As the 2020-2021 school year comes to an end, most leaders and educators are happily turning the page on this challenging chapter of their lives. The hope to “return to normal” for all K-12 students in the 2021-2022 school year is on everyone’s minds. When thinking about the next school year, we have to ask ourselves these questions:
- Is there anything from this year that we will purposefully carry into next year and beyond?
- Has there been any accidental learning- if so, what?
- What lessons are we going to carry with us into our classrooms in the aftermath of the pandemic?
During challenging times, it’s more important than ever to reflect on the processes and places we have been. Thinking about what we have learned during this time will help us to ultimately move forward. During this time, districts everywhere were forced to try new things, get creative, and continue to make education meaningful for students and teachers. Here are three things that have come out of the pandemic that leaders might reflect on and find a place for in the full in person model.
Flexible communication options
If you had asked districts across the country if they utilized technology beyond emails for school to home communication prior to March 2020, most would have said no. This communication took place largely within the walls of the school, on the school’s timeline, and calendar. For example, three scheduled parent-teacher conferences per year, two open houses, and one end of year assembly were all scheduled and mapped out for the school year. If families couldn’t attend, there was no other option. Another common theme before heard from districts was the lack of meaningful connections between home and school for students, particularly in the upper grades (Chen, 2020). However, when schools had to shut their doors, districts had to find alternative ways of communicating. Communication became more crucial to student and school success than ever. Without strong communication between families, school, and students, no meaningful learning was going to take place. Everyone needed to be on the same page as far as daily expectations, where to access work, and how to get in touch with each other.
By having the social awareness to allow the pivot to using technology, for the first time, the home-school connection was able to happen after hours, on platforms that were more easily accessible than physically coming into a school building. Families were able to attend parent-teacher conferences, school assemblies, and PTO meetings on platforms like Zoom and Google Meet. Because of this technology being leveraged, community members and stakeholders are more likely to join information sessions, and assemblies. This will lead to great support from the community, something districts are always looking to grow. When schools are fully back in person, this pivot should stay. It allows for greater collaboration and flexibility. This continued flexibility will remain important as we move forward from the pandemic because as districts have witnessed, engaging the families and community members is a crucial way to promote a positive, well-rounded learning environment. In some cases, families and children were learning how to use the technology alongside the school staff. The new technological literacies families and schools learned to work and be adept with will continue to be necessary to keep pace in the changing landscape of K-12 education and beyond. Families will feel more welcomed and needed when districts reach out in ways that are more familiar with them now, which in turn leads to a stronger home-school connection.
As we move forward from the pandemic engaging the families and community members is a crucial way to promote a positive, well-rounded learning environment. (Tweet this)
Refocusing on relationships
Everyone knows that the heart of a strong school community is relationships. Many times in teacher preparation programs, the importance of building relationships is stressed. Similarly, administrators are often urged to get to know their staff, and have open and clear communication with all employees. However, in the day-to-day bustle from running a school district or a classroom, that can often lose its space as a top priority. The pressure to meet curriculum standards, take state assessments, and meet district goals can often distract from the crucial foundation of building relationships. Remote learning puts a spotlight on relationships. Suddenly, relationship building was a top priority again because it was necessary for learning. Districts were forced to take a step back and reevaluate how instruction was being delivered, what connections were being made and how along with what tools and resources their staff used, and could use to make connections stronger. It became clear early on that without authentic connections, learning is less likely to take place. All educators from administrators looking to connect with staff, to teachers trying to forge relationships with students, were suddenly tasked with finding new ways of making authentic connections. Simple things like a quick 1:1 conversation with a student at the beginning of class, to asking your staff, “how are you doing?” and being prepared for a real response and conversation, are things we should take with us as we move forward. Strong relationships in any setting, remote or in person, will lead to greater achievement, and a more positive school climate. Prioritizing relationships shows your staff and students that you genuinely care for them, and want them to show up every day and strive to give their best.
Prioritizing relationships shows your staff and students that you genuinely care for them, and want them to show up every day and strive to give their best. (Tweet this)
Focus on closing the digital divide
When students are in school and learning in person, technology issues can largely be taken care of by the schools. Schools are often able to provide internet, and access to devices for students to use when learning, or working on projects. What became clear during remote learning, however, is that there are remarkable technological inequities in our school systems. According to a survey by EdWeek (2020), 64% of leaders, in districts where over 75% of students were identified as low income surveyed, said that technology access was a major barrier to online education. Some of these barriers included consistent access to high speed internet, and a working device to connect with that the student did not have to share with other family members. To show the contrast, just 21% of leaders, from districts where less than 25% of students were identified as low income identified these same barriers to technology. It’s no surprise that the digital divide has made meaningful and consistent learning nearly impossible for certain subgroups of students. School districts did everything they could to address these barriers, from issuing 1:1 devices, providing free internet access to those in need, as well as consistent and accessible technology repair sites and helplines.
Hopefully, districts keep the momentum going surrounding technology initiatives. IT departments across the country have been able to find ways to remotely install software, update devices, and provide technical assistance to students and staff. School districts have spent over a year figuring out what works with their students in terms of device distribution and assistance. It would be a shame to have all the effort put into integrating technology, and the skillsets built up to be put to the side when students and staff return to school full time next fall.
The pandemic turned K-12 education upside down. While there are many parts of the last year that we would like to forget, the accidental learning that took place is valuable, and includes parts that we should carry forward to make the 2021-2022 school year stronger and more meaningful than ever before.
Click here to download a free guide presenting 5 easy activities that promote reflection, to use in your school and district and share with your colleagues.
Chen, C. (2020, October 10). Parental involvement is key to student success. Public School Review. https://www.publicschoolreview.com/blog/parental-involvement-is-key-to-student-success
Harold, B. (2020, April 10). The disparities in remote learning under coronavirus. EdWeek. https://www.edweek.org/technology/the-disparities-in-remote-learning-under-coronavirus-in-charts/2020/04