July 14, 2020

Launching Learning?

Our job is to establish safe and supportive relationships first between teachers and students, and then student to student. Our parents are primarily concerned with the physical and emotional health of their children; scholastic education is in the backseat. We need to address that before instruction can begin. To do so, teachers must establish solid communication channels with both students and parents. The village has been on lock-down for months and parents are desperate to engage with their academic collaborators, their children’s teachers. Children too miss the support and caring they receive from their teachers and classmates. This must come first. Many summer school teachers commented on the importance of daily check-ins that included eye contact and asking questions like, “how are you today.” The students’ worlds have been restricted to their homes and their phones. They need people. They need to laugh. They need to feel good. Teachers can facilitate that. In fact, I believe Maslow would argue they need that before learning can resume. The first week of school should be focused on self reflection, and establishing a personal learning plan for the school year, no matter the classroom format. 

We must create engagement by first acknowledging the anxiety levels of our pupils, and then helping them design a pathway to success that relieves that anxiety. Whatever tasks are completed need to count towards a grade. Hold harmless was anything but harmless. When students are held accountable they respond appropriately because the recognition of a grade shows that what they do is important. And for the last few months, nothing they have done has been very important.

Messaging from the school district is vital. A video announcement from the superintendent welcoming students back to school that is shared on the first day will set the tone for the year and encourage students, teachers, and parents. A similar consistent message from each site principal that includes clearly identified expectations for teachers and students will make the difference between success and failure. We all need to be on the same page. Everybody.

To regain our parent’s trust in public education we must once again lead, and not just react, to our circumstances. True, we are governed by many forces that we cannot control. However, we can speak a message of hope for the future back into reality by once again presenting the opportunity that education provides. Education is our way out of this mess, and we should celebrate that by supporting our teachers and students while being open to the challenges brought on by a time of reformation.


  • Establish daily communication to build relationships between teachers, students, and parents

  • Acknowledge the students concerns and create a pathway plan for educational success

  • Positive messaging from Superintendent and Principals including clear expectations

  • Focus on the opportunities education provides and be flexible to the reformation

Learning in a Time of Covid?

Rahm Emanuel said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” COVID-19 changes everything, including education. I believe that this crisis will end the 19th century industrial model of students meeting in classrooms sitting in straight rows taking notes from a sage instructor. Although some educators have already engaged in the online learning model, it is now the clear answer for delivering learning to many students where they are, quarantined or not. 

The role of the classroom teacher has changed forever. No longer is their primary job to deliver information, we have TED and YouTube for that. Nor are they alone in their assessment and grading practices, there are digital supports for that as well. The duty of the teacher now is to guide students in their learning. That is a change in thinking and approach. An experienced Art teacher once entered my multimedia classroom and looked around at the walls. He asked me, “Where is your art?” I dodged the question by explaining that we worked in a virtual environment, often with animation or live video, and that’s hard to display. He pushed back with something like, “you need to demonstrate your work as you learn alongside your students. You are the lead learner.” Effective teachers lead their students through the learning process as they strive to build their own capacity as learners. Teachers now have an unprecedented opportunity to redesign their own learning experiences and invite the students to participate with them.

It’s never been about what teachers teach; it’s always been about what students learn. We now have the opportunity to embrace a new model for learning that focuses on the importance of student efficacy. And it’s important to their long term successes in the new economy where entry level service jobs may not be available. Service has been a staple industry sector for young people in the United States for years. From baristas to fast food, many entering the workforce get their first jobs in the service industry. It’s a great way to pay for higher education, no matter what path they choose. However, periods of isolation diminish the need for service as consumers spend more time at a distance from large groups. While many established businesses can shift to a work-from-home model, our youngest workers have not yet ascended to that level of success.

Students in the TK-14 system must be prepared for success in a world unlike any other. They must be creative entrepreneurs of the highest quality if they are going to succeed in the “gig” economy that now has no gigs. To be successful, they cannot be passive receivers of knowledge, but active engagers in their futures. After being told that school was canceled indefinitely, my 14 year old daughter asked if she could enroll at the local community college for online classes. While she waits for the public school system to respond, she wants to get started on her associates degree. Another avenue for students is the trades. Vocational education was once seen as a place to put students who did not fit into the academic track. Today, Career and Technical Education is viewed as a pathway for student success that begins with preparation during high school and leads to employment opportunities in high wage jobs as they pay their way through a post-secondary certification or degree program avoiding student loan debt.

For high school students, the answer is courses available through a variety of online platforms guided by a teacher actively engaged in their own learning process. Virtual meetings with students through video conferencing tools along with 24 hour chat boards for questions and answers replaces the need to meet in person. Many virtual lab activities are available for students learning laboratory science. In addition, simple project based learning opportunities completed in small groups at home provide other worthwhile experiences. On the job work based learning experiences in smaller office settings or virtually provide opportunities for CTE students to practice their professional skills. Online education could also expedite the process of earning a high school diploma along with an associates degree as students are no longer restricted to a school site master schedule. Success in an online environment requires that a student exercise discipline and commitment, two extraneous lessons that set them on a direct path to efficacy and long-term personal success. 

Right now, the rule for gathering is 10-12 people or less. That’s not very different from the current model for some levels of special education and could still work for our lower elementary students. These classes could resume for these populations to meet on a more traditional schedule at school sites as soon as school reopens. For upper elementary and middle school, a hybrid model of meeting in smaller groups for shorter periods than the traditional school day could be effective. These meetings could be an opportunity for small group instruction and pacing. After a few hours and a meal, students would be sent home to complete their studies for the day. Another option for some families is homeschool. Families who are able to support their students’ learning at home full time have access to many resources available through both public institutions and private groups. And they can get started immediately.

Perhaps the most regrettable victim of the epidemic is student athletics and other extra curricular experiences like field trips, dances, and graduation ceremonies. Although an effort is being made in many districts to go virtual through social media platforms by asking students to post pictures and videos of them celebrating at home, this cannot replace the experience of hitting a home run, exploring a new park or museum, dressing up for a formal dance, or hearing your voice called as you walk across the stage. Children already spend a large amount of time interacting on their devices, but real social development must evolve through an in-person environment. For now, these events may be postponed, but they are too important to whole child development to be canceled.

Public education is just that. Daycare is a byproduct of the system, but not its primary purpose. Nor is parenting students. I am impressed with school districts who have sent out parent resources that include a daily schedule for students including cleaning their rooms and going outside to play. I share parents’ frustration and their desperation at these challenging times, but a child’s daily routine is not the responsibility of educators. This is the time when groups beyond public education also need to support children and families. This Coronavirus crisis will pass, but the impact will be felt for many years. We need to rethink, retool, and reinvent our education delivery system along with our cultural, political, and practical responses to existential threats like this.