It Is Just As Important To Stop Doing As It Is To Start Doing
I'm sure if you're in the education space, you have watched recurring themes fill your inboxes and meeting agendas. Distance learning with technology, authentic assessments, student and teacher well-being, social-emotional learning, and what education looks like post-pandemic. These are just a few of the topics that come to mind (just in case you need to be reminded). The information that has been published/ disseminated addressing these topics is abundant, not always relevant and sometimes redundant.
Instead of adding to the list of inventive ways to prepare for education post-pandemic and that enlighten knowledge ending up in a spam folder or worse, the trash can. I want to focus this blog on what you should NOT do while this pandemic is taking place and, even more importantly, when schools reopen. I should start by saying that this list is not one of my own creation because my work focuses on supporting schools and their leadership; over the past seven months, I have had many conversations, debates, and strategy sessions about the impact and implications of the Covid-19 pandemic for schools, teachers, and parents.
It's fair to say that the common underlying emotion for most people suffering during this time is fear: of uncertainty, of losing loved ones, for health, and for employment. That observation of fear has led me to believe that what parents need now from schools is a sense of stability and security. Although the reimagining of education is being thrust open schools districts at a NASCAR pace and is long overdue and needed, it might be worthwhile to start to think about the impact of more change, new procedures, new requirements, and new expectations will have on those who are already fragile because of their trauma. In education, it is just as important to stop doing as it is to start doing; with that said, here are some don'ts to consider.
1. Don't think that kids only learn when they are taught by a teacher.
Before I lose some of you, let me explain. I read an article from The Economist recently about how school closures might hurt economies around the world. In this article, one of the statements made was, "If eight-year-olds' learning stops until September, they could lose nearly a year's maths attainment, according to first estimates."
My first thought was why should we assume students won't learn if they're not in a school building or a classroom. Can math only be taught in that traditional way to be effective? Now, most researchers agree that Remote or Virtual learning has amplified the learning inequities, and in the aftermath, the students who need school the most will suffer the most. But if we've learned nothing as educators over the years, we should remember that children are resilient and always full of surprises. More than likely, we will have more students than we think who will surpass our learning expectations while not in a school building and when given the peace and quiet to do so.
2. Don't underestimate recess.
Yes, recess. Please don't forget about recess!!! Many schools that have reopened have taken away time from recess to add it to their reading and math time to make up for instruction lost in the spring. This is a short-sighted way to approach the issue of lost instructional time. Educators and medical experts have unanimously emphasized the importance of daily recess. One extensive survey found that more than nine of ten primary school teachers' in the U.S. believe that recess promotes students' health, wellness, and social development. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that recess benefits students by increasing their physical activity level, improving their memory, attention, and concentration, and reducing disruptive classroom behavior.
Don't view recess as a low priority; quite the opposite, as suggested, make sure all children get more of it.
3. Don't expect the 'new normal' to happen overnight.
We all have high hopes and brave expectations for when schools reopen. We all hope that we will finally see some real change in our education system. Linda Darling-Hammond, who called it 'A New Deal' for education, wrote, that "This pandemic puts a stark light on an emerging truth—education as we know it is over, and we must think of 'school' in deeply different ways." Yes, Yes, and Yes again. We would be naive to think that we can just pick-up from where we left off pre-pandemic. However, this is not the first time we have hoped schools would change. Such change hasn't happened before, and it probably won't happen now unless we reimagine the change itself. If we know nothing about our education system, we see that policy changes take way too long and rarely have the impact envisioned at its inception. Adding to that, overcoming the massive financial challenges Covid has placed on cities will impact the school's resources, thus adding more roadblock layers to overcome. This is why I'm doubtful that there will be 'the new normal' that is significantly different from what we had before. Post-pandemic transformation in our education system will have to come from principals' visionary leadership, the teachers' professional wisdom, and students' passionate engagement as change-makers.
In conclusion, we should use this time to evaluate what things need to change and what aspects of education should stay the same and be reinforced.