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Schools Can 'Reinvent Themselves in the Fall'

(This is the final post in a multipart series. You can see Part One here, Part Two here, Part Three here, Part Four here, and Part Five here.)

Today's question is:

What will our schools like look in the fall (or What should they look like)?


Dr. PJ Caposey, a district superintendent, shared his thoughts in Part One.

In Part Two, Lorie Barber, Cathleen Beachboard, Manuel Rustin, and Jeffrey Garrett offered their responses (Manuel and Jeffrey's comments were presented via video from their must-watch video series All Of The Above).

In Part Three, Sarah Said and Holly Spinelli described how they saw the future.

In Part Four, Wendi Pillars, Mary K. Tedrow, Dr. Elvis Epps, and Mike Anderson contributed their commentaries.

In Part Five, Lori Bolone, Denise Fawcett Facey, and Janice Wyatt-Ross talk about their perspectives.

Today, Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., Margaret Searle and Helen Vassiliou "wrap up" the series.  More related posts will appear in August and September when it's more clear what schools actually look like...

You might also be interested in All Classroom Q&A Posts on the Coronavirus Crisis as well as The Best Posts Predicting What Schools Will Look Like in the Fall.

 

"I'd like educators to help students ask better questions"

Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. has been an educator for 47 years and is the author of 19 books including Mindfulness in the Classroom, and  If Einstein Ran the Schools:  Revitalizing U.S. Education. His website is www.institute4learning.com.  Follow him on Twitter at:  @Dr_Armstrong:

The COVID-19 outbreak has given educators a shock as well as an opportunity to rethink the way in which education is delivered to students.  Up until now, schools have been focused primarily on helping students meet specific academic outcomes as measured by standardized tests.  I think that the pandemic gives us a chance to pause and reflect on whether we still want to move in that direction or whether we instead want to take a new pathway that focuses more on teaching students in depth through inquiry-based learning. 

I would like schools to give more attention to qualities like curiosity, compassion, creativity, and wonder. Rather than always requiring ''the right answer,'' I'd like educators to help students ask better questions. Regardless of the subject matter, I'd want teachers to excite their students into experiencing the innate joy of learning something new. 

I'd like teachers themselves to have used their hiatus to themselves become intrigued by something they'd read, seen, or done, and then have them bring it into the classroom in the fall to share.  We mostly remember the teachers who have done something out of the ordinary—beyond the textbook, worksheet, or teacher's guide—to make a deep and lasting impression on students, whether it be sharing an artifact, a personal experience, a fascinating idea, or a new way of looking at things. 

I'd like to see schools reinvent themselves in the fall to become places where great ideas get passed along to the next generation and where students themselves develop the ability to generate their own ideas, projects, and products, rather than simply parrot back what was given to them.  They say that when bad things happen, good can sometimes come of it, and I'd like the schools to have used these months of lockdown to really reflect on what it means to be a learner in the 21st century at a time when fact knowledge is woefully inadequate to meet the demands of an ever-changing society, and where the single best thing we can give our students is a hunger to learn for its own sake.  Every child was born with this innate predisposition to learn new things (we'd have become extinct if it weren't so). 

In the fall, I'd like the schools to make a major commitment toward helping students recover that inborn sense of curiosity and creativity so that we can have young minds actively working on the problems and possibilities that we face as we hurdle toward an uncertain future. 

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"Five major COVID-19-related barriers to student learning"

Margaret Searle is president of Searle Enterprises. She specializes in consulting with districts and schools on social-emotional learning, executive-function development, differentiated instruction, inclusive education, leadership-team development, and implementing RTI and MTSS. Look for her newest book, Solving Academic and Behavior Problems: A Strength-Based Guide for Teachers and Teams, coming out in September:

What did we learn this spring that will help us rethink how we start in the fall? According to a national survey of teachers conducted by the Gotham Research Group, here are five major COVID-19-related barriers to student learning:

