Road
Durham, NC 27705
Telephone: ( 919) 383-6602

Renée Prillaman is Assistant Head for Teaching and Learning at Carolina Friends School. She has over 40 years of teaching and administrative experience and holds a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction. For 16 years she taught in the CFS Lower and Middle Schools, and spent nine of them as head of the Middle School. In 2013, Renée became the School's first Assistant Head for Teaching and Learning. She followed her children to CFS after teaching at UNC and Duke for 10 years, and continues to serve as Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Program in Education at Duke. Renée’s children are both CFS graduates. Renée has taught for the Southern Association of Independent Schools New Teacher Institute and the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools New Teacher Institute and completed the Engaging Leadership Institute, a two-year program with the Friends Council on Education. A member of the Chapel Hill Friends Meeting, she also serves on the Peaceful Schools NC Committee and served previously on the Board of the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Foundation

Distance Learning with a Mission

By Renée Prillaman, PhD
Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning

Moving to teaching entirely remotely this spring required Carolina Friends School to implement new technology platforms, learning management systems, and approaches to instructional planning in a short time frame. We were forced to quickly adapt our experiential, hands-on curriculum while maintaining our grounding in the primacy of student/teacher relationships. Increasingly we discovered that we were not just teaching and learning at a distance, but in the context of a national crisis, requiring increased attention to the growing emotional needs of our students.

Renée Prillaman

While our learning model has always relied on families working in partnership with us to help our students thrive, this has become even more crucial while we are connecting remotely, and providing multiple means for student and parent/guardian feedback has been vital.

Principles of Practice for Distance Learning During a Pandemic

As we looked at the needs of our students and teachers, we leaned on the professional organizations that are a normal part of our network for support, including independent schools networks, professional discipline-specific organizations, developmental support resources, and social and emotional specialists and organizations. Through this range of resources, we have focused on distance learning that takes into account these recommended practices:

  • Routine/Structure
  • Predictability
  • Clarity of Expectations
  • Communication
  • Connection
  • Praise
  • Choice

Balancing Reliable Routines with Responsive Support

Our students—from our Early Schoolers to our Upper Schoolers— normally begin their day with the practice of settling into silence, a time to focus or refocus energies and prepare to be in community with each other as learners and teachers. Continuing this practice virtually provided comfort and routine for our students and connected them to their own voices and to the community around them. For our Middle and Upper School students, careful consideration was given to allowing space for class meetings as well as for connections and check-ins.

Fostering Personal Connections and Communication

Just as it is when we are on our campus, personal connections with teachers are crucial to our children. Each of our students, at every age and stage, has had the opportunity to connect with their teachers to talk not just about projects they are working on, but also what is happening in their time at home. Newsletters, updates, and class pages helped children stay connected to one another and to their teachers. Head teachers’ regular communications with families focused on how to navigate distance learning at home and the social-emotional landscape of the challenging times we are living in. New ways of connection were discovered as students and teachers shared their own home environments, including pets and favorite comfort items. Middle School students could join a “lunch bunch” hosted by a teacher on a topic of personal interest, and Upper School students both led opportunities for connection with peers and heard from teachers each day “we love you, and we’ve got your back.”

Offering Choice and Affirmation

An essential aspect of our teaching and learning philosophy is recognizing and calling out the gifts of each child and to provide for choices in learning experiences that support their individual growth and development. For our youngest learners, this has included offering a range of provocations to enable children to choose how to work together with timely, specific, and encouraging feedback from their teachers. Our Middle School, based on best practice recommendations, emphasizes student choice in its rich elective program. Some electives needed to be adapted in creative ways, and whole new electives were created. In the Upper School, we partnered with students with even greater expectations regarding their agency and mindful decision making, and the creativity and resilience they illustrated in adapting projects and purposes was might.