Important Lessons Learned During the Pandemic and How They Can Drive Needed Change
There is no shortage of challenges that have been leveled on schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. After some time, we have seen an initial move to all remote learning, depending on where you live, a shift to some sort of hybrid model. A spike in cases has led to buildings being closed again and a resumption of remote learning in some locations. Uncertainty and a lack of continuity have had a heavy toll on teachers, administrators, students, and parents.
As educators continue to grapple with these challenges, lessons have materialized that can pave the way for needed change. Even though it is difficult at the moment to provide the time and energy to focus on these, it is essential to begin to lay the foundation. One day the pandemic will be over. Education can ill afford to revert back to the way things were done in many districts and schools. If the pandemic has taught us one major lesson, it’s that the system has not worked for many learners. The time is now to seize on the opportunity to do something about it while it is fresh on everyone’s minds.
Below are some topics where vital lessons have been learned. Even though some have been prevalent prior to the pandemic, there should be a renewed sense of urgency to right the ship sooner rather than later.
The lesson here is that many learners have suffered from inequity because of socioeconomic status, inefficient resources, or insufficient pedagogy. If all kids are doing the same thing, at the same time, the same way, and in the same place, a red flag should be raised. Equity is about providing learners what they need when and where they need it. A move to real personalized learning at scale is the most logical step. At the same time, the digital divide has to be tackled where all learners have equitable access to a device, reliable WIFI, and quality resources.
Health and safety are of utmost concern right now. When the dust settles, long term planning should commence to install or upgrade air filtration systems and make hand sanitizer stations permanent. New classroom furniture that is flexible should be considered that can be arranged in ways to support collaboration and blended pedagogies that were implemented remotely. As many schools decided to purchase devices for students as a means to ensure equity during remote learning, investments will likely need to be made to boost WIFI throughout buildings.
Humans Crave Social Interaction
Social distancing and remote learning shined a light on the importance of interaction. It is the foundation of which relationships are built and sustained. A lesson learned is how critical it is to develop virtual experiences that incorporate discourse and collaboration. We must also look for opportunities to increase human interaction in face-to-face settings.
Use of time
One of the biggest challenges for educators during the pandemic was time, especially when it came to implementing a hybrid model. A lesson learned through this ordeal as we advance is to rethink how time is used in the classroom and innovative ways to give educators more of it during the workday. Both pathways require taking a critical lens to current practice and reflect on potential improvements. It is also vital to think about moving from traditional requirements such as the school calendar, seat time, and Carnegie Units (first rolled out in 1906, by the way) to competency models.
That’s the way we’ve always done it (TTWWADI) inhibits change
Everyone has been presented with a clean slate. In the midst of an unprecedented period in education, the pursuit of innovative practices that break from the mold of what has always been done should be the imperative. Now, this is not to say that some “traditional” methods won’t still have value. It is up to each school system to determine what should be continued, which particular practices need to be shelved, and areas of focus that will benefit all learners. This includes digital pedagogy that consists of purposeful use, a move to personalized learning through blended strategies, use of data to differentiate, innovative assessment, and performance tasks. The big shift overall is to make a move from low to high agency methodologies.
Importance of a learning management system (LMS)
Before the pandemic, many districts had an LMS (Canvas, Schoology, Google Classroom), but its uses varied greatly. Many have realized how vital they were to continuity in learning, whether it was remote or hybrid. The key is to continue to ensure systemic use K-12 to support pedagogically-sound blended learning, self-paced activities, and the continuation of quality learning during extended school closures. It can also set the state to the creation of a viable virtual learning option for students who prefer this model.
More relevant professional learning
If there was ever a time to transform professional learning, it is now. The majority of educators will agree that one and done, as well as drive-by days or events, don’t lead to meaningful changes to practice at scale. One important lesson learned is the shift from this to job-embedded and on-going experiences. Another critical change is how professional learning is structured as well as the areas of focus. On the first point, there is a need to create or replicate the conditions that are reflective of the environments teachers and administrators work in currently. This should then be connected to relevant ideas and strategies that can be implemented in a practical way.
SEL and our own well being
Social and emotional learning was a hot topic prior to the pandemic. It is even more imperative now as learners are grappling with social isolation, parents losing jobs, family members becoming sick, and a great deal of time spent on technology. We might not know for years, or ever, the full impact all of this has had on learners, which is why a proactive approach is needed that focuses on SEL competencies. Professional learning can fill this void. We can’t forget about the adults and what they are currently dealing with, especially teachers and the time being put in to manage and implement hybrid learning. Although not directly tied to pedagogy, consistent efforts need to be made in the areas of mindfulness and health for all.
I am confident that many of you reading this post could add numerous more lessons. Please consider adding them in the comments section below. You will also notice there is not much depth above. I only added a few suggestions in each category where vital lessons have been learned. It is up to you in your role to reflect on each and begin to take the required action in relation to your current situation.