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Schools Should Be 'Community Connecters' When They Reopen

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

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

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.

 

"Equitable outreach" is needed

Lori Bolone is a literacy consultant with the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West in Toledo, Ohio. In working alongside area districts with literacy, as the spouse of a classroom teacher, and as a mother of three school-aged students, Lori sees literacy vision as most critical in planning for the upcoming school year and how school should look in the fall. Ohio Writing Project has provided Lori a writing community in which she finds her voice and confidence in expression growing. OWP has been a supportive teaching-of-writing network that the Toledo area has been fortunate to embed:

The short answer?  Schools should look like a hotbed for literacy. In planning for fall openings and beyond, schools should plan for equitable, community-centered practices; enduring instructional tools; and fostering a culture of wide reading and writing. 

Schools Should Look Like Community Connectors

No matter how the cards play out this coming August, schools should designate themselves as community connecters. Consistent, inclusive, transparent, and communicative entryways between grade-level students, teachers, administrators, families, and communities is how school should look this fall.   

Offering opportunities for voices to be expressed and heard needs to be a top priority at the onset of the school year. An example I've seen throughout school communities are invites to coffee house chats or local meet-ups.  Typically hosted by district superintendents, administrators, and/or department leads, these are nonscripted gatherings that are open to all.

These conversational events project a tone of "I am listening" and "Your voice is important". Equitable planning implies growing these necessary ties to area partnerships, and it opens dialogue early, establishing trust within communities.    

Schools Should Identify Enduring Instructional Practices 

With the new school year, schools should integrate instruction that supports "in the moment" learning and beyond. One such tool that nestles itself within good classroom practice is frequent and ongoing feedback, providing educators an edge in understanding students. 

One of the best examples of feedback practice I have heard recently is from Katie Bills-Tenney, a high school ELA instructor with Ohio Writing Project. 

This past spring, Katie maintained her standard of feedback through shared Google docs that hosted written comments and exchanges between student editing teams. It's within these shared documents that Katie regularly chimes in herself  with thought-provoking ideas that move student writing forward in workshop. 

Additionally, Katie requests that students screen-shot their evidenced conversations and back-and-forth sentiments that occur over class readings and writings. This screen-shot is saved and submitted along with the student's published piece as evidence of growth. 

Katie's method of feedback stimulates authentic student discovery in their own writing.  Her strategy homogenizes student's learning experiences from the past, the present, and also the future.

Schools Should Mirror Environments of Joyful Reading & Writing   

Let it be known that there is value to reading and writing. Reading and writing are bridges to humanity, self-empowerment, and living a literate life. Even within unpredictable life shifts, reading and writing perpetuate unity.  

This past spring, I witnessed as books reunited classrooms, reignited professional development, and soothed and calmed anxieties. I watched and listened to Zoom sessions where students smiled with relief to see one another and cheer with reconnected delight in hearing their teacher's familiar voice conduct a read-aloud. 

Writing in notebooks became an exchangeable connection, providing informational currency on student emotional well-being. Locally, teachers provided milk crates outside school buildings for notebook drops. For some, the physical exchange of writing was one of the most equitable pieces that remained. 

Many districts paired food with book and notebook exchanges. An assurance of literacy continuing at home while bringing parents along in their most important role: educational facilitators. 

Here's the bottom line, literacy plays a key role in the way schools should look this fall. It is through equitable outreach, enduring instruction, and a culture of wide-reading and writing that educational communities prosper.

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"The opportunity to transform education"

Denise Fawcett Facey was a classroom teacher for more than two decades and now writes on education issues. Among her books, Can I Be in Your Class offers tips and techniques for whole-child education that makes learning more engaging and relevant:

As unsettling as this pandemic has been, we have both the responsibility and the opportunity to transform education for the better. Addressing existing problems spotlighted by the pandemic as well as those created by it, educators can change the way school looks and operates in the fall, physically, emotionally, and academically.

Physically, there will be changes that impact students' and teachers' personal space, while structural changes likely will change classrooms permanently.

