Revisiting and Rethinking Our Priorities
Schools have responded rapidly to the challenges of the past year, but now is a time to reassess some educational priorities.
The landscape of education is in a constant state of transformation. As the world continuously evolves, it is a professional, moral, and ethical obligation for educators to revisit and rethink approaches to teaching and learning. We are living in a global society where the needs of learners are constantly changing. Since learning is an ongoing process, instructional practices must be refined and questioned over the course of time.
When we collaboratively develop a clear vision and focus on our purpose, the journey leads to flexible paths of promise that embrace innovative and creative approaches to instruction. According to Simon Sinek, author of the New York Times best seller Start With Why, “When we are given a clear destination, we use our own creativity and our own sense of innovation and our own problem-solving abilities to overcome obstacles to get to the destination.” After everything we’ve been through since the pandemic began, now might be a good time to look at what really matters in an effort to gain clarity.
3 Priorities to Rethink for Next Year
1. Connection before content. We know that connecting with our learners is a priority. Yet, as we reflect on the pandemic, many would agree that establishing relationships and building community has been a major challenge. These are extreme circumstances, and the constraints have been overwhelming. So how do we move forward? Below are some considerations and strategies:
- Could we cocreate shared expectations? This empowers learners and develops buy-in. We can also revisit regularly to ensure that everyone’s needs are being met.
- How can we focus on individual connections and be intentional with teacher presence to establish respect and rapport? Impactful practices include sharing about yourself; having unconditional positive regard; and having frequent, high-quality communication and feedback.
- How can we foster peer-to-peer connections? Discussion boards and other collaborative spaces (online and offline) allow students to co-construct meaning. We can also give structures and opportunities for peer feedback.
- How can we embed social and emotional learning (SEL) practices? Using welcoming rituals, engaging strategies, and optimistic closures are the three signature practices that don’t take a lot of time and can have a big impact.
2. Acceleration, not remediation. Less is more. And when we say “less,” we don’t mean less rigor. The reality is that this major disruption is our opportunity to rethink structures and redefine roles. We can prioritize standards, stay focused on critical content, and cultivate expert learners. Consider ways to rethink empowering students to learn, unlearn, and relearn:
- What mindsets, frameworks, and practices remove barriers and allow us to meet the needs of all learners? For example, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and blended learning are all about optimizing teaching and learning through design considerations. We can leverage both to create meaningful and challenging learning opportunities.
- How can we flip the script on questioning? Often teachers are the ones asking all the questions. Using a protocol like the Question Formulation Technique, we can empower learners to develop high-quality questions and think critically.
- Could we design for inquiry with voice and choice? Using an approach like discover, discuss, demonstrate gives learners opportunities to explore content before direct instruction and provides opportunities for learners to construct meaning through communication and collaboration with their peers.
3. Rethinking success criteria. We can no longer preserve all of the traditional assessment systems from the past. We have an opportunity to create equitable success criteria that values every learner who walks through the door. It’s time to rethink the one-size-fits-all approaches to curricula and assessment by viewing learners holistically. How can we find innovative ways to make the curriculum accessible to all students? These reflections can propel learners to take ownership of their progress while maximizing their intellectual, social, and emotional growth. Here are some ideas to consider when rethinking success criteria:
- Could we ground our success criteria in the five SEL competencies developed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)? Schools can build better learning environments where students have opportunities to thrive in humane ways. Assessment can be more inclusive when keeping learners’ social and emotional well-being at the heart of decision-making.
- How can we cultivate meaningful relationships to support learning? We should explore our own personal biases and act as mirrors of kindness and empathy. Classrooms that keep relationships at the core will create conditions that engender a deeper curiosity for learning and unleash the expertise that exists within every student and teacher.
- How can we involve students in cocreating goals and use standards-aligned rubrics to co-construct clear success criteria? Assessment is not stagnant; it’s an ongoing, visible process that teachers and learners must collaboratively and continuously engage in. We can provide multiple pathways to understanding by collecting evidence, reflecting on levels of proficiency, and communicating what success can look like for every learner.
Now is the time to work with all stakeholders to cocreate a new vision for teaching and learning. Knowing our destination, we can move forward to revisit and rethink our priorities to craft our path.