Pandemic Impact

What are some long term educational changes you envision occurring, or would like to see occur, due to this pandemic?

#1: A forced focus (by districts) on the inequitable distribution of resources among students and families.

This crisis is shining a light on some equity issues that have been talked about for a while but haven’t been acted upon on such a broad scale. One of the most prominent examples is the focus on equitable access, which is a tough area to tackle. This includes the devices, but also includes the ability to access the internet. While many companies are offering items or services at a reduced cost or even free, that cannot sustain itself forever. So, this crisis will hopefully provide some insight into effective ways to scale up access that is sustainable for our most vulnerable areas of the population and also the providers. This has also helped to show the public all the needs and social services currently being fulfilled by our education system (more on that in #8). It is also absolutely vital to note that while some districts which are well-equipped to help bridge this gap are doing so, there are also areas of the country (and probably near you as well) which cannot support this deeper push for equity and the crisis is widening the gap in those spaces. Crisis can pull people together, but it can also amplify the trauma many are already living through. Think carefully about both ends.

#2: A forced focus (by schools) on family communication and involvement.

Schools and districts MUST be communicative to their families during this time. There are many different tools and platforms being used to accomplish this and each one has its benefits and drawbacks, as well as a specific subset of its stakeholders who consume it. Each one also has an area of communication in which it shines. While we see schools posting more exemplars and stellar teachers/staff members than ever on Twitter, we’ve also seen a huge uptick in calls coming home by both schools and districts. There are well-thought out plans to enable education to continue that were put together in a matter of weeks that more closely address family communication than any previous initiatives. These plans include specific ways families can help and be involved, while also understanding the limits of what can be accomplished by a family that is also in crisis. Hopefully once the crisis begins to slow, this renewed urge to communicate and involve families in the learning process remains.

#3: A forced focus (at home) on children as students and learners.

Families who were previously less involved in their child’s education now feel pressure to be involved in the teaching and learning process. Turning a walk around the block into a science lesson, digging into conversations about what students were learning so they can continue the push, diving deep into conversations about what their children/students WANT to learn about to keep engagement up, and thinking deeply about what it takes to teach. Even as an educator married to an educator, this is a huge shift in our at-home dynamic and is driving some huge growth in our connections as a family. There are many stories and posts by people claiming that all teachers should be paid twelve gazillion dollars per hour because of the work they do. While I love that this is shining light on a profession that can be grueling and take a LOT out the people responsible for our children, what I love even more is that it tells me these families are building new bridges based on learning and growth.

#4: A forced focus (by teachers and staff) on shifting mindsets about digital transformation.

We are now outside the world of ‘what ifs’ and hypothetical situations. If a district had not prepared a robust plan for digital learning and the processes and procedures to support a digital curriculum over the past decade, they are RAPIDLY getting there. The benefit to students will be that these structures are now in place in many districts around the country where they didn’t exist before. This has also shown a unique use case for the need to be ready to shift online. Teachers who weren’t ready yet or didn’t want to switch things up are being forced out of their comfort zone. People all over the world are seeing that there is a different skill set needed to teach online compared to in-person. It’s not just a shift of curriculum and tools. This also poses some important questions moving forward. What do snow days look like moving forward when e-learning resources and plans are firmly in place? Indiana already utilizes e-learning days to bridge the times when students are prevented from getting to the school sites. What does the overall school year look like when the learning can span distance and time?

#5: A forced focus (by states) on the insignificance of high-stakes testing in the learning process.

At this point, quite a few states have abandoned their high-stakes tests for this year and some have even moved away from a hard focus on the standards and instead are just trying to get families to keep the focus on learning. Find things the students are passionate about and guide them through the exploration process. Read more books, not only those that align with specific ideas and work, just read more books. It seems like when you peel back some of the layers of accountability and legislation, what remains at the core is what many of us think are the most vital parts of education. Feeding curiosity, exploring the world around us, developing a love of learning, diving deep into books and reading, and connecting with those who are most important in our lives. Sounds like a great foundation to build on!

#6: A forced focus (by all) on adopting more fluid and dynamic systems, processes, and procedures.

‘Because we’ve always done it that way’ is out the window at this point. Doing most things in person is no longer a reality for many people. Beyond the education system, corporations and businesses have adopted and adapted processes that allow them to continue to function in this climate. From remote work to new delivery procedures to digital-first releases of blockbuster films, the whole world is changing around us. Those who are focused on putting systems in place that allow them to respond with agility to the changing world around them are able to flourish and grow. We can all learn from this experience that no matter what we’ve ‘always done’, there comes a time to change and adapt. 

#7: A forced focus (by all) on the realization that there is another school calendar that might make sense.

Our current school calendar was built for a different type of society. With everyone being forced into providing a more flexible type of education to our students, it may also provide some insight into ways that our current calendar for education responds in times of crisis. We’ve already seen states say that they will extend the school year into the summer to ‘make up for lost instruction time’, but we’ll also see many that continue with social distancing strategies through the end of this school year and then focus on re-opening in the fall. From this point forward, when the school board or calendar committee come together to determine a schedule for a district or when the state legislatures are determining the appropriate number of instructional minutes or days, we will have an entirely differently lived experience to pull from.  

#8: A forced focus (by the public) on the impact of the educational system.

School closures were previously thought of as a short and relatively minor inconvenience for many, but the situation we are currently in of extended closures has pulled back the curtain on just how heavily we rely on the system of education for much more than education. Parents are having to figure out how to function when they’ve got a full house and no day cares or camps to rely on. The public is seeing how heavily many families rely on the school districts for meals, specialized services for students who require physical accommodations, individual education plans, social-emotional services, and so much more. All of these are facets of the school system and are provided as part of or in addition to the school day for our students. While school districts continue to work hard to adapt these additional systems beyond teaching and learning into a new model of work, families and communities are able to see just how impactful their local district is, now more than ever. 

#9: A forced focus (by all) on the importance of working together.

This one could go on for a while, but I’ll be brief and avoid hot topics. Paywalls are down, companies are stepping up to provide resources, districts are sharing openly with other districts, and states with other states. Companies that normally produce all different goods are halting or slowing production to shift focus to making face masks and ventilators. Now, imagine a world where we responded with a front this united to all challenges we are facing. We’ve heard a lot of mention (which I despise) of a broken education system or schools that are failing- who is ready to step up and do what’s necessary to drive change? The catalyst has already arrived.

This post was based on a thought provoking question posted by @themodestteacher on Twitter this week. This is my (WAY) too long for Twitter response. Please share yours as well!

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