COVID-19 has fundamentally disrupted the reality the world has regarding education, and I am hopeful for the thousands of kids whom the current system did not seem to work for. In America, where in the vast majority of cases we have not evolved at the same or greater pace as other developed countries, we have to view this moment as a once in a generation opportunity to transform and profoundly reshape, or better yet recreate, our educational system. I am optimistic at this time if we do the following:
Address the comprehensive social and emotional wellness of all students and staff.
Define the authentic and relevant purposes of learning.
Adjust our antiquated view of how we use our time and talent.
1. Addressing the comprehensive social and emotional wellness of all students and staff.
During this global health crisis, we as parents and educators naturally are concerned about the physical health and safety of our children. Physical health and safety should always be a top priority, but I’m going deeper and emphasizing a child's social and emotional health and security and extending that to the staff who serve and support them. For children, in a relatively short period of time, their lives were turned upside down with not much explanation or clarity. It’s safe to say that in many ways this generation is more coddled than ours. This is largely the generation of “everyone gets a trophy” and you may or may not agree with the “we all are winners” approach, but we can all recognize how much harder they may emotionally be able to cope. We must address the social and emotional needs of every student. Every student deserves:
Open communication: Regardless of their age, they deserve an open dialogue about changes that they see and to know that they can ask questions and receive honest answers even when that answer is, “I don’t know.”
Access to onsite and remote counseling: Children need a third party they can address concerns with outside of the relationships they have with their parents and teachers. A counselor offers objective lenses and a unique set of skills to help children cope and adapt to life’s changes.
As we move throughout the work, teachers deserve the exact same.
2. Defining the authentic and relevant purposes of learning.
We must be dedicated to providing a genuine, positive education experience. This experience must be effective and memorable whether in person or online. This goes far further than any state-mandated standards that must be taught as standards are nothing more than a roadmap. It is not the how. The “how” goes into what experiences students are deserving of NOT what curricula we feel we must teach them. To do so, teachers, administrators, and counselors must ask themselves:
What is it that students must know and be able to do? Not, what we believe they have to know and be able to do based on what we had to endure.
How can we integrate the curricula that is centered on learning experiences?
How can teamwork still be encouraged in any setting?
How can spirits be lifted and fears removed?
How can we reward students for their health and safety consciousness?
How can we establish better family support systems?
Perhaps the biggest challenge is how to foster an atmosphere for innovation within the limits and constraints that social distancing and the CDC will require. The answer is rooted in technology infrastructure and access as it is abundantly clear that at this point remote learning is here to stay. Even if in person schooling resumes (which I firmly believe won’t be 100% in the fall), there will always be some level of remote access required to accommodate class schedules that will be altered due to class sizes. Smaller class sizes means more classes offered to accommodate everyone and remote learning will help with this increased load. So, we must ensure that:
Every school has remote learning capabilities.
Teachers are trained and familiar with the device that they will be utilizing for lessons.
Every student has access to wifi – at school and at home.
The appropriate hardware and software is accessible.
Ongoing training for all parties, including parents is available.
Adjust our antiquated view of how we use our time and talent
To provide authentic learning experiences in unprecedented times, we must think outside of the box, be visionary, and consider what some may call drastic measures but are truly evolutions in best practices of supporting students and their families. We must consider:
Getting away from agrarian calendars. Digital learning is going to continue to be incorporated into our education system; therefore, we must not just consider but adopt year-round education models to maximize learning potential and create authentic learning experiences. We simply must admit that 8:30AM-3:00PM or something similar is no longer efficient as neither is August to May schooling. Learning must be continuous and as we’ve learned does not always occur within the walls of a school building.
Redefining the role of a teacher. We’ve debated teacher salaries for years. Let’s stop it. Teachers should be paid six-figures.
Master teachers – top of their class – build digital content and are responsible for Tier I instruction ensuring all students get access to them due to their strong knowledge of pedagogy. We know who these individuals are and rely on them to fulfill those ‘extra duties.’
Before teachers become master teachers, those individuals approaching that rank should serve as mentors/coaches/tutors to students to ensure Tier II instruction occurs, instruction for when students may not get the experience the first time it is taught. In essence, those students who need a second dose. These individuals could potentially make $80k-$90k and would be responsible for groups of kids who need additional intervention.
Lastly, apprentice teachers – new teachers and those moving deeper into the profession – would focus on the Tier III interventions integrating technology and 1:1 coaching as appropriate. These individuals could potentially make 45k-50k and would be responsible for ensuring that personalized attention that research shows students need when they are not fully grasping material.
In all cases, these three subgroups of teachers move throughout the continuum focusing on quality teaching as opposed to quantity. Simply put, this moment gives us the best opportunity to reward our best teachers, build capacity in those as they grow deeper into the profession, and recruit the best and brightest to stay longer than 1-5 years in our profession. This also means we must be willing to call out and if necessary, remove teachers who lack passion, innovation, have poor performance, or genuinely are no longer passionate about their profession. Our kids can’t afford missed opportunities or time spent with individuals not fully committed to the work of ensuring all students have the same opportunities as their own kids.
We got this! It is scary, but it is exciting. The old/current way doesn’t work for all students. Let’s stop pretending it does. Let’s use the moment to work for all students. Your child, my child, and our children!