Prior to the pandemic, our fast food and fast-paced culture had missed the learning boat. For many, schools have been like gas stations. Learners pull up, fill up and move on, preferably as quickly as possible. The idea of volume was much more important than quality.
What do we want?
Now more than ever, we need to start thinking about quality learning experiences that have an impact on self and social justice. We want schools to be places where students feel safe and cared for, progress in their learning and social development and thrive in all those pursuits associated with childhood. We want teachers, one of the most valuable assets we share with children, to feel safe, supported and respected so they can do the very important work we rely on them to do.
We want families to feel safe, seen and heard, and for the systemic racism and opportunity gaps that have been built into our education system to be explicitly addressed so that each child is supported and able to thrive.
We can take advantage of the opportunity to rethink teaching and learning by exploring standards, assessments and access.
Hundreds of standards exist for each content area, tens of thousands when you add them together. For many educators, the annual process of teaching is to get a cohort of learners as far as possible. Educators valiantly differentiate learning in rapid instructional cycles despite the futile march against the calendar. For the first time, we have the opportunity to rethink time and focus instead on the quality of the learning experiences we and our learners can inspire. The power of competencies extends beyond the classroom and into a learner’s home and community.
Let’s capitalize on the pause from standardized assessments and focus on new, personalized, performance assessments that have an impact on learners’ community. Federal and state education policymakers are waiving the end of year assessment process. Cancelling last year’s processes and pausing this year’s process will result in no foundational “progress” score for learners which means we essentially are starting from scratch. For some, they see this as a major problem. For our learners and educators, I believe this is a tremendous opportunity. If we can leverage competencies and connect assessments to opportunities for social justice, we not only assess learning but also inspire learners to be the drivers of change locally.
For generations, where you lived dictated your learning experience. COVID-19 has exacerbated that for many families and learners. What if we used the pandemic to flip the script? For many communities, that is happening now. Let’s use this opportunity to leverage e-rate, municipal and technology subsidies to provide free WiFi access across entire communities, providing learners access to mentors, community-based organizations, business hubs and learning opportunities that are applicable to what they are receiving instructional support on today. If done so as a federal, state and/or communal commitment, we could utilize other funding streams to support additional resources and supports both in and out of school, not just for learners, but for families, businesses and all other community stakeholders.
Navigating the future of learning
Many states, communities and schools are showing great leadership in navigating emerging research and guidelines. These include beginning the school year with remote learning, opening schools with cohorts of students attending in-person school in shifts, strict masking and health protocols and more. Other states, out of a desire for normalcy and the known, are planning on reopening as if this were any other school year.
We all want to feel safe, and yet an overwhelming amount of us are scared. From state and community leaders, school and classroom leaders, families and students, bridging the divide between fear and safety will take courage. Not just to design the kind of educational experiences we know our students and teachers deserve, but to see those changes persist in a more equitable future for learning.