Change is Inevitable: What the Pandemic Has Shown Educators

by Fran McVeigh

So much change in the world. But as I listen to conversations about schools, I hear the phrases “reopening plans” and “reimagining learning” and a whole slew of “re-” words.

No.

No.

NO!

Words matter.

This is so NOT about “again” or ”again and again.” There is no “re-” prefix that fits these times. The decisions that are being made are about the best ways to OPEN for the 2020-2021 school year. There is no RE-OPEN if the schools are not already open for 2020-2021. In most places, the year has not yet begun. It cannot be starting AGAIN before the opening day on the calendar! Take that prefix out of your vocabulary, please!

Chill!

Breathe!

Listen!

Actions matter.

Our #G2Great chat on Thursday, July 30th was the fourth one in the past four months dealing with change and the archived Wakelet is here. You can review the chats through the archived Wakelets or the blog posts about April 2nd, May 14th and June 11th chats. All the chats literally dripped with positivity. Corresponding content on social media accounts varies as time progresses. Many teachers left brick and mortar classrooms on a Friday in March to pick up a form of Distance Learning the following Monday morning. That required weekend work. Work that has continued for months. States, districts and building staff had different visions for that distance learning. Full days of instruction? Support only? No new learning? The mandates varied. You may remember the word ultracrepidarian from that first April post but here it is again for your convenience.

Ultracrepidarian means “noting or pertaining to a person who criticizes, judges, or gives advice outside the area of his or her expertise: The play provides a classic, simplistic portrayal of an ultracrepidarian mother-in-law.” (dictionary.com link)

Everyone has an opinion about education whether they are a product of public education or not. Everyone has an opinion about the effectiveness of distance learning whether they participated or not. This post will focus on both lessons learned and planning for the future for the best opening for the upcoming 2020 school year.

What have we learned?

Cornelius Minor reminds us in We Got This. Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be that “education should function to change outcomes for whole communities.” Changing outcomes for whole communities… Not just one section but whole communities. Continue to think about that as you read on and / or check out other wisdom from Cornelius here.

Focus on Students

Lesson Learned: As Aeriale Johnson stated in the quote above, our connections to students survived the transition to distance learning last March. We knew our students. We had their trust. We had this. Whatever boundaries were placed on our work, we were able to transcend them . . . for the students.

Planning for the Future: We have to figure out how to connect to our students’ hearts and minds. Immediately. Every second spent on connections is vital. Every second is time well spent because it is not going to be easy to begin a transition year – no matter what the transition is. The 2020-2021 school year is going to be difficult. In fact, it will take time and energy that will gnaw at our very fiber as we continually wonder “Is this enough?” Our answer will be, “It depends!” And educators will also need to nurture their collaboration partners, their teams, their communities in order to grow and learn together. #BetterTogether!

Name the Inequities and Plan to Overcome Them

Lesson Learned: It’s complicated. Making sure students are safe is priority one. Basic needs must be met before learning can occur. There is no one plan that fits for every district in a single state let alone a plan that meets the needs of every student in every state in the U.S.

Planning for the Future: Because this work is going to be school and community specific, please think about the following questions and their answers as you plan. How were needs met last spring? What did we accomplish? Who were our community partners? Where are resources aligned with needs? Where do resources need to be better allocated? Who and where are our continued allies in this work? Who are the folks in our community that need to lead the planning for wrap around resources that will enable families and communities to be successful?

Focus on the World

Lesson Learned: Shrinking our lives down to our households during mandatory quarantines and lockdowns served some basic prevention principles for Covid-19. And yet, students craved knowledge of others as well as the connections with their classmates that were previously listed.

Planning for the Future: It may seem like a huge contrast to go from a focus on the students, those beseeching eyes that will be peering out of boxes on screens, to focusing on the world. But the world is literally the future of the students. Our students can and will impact the world today, tomorrow and the future. They can and will create change that will reverberate around the world. Change may begin within ourselves, our schools, our communities, but it will be the shot fired across the bow that will be heard around the world. And how we respond will be the critical moments frozen in our timelines that we will revisit and reflect on the need to allow ourselves grace as we press onward!

Add in the Technology that Matches the Work

Lesson Learned: It doesn’t have to be cute. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can’t be lessons that last for hours. Hard work pays off. And yet technology is wonderful when it works and the pits when it doesn’t!

Planning for the Future: Communication with families provided a window into their needs. Every child in the household cannot be using a different platform. Every child cannot be online for synchronous learning at the same time. Not enough devices. Not enough bandwidth for simultaneous streaming videos. And the added stress if adults in the house also need to be online for work! How can you provide flexibility in access to the learning work for students?

Now Write Your Curriculum

Lesson Learned: Priorities had to be set. What did you use for criteria? What was the response from your families and community? Capitalize on the overarching ideas from the previous lessons. Meet with parents/caregivers. Respond to their questions/concerns.

Planning for the Future: What are the big ideas that impact curricula? Delivery system is one aspect and the content is another. Student autonomy in working through the curricula / instruction at their own pace is critical. Not all work can be synchronous and meet the student, family and community needs. Remember Cornelius Minor’s words. “You are not the expert. You are positioned to find the answers.” Teachers everywhere are positioned to find the answers. You are free of the task of downloading knowledge. Your task is to provide time, choice and voice so that students can find the answers.

In conclusion . . .

Whatever you do or dream you can do – begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Begin the 2020-2021 school year with a plan. Focus on your dream. Build in all the flexibility that will allow you to respond to the needs of the students, their relationships, the world, the technology available as well as focus the curriculum. Construct the curricula with your students so it is relevant and engaging. Bring that beacon of light into your work with your students as you “change outcomes for whole communities.”

YOU GOT THIS.

Thank you, Valinda Kimmel, for this inspiring chat that showcased so many moments of success for educators that will inspire educators to the many possibilities for student learning!

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