  1. Everyone will need to wear masks all day in school. 
  2. Distancing will not only mean placing desks at least six feet apart but also reconfiguring passing from class to class. This might entail directional arrows on the floors, keeping students in one direction.
  3. Multiple class sessions will be needed (e.g., double sessions or staggered sessions) to accommodate the smaller class sizes necessitated by social distancing. 
  4. Teachers will need to be rescheduled as well, working one session or splitting portions of two (e.g., the latter part of the morning session and the early part of the afternoon).
  5. Supplies that previously might have been shared—from pens, pencils, and crayons to computers and books—now must be sanitized after every use or purchased in quantities large enough to be individualized. Yes, either solution will increase costs. 

Emotionally, teachers and counselors will need to provide additional support for students who have endured loss, trauma, and simply the upheaval of a disrupted school year. 

  1. For teachers, this means using compassion as the go-to response instead of punishment as students express their trauma via unexpected behaviors. Also, a greater emphasis on relationship building, integrated into the classroom culture, can provide a much-needed sense of security and feeling of belonging for students as well. 
  2. Counselors may need to be increased to provide a haven where students can vent emotions, find mental-health resources, and have other needs met.

Academically, we can address inequities while also revamping classes.

  1. Educational inequities that existed prior to the pandemic are glaring now. From ensuring that all students are provided mobile devices and Wi-Fi access to offering equitable entry to gifted classes and college-preparation supports, it's time to begin balancing the scales.
  2. The usual summer slide may be more extensive this year, requiring assessing where students are and reteaching more numerous gap areas.
  3. Large classes such as physical education, as well as vocal and instrumental music, in an effort to accommodate social distancing, may curtail team sports and choral performances.

Educators have a golden opportunity to reimagine school and re-create it in ways that better support and enhance learning for all students. Now is the time to begin.

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Schools "will never be the same"

Janice Wyatt-Ross is the program director for a dropout-prevention/re-engagement center in Lexington, Ky. She and her husband of 23 years are the parents of two daughters:

This question of what school will look like in the fall has been on the minds of students, families, school officials, and community stakeholders for several months now. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released recommendations for schools that are seemingly impossible to implement in a school setting.  Recommendations such as close communal-use shared spaces such as dining halls and playgrounds with shared playground equipment if possible. Included in the discussion is when will school start.  Communities across the United States are still seeing increases in the number of cases of COVID-19, and as we reopen closed businesses and organizations, there are likely to be increases in those numbers. Social distancing is still encouraged as well as the use of Personal Protection Equipment. One huge question is how will students get to school in the fall?  How will schools practice social distancing on school busses? Will school start times be affected by the increased numbers of bus routes? To put it plainly, we are unsure of what school will look like in the fall.  What I can address is what I've learned from the COVID-19 outbreak.  Those lessons served as confirmation that school will have to change with the times.

Many schools saw the need to make computer-technology accessibility a priority during this pandemic. Teachers were meeting with students virtually, recording videos of lessons, and one of the best outcomes was that teachers and school officials were intentional about communicating with students and families. My particular school is a blended-instruction environment anyway.  We were accustomed to having students work on computers at home or anywhere they had internet access.  We used our school time to provide remediation, direction instruction, intervention, community outreach, and job training.  When the pandemic sent everyone home to work remotely, we continued as usual. I predict that we will fully implement our nontraditional school attendance policy and adopt that as a regular part of our programming. 

We are a dropout prevention/re-engagement center.  We serve students between the ages of 16 and 20 who are overage and undercredited.  These are students who have been in school 2-4 years but have not made satisfactory progress toward graduating with a high school diploma.  We are a self-paced program; however, we have guidelines which detail the minimum required courses to be completed each month.  We have found that it takes 30 days after enrollment for students to become acclimated to our school environment.

As an incentive to encourage students to complete coursework, we give them goals or targets to strive for.  This essentially places students in cohorts with variable attendance requirements. As students earn course credit, they become eligible to apply to be an Ambassador or a Graduate Candidate (GC).  Ambassadors and GC's  are not required to attend school every day of the four-day school week.  It is mandatory that Ambassadors attend school two days per week.  GC's are required to check in one day per week. I also anticipate that we will incorporate virtual learning sessions into our weekly schedule.

I also have questions regarding transportation and sanitizing. How will schools implement social-distancing requirements for school buses?  Will there be an increase in the number of routes? Will districts purchase more buses? Will there be an increase in custodial staff to ensure areas are properly cleaned and sanitized?

I don't know what school will look like, but I know it will never be the same.

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Thanks to Lori, Denise, and Janice 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.

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