  1. Teachers' stress because they can't keep up with the learning curve and hours adjusting to remote lessons
  2. Students who lack necessary skills or resources to succeed in a remote environment
  3. Loss of personal relationships causing stress, anxiety, and depression in many students
  4. Lag in academic performance due to poor engagement and attendance
  5. Limited availability of family members to assist with remote learning

Regardless, if we open with full classes in school, total remote learning, or some hybrid of the two, we need a plan.  Here are a few suggestions to consider:

  1. Chronic stress in teachers compromises both social-emotional and academic growth in students. The number of hours teachers are working compounds an already stressful job. To reduce the workload, teachers must work as teams to accomplish a number of things. One is to determine which standards and content are essential, which are important, and what is simply great to know. Consistency from teacher to teacher is essential not only in what to teach but also for which basic learning tasks to assign. Given a consistent plan across a grade level, teachers can then differentiate for students needing prerequisite, extension, and enrichment skills. This consistency also makes it easier to share tasks like: Who is comfortable in front of a camera to record remote lessons, who will design learning projects, who will assess individuals or small groups remotely?

  2. We must prepare for another possible shutdown. In the fall, students need to be taught immediately how to use the platform and apps for that grade level. Basic remote learning skills need to be taught to mastery as early as possible—how to log in, find folders, ask questions online, create videos, upload pictures and documents, participate in chat rooms, and stay focused. Small groups should practice these skills together and learn to answer each other's questions, with the teacher only as a guide. Gradual release of responsibility is critical to student independence.

  3. Students need to immediately feel safe, welcome, and stable. If each teacher takes time to intentionally build relationships—teacher/student and among students—this barrier will not loom so large in remote learning. Also, if students are taught to work in small, flexible learning teams using consistent roles and protocols, they will be less dependent upon adults in both school and home-learning environments.

  4. Lessons and practice need to be highly engaging. Student talk should go from the typical 20 percent to 60 percent. This is accomplished best by having small student teams learn by generating alternative solutions and completing projects together. This will be a struggle for students at first but is well worth the effort. This powerful strategy does not work well without rigorous assignments that students cannot complete as well on their own as they can in a group. Assignments need to be fun learning games, standards-based projects, and activities where the team produces a product.

  5. Having the district limit the number of K-12 learning platforms and apps reduces the learning curve for parents. Consistency on how folders and files are labeled helps. Parents need regular, short tutorial videos that address problems they are likely to face. Survey parents to find out what problems they had in the spring and what support will be helpful. Having students help each other in learning teams of four should also relieve many of the home-learning problems.

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"I can't wait to be a part of teaching and learning with kids again"

Helen Vassiliou is a teacher in West Chester, Ohio, who serves an amazing community and school in the Lakota Local school district:

If we do start school in the fall, I expect each classroom to be supplied with sanitizer and wipes among other disinfectants that teachers do not have to pay for themselves.  I share a learning space; what could this look like for me and my partner teacher? We have collaborative tables and flexible seating that allows kids to work closely together. I do not think our learning space can look like this in the fall.

During this difficult situation, there should be various models explored: Continue to remote learning as before now that we have the experience and resources are available or create a phase in the school day with some students remote learning while others attend and rotate them. All students should be given the option to learn remotely if parents request it; some of our students were truly successful learning independently from home . Now is the time to be innovative and get better at how we can do this. If we go back to school, we will need to have desks spread out, only see half of the students we service, and have ways to wipe down equipment daily.  Masks have been effective in preventing the spread of the virus and although important for students, I do not think they will abide by this rule. Students should eat in the classroom to stay safe; perhaps even provide boxed meals for them. I have even thought about kids reporting to one class where the teachers rotate so that students get to experience all subjects they were offered before.

We have to get back to the essence of our schools, which is about community, being together, collaborating and learning from each other. I am hopeful that I will see students in a manner that is safe for them and for me and I can't wait to be a part of teaching and learning with kids again.

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Thanks to Margaret, Helen, and Thomas for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected]. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it's selected or if you'd prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It's titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email or RSS Reader. And if you missed any of the highlights from the first eight years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below. The list doesn't include ones from this current year, but you can find those by clicking on the "answers" category found in the sidebar.

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