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Let the Pandemic be the Mother of Innovation in Schools

The school year is winding down and the states are opening up. Some people are wondering how this summer is going to shape up. Will we be traveling? Having backyard barbecues? Going to the beach? Will we see a resurgence of COVID 19? Educators (and parents), however, are looking toward the fall. Will schools reopen? Will we be teaching remotely again? Will there be a mixture of the two? 
I assert that we must not return to the same educational system we left behind in March 2020. We must take advantage of this tragic opportunity to recreate learning and public education. How can we possibly return to the past (albeit a past only months old) in the fall of 2020-2021? We cannot simply throw students who have had such disparate pandemic learning experiences back into the same academic churn. Once school reopens, we will have students with Individual Education Plans and English Learners who did not receive the services required for them to ‘keep up’ (a problematic concept I will address below); students for whom sitting in front of a computer is not the way they learn, students who lacked the technological access to participate in distance learning; students who, for a myriad of possible reasons, did not have the support, time or environment conducive to excel in the COVID Educational System.
It is folly to think we can resume teaching and learning in the system developed in this country in the early 1900s to impart upon immigrants to the United States the skills necessary to be a productive worker in the factories . . . be on time, follow directions, do not question authority, be satisfied in the monotony and tedium of performing the same physical task over and over. Now is the time to stop reforming ‘around the edges’ and make bold changes that will serve the needs of all students. I believe the following overhauls are a good place to start:
Eliminate 180 days as the cornerstone for mastering a skill or content knowledge. It is criminal to hold students to this ‘magical’ time frame. If a student can demonstrate mastery in geometry in 92 days, then they should be allowed to move on. Likewise, if a student needs more than 180 days, give it to them! Mastery is the goal, not mastery within 49% of a calendar year;
This will require a more fluid approach to moving from one skill to another. Once that student demonstrates geometrical mastery, they leave that class and join a different one, perhaps Algebra II, perhaps not. There should be a multi-branched path of progress, not a one-way journey.
Similarly, we need to stop the arbitrary practice of grouping students based on birthdays. Emotional and cognitive growth happens at different times and at different rates. All schools should adopt the Montessori practice of having multi-aged classes;
During this shuttering of the school’s buildings we have learned many things. Two facts have been proven: technology can be a highly effective tool in instruction, and; teachers are necessary to impactful, sustained learning of higher-order skills and concepts. When we return to face-to-face contact with students, we need to use this blended approach to tailor instruction to meet individual student needs.
Finally, it is incumbent upon educational leaders to recognize that the entire world is experiencing historical and collective trauma. To think that we can return to the academic-focused culture of schools without making mental health a priority is sheer folly. Students and teachers alike will need social-emotional support as we transition to life after COVID 19 and establish a new ‘normal’ in society.
It is incumbent upon educational leaders to recognize that the entire world is experiencing historical and collective trauma. Click To Tweet
Educators need to spend the next several months looking beyond the physical and logistical precautions needed to make the building safe for teachers and students. Courageous leaders are needed to restructure teaching and learning, to ensure that our neediest students are not slighted or viewed as ‘lacking’ basic skills and to allow for paths to content and skill mastery that honor individuals’ strengths, challenges, and circumstances.

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