What has this moment revealed to you? There are a lot of stories about what the current crisis is uncovering about our society, economy, and educational systems. This is an opportunity to pause, reflect, grieve, and decide how we want to move forward.
From where I sit, having worked in public education for over 20 years and parenting school-age children, I see several understandings emerging from the crisis that we should attempt to carry into the future.
Teaching and Learning Are Rooted in Relationships
In 10 years, students will not remember the goals for lessons, but they will remember that you sent a card and called to check in. The importance of teacher-student relationships is clear: Knowing students well is the foundation of teaching. And as this crisis has unfolded, it’s these relationships that have mattered the most.
Schools can continue this focus on relationships by centering them in policies and practices, whether learning is remote or in person. Plans for the future should include advisories, morning meetings—all the way up to high school—and one-on-one and small group meetings of students and teachers, all of which foster strong relationships.
All Families and Educators Should Be Considered Valued Partners
During this time, families and teachers, including special education teachers, are teaming up to create supportive learning plans for students. There is more input from families and caregivers than ever, because they are more actively involved in learning than ever. In situations in which families are unable to provide support, educators and school staff are stepping in to help.
Schools can continue this level of collaboration, whether in person or in remote learning, by continuing to bridge the home and school learning environments, validating both as critically important and emphasizing the value of working together. This might look like sharing strategies and coordinating learning plans via email, establishing regular conferences, or having students document home and school learning in personalized learning plans.
Teaching Should Be Flexible and Tailored to Students’ Needs
We all saw the suggested home learning schedules that were posted online when schools first shut. When I saw ours, I thought, “Great! We’ll do that in our house with our two kids.”
But I quickly learned these weren’t right for my children. Each day is different in terms of how they’re feeling, both emotionally and physically, and learning experiences must be flexible to account for that. Students should be able to access material at different times and paces, and in different ways, and that material should be adapted according to what they’re interested in, what they need, and how they feel. Ideally, students would have the opportunity to follow their own interests and to learn in ways that are not time- or topic-bound.
Mental Health Is of Paramount Importance
We are living through a slow-motion collective trauma. There seems to be a recognition of this: People are frequently checking in with each other and talking about isolation, emotions, and how we’re coping. There is an openness our society has resisted for decades.
This should continue no matter what school looks like in the future. In every staff meeting and with the introduction of each new structure or policy, we need to consider the mental health of teachers and students—and design environments and experiences that support their well-being.
During this pandemic, some students have lost family members or friends; others are experiencing economic instability. Now that students have lived through this, we can’t stop having conversations about hard things: loss, grief and societal issues such as inequality, oppression, and poverty. We have an opportunity to use this openness to heal and show that we can indeed have hard conversations, move through challenges, and come out the other side, together.
We’re All Responsible for Each Other
Our students are sacrificing their performances, traditions, and celebrations for other members of their communities, and they’re going to see that their actions have helped others live. We can help them understand the connection between their actions and the health of members of their communities. It’s now undeniable that we are all connected to each other, that actions matter, and that we can have a dramatic influence on the health and well-being of others.
We can’t just turn back to education as usual, with disposable, unrelated assignments done just for the teacher, unconnected to anything other than a grade or score. We can move forward knowing that students are capable of being engaged, valued members of our society who see the bigger picture of what’s possible when we work together.
In the end, the lessons of this moment are up to all of us. It will be easy to slip back into old practices, especially for those whom the old system was serving well. But we have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to course-correct, to take what we have experienced and learned and create a vision for education that is more inclusive, responsive, and purposeful than it has ever been.