Food for Thought, Tech Tools

COVID-19: Using Disruption as an Opportunity to Transform Education

Image source: http://www.edutopia.org

COVID-19, corona virus, global pandemic. The year 2020 will be marked by these words when we look back. This event that swept the world disrupted much: our lives, our work, our economic system, and there was no exception made to our educational system.

In a matter of days, schools were forced to consider how to support their students within the possibility of shelter in place circumstances. Online learning became a reality. Even schools in the most ideal situation regarding resources were still overwhelmed with acclimating to virtual classrooms outside of their brick and mortar. Each school or district had their specific challenges. Some that normally provided a safe space and meals could only hand out curbside lunches to those fortunate enough with the transportation means. Others had to determine the number of devices to temporarily loan and how students (and teachers) would obtain them. But everyone affected dealt with the challenge of launching full-time remote learning that would best serve their learners, and in a quick turnaround.

Where we are now.

The response has encompassed a gamut of emotions, and understandably so. Administrators and teachers are needing to make fast, heavy decisions. Parents are suddenly educators. Students who relied on school for food are now less concerned with their academics when they have become full-time babysitters to younger siblings whose parents still work during this crisis.

While uncertainty and anxiety still loom, positivity has been in abundance. Humor to lighten the circumstances is starting to surface. Hop on Twitter and you will see the generous support of teachers reaching out to their students and colleagues. I beamed when seeing a Tweet, “Trying this for the first time!” and wished I could be a fly on the wall to see how schools rolled out their remote learning plan. Digital Innovation Specialists (or your district’s equivalent title) have worked around the clock to answer emails, phone calls, and texts. We are trying to support our learners in this difficult time, but let’s not forget how massive of a transition this is for teachers and families…and well, everyone.

“When faced with a problem, I reframe it as an opportunity.” -Richard Branson

It seems unrealistic to think that the educational system will remain unaffected by the recent massive modifications. I anticipate that the 2020-21 academic school year will look differently for some, but not yet for all. With the start of a school year less than six months away and no clear end in sight of the pandemic, we all may just need to step back, regroup, and take a breath before doing an overhaul of the next academic year.

Considerations for the (near and distant) future

We are all in the same boat.

Many parents and students are worried that their academics will fall behind, that regression should be their biggest concern. Similar asynchronous learning techniques are being practiced across the nation. While the academic situation anywhere may not be the most ideal, we are all in the same boat. Fall 2020 will be a reset for everyone everywhere. Until then, let’s talk about grace for a moment.

“Whatever the platform to keep learning moving forward, we also cannot lose sight of the importance of connecting people.” -Kellie Lauth, CEO of mindSpark Learning

Grace over grades.

There has been no shortage of anxiety in the early launches of nationwide remote learning. Administrators may not have the answers for their teachers. Grading systems are still yet to be determined. Best efforts of delivering devices or even simple workbook packets have been unsuccessful, thus leaving some students unaccounted for and begging even more questions that also remain unanswered. Much is unknown.

Furthermore, teacher, some of your best laid lessons may have had a glitch. Perhaps there have been unforeseen troubles on your end or for the student. Perhaps you did not anticipate certain factors when you bravely launched your new online remote learning tool. But you tried something new, which is honestly a step in the right direction.

Or maybe your students are now full-time babysitters for their younger siblings. Maybe they took a job at the local grocery store – one of the few businesses currently hiring – because their parents are no longer bringing in an income. Your math or history or Spanish lesson is not at the top of their priorities.

Regardless of the situation, much grace should be given across the board to everyone. Use this time as an opportunity to connect in a different way with your students instead of focusing solely on the importance of grades.

It’s time for some deep reflection.

Teachers and administrators should take advantage of this overhaul to reflect on the state of their school and educational philosophies. Are the current measures in place truly supporting students and preparing them for 2030 and beyond? Did your pre-pandemic school structure graduate global citizens who are connected to their community and the world beyond?

Ask yourself: Were your learners making an impact outside of the walls of your classrooms?

The emphasis on global connections across learning is still not completely widespread in schools across the nation. Each year has come with exciting changes in the last decade through the works of educators who saw a stagnant system, realizing that change is inevitable with how the world has evolved. Many schools discuss developing a well-rounded learner, but what does that look like in this era?

Trailblazers among schools encourage their students to not only think outside of the box but to also analyze and evaluate with an empathetic perspective. Pear Deck, Design Thinking, and countless other tools and models encourage creative engagement without ignoring the social-emotional factors always at play. Discussions and chats can be held to include all voices. Flipgrid videos embolden even the shyest learners and build confidence. ePals connects K-12 classrooms across the world. There is an abundance of resources available now to educators than even a mere ten years ago. The stagnant culture of textbooks and worksheets have slowly been making their way out the door. It is still easy, however, to fall into the routine of fulfilling the requisite content and standardized testing preparation, among other duties.

Are we too lost in the standards?

Before I continue, I believe in the value of curriculum standards. I have written and re-written curriculum maps and applied them to my teaching. But I have also seen teachers become so caught up in the minutiae that the standards become overwhelming, sacrificing potential student outcomes.

What if we took a moment to identify our end goal?

Understanding by Design (UbD) is one example of a backwards design approach to lesson planning. Identify the desired results and acceptable evidence that supports this, and avoid aimless activities simply for the sake of covering material. Forego checking all the boxes and instead produce a more well-rounded individual who understands and engages instead of sits and regurgitates. Work backwards and create reasonable, attainable standards that truly assess the students’ skills with rigor and value. The process will have an enormous amount of trial and error on the teacher’s part, but should we not push ourselves to be life-long learners, like we ask of our students?

Most importantly, let’s consider empathy. If a global pandemic doesn’t evoke empathy, then what will? I have always been a huge proponent of project-based learning (PBL) and Design Thinking. I believe every school should have a class devoted to marrying these two concepts to better serve their community. What issues can be addressed within your community and how can they be addressed? The young, innovative minds that sit in our classrooms have answers and ideas that will take you off guard, in a good way. Let them take ownership of their learning. Let them engage. Let them choose. Change your lesson plan model and embrace innovation and creativity that go beyond the pages of the textbook.

Comfort levels

My most interesting conversations with teachers from coast to coast have been about school culture, particularly surrounding EdTech and more progressive pedagogical practices. The comfort and acceptance levels vary greatly, ranging from resistant to all-in, not just among teachers but within their leadership team, as well. I was shocked to hear of some schools whose administrators did not see the value in incorporating technology. How could that still be in this era when people often reach for their technology before their toothbrush?

Online learning is here now, but does not mean that it will become the permanent standard. Nothing can replace the interpersonal relationships that develop among students, students and teachers, and contribute to classroom culture. I cannot imagine my world without the intangible reward of teaching students and the connections made on a daily basis. This temporary model is not going to replace our traditional schools but it has certainly upended how many think education should be.

Until next time…