What an adventure we are having! What's around the corner?

  • Elementary
  • High School
  • Middle School
Irene Smith

No doubt about it. We will be changed forever.

Less than a month ago, we could not have imagined this complete disruption of family, work, the economy, our state, our nation, and our world caused by the novel coronavirus threat. The stress and anxiety over the health and safety of individuals are combined with fear about what the future holds. 

Education has changed dramatically as a result of this and will be different going forward. That’s not altogether a bad thing. We’re going on a journey. Our familiar and comfortable habits and patterns are being disrupted, but what we learn from this experience could be powerful. Our challenges now can potentially lead us to develop an education system that is much more versatile and also more just.

tree over path

     So far, it’s gone like this:

We’re doing this next week.

Nevermind. We’re doing this now.

Don’t do anything yet.

Wait.

We can’t wait!  Do something!

Not that!

Here are the rules.

No, those are the old rules.  Here are today’s rules.

Throw out what you did yesterday.

Where are you getting your information?

Do all the parties agree?

Correct what you told them last week. It’s not allowed.

We’ll know more next week.

Nevermind. See if you can find what you threw out. Tell them it is allowed.

What’s everyone else doing? What are our priorities? How can we be better than this?

Just do the best you can.

As we begin to see our familiarsystems break up into chaos, and traditional methods became unworkable, new attitudes and strategies have the potential of improving education.  We can no longer “put up” with having a poorly functioning, inequitable system just because it is familiar. And our consumers, the students and their families, having been forced into autonomy and individualized, sometimes unsupported student learning, will demand better.

School cancellations for the Coronavirus are transforming education slowly but surely. We are learning some important lessons.

A purple flower is surrounded by smaller yellow flowers.

Everyone in the system is important, and everyone in the system needs to have a clear idea of what their role is and should be. Parents and families play an essential role in their child’s education that can’t be completely replaced by schools or teachers. Students have the primary role for their learning. 

Now that more parents realize this, they are going to demand more from their schools.  Some parents have been deeply disappointed by what their local school system has been able to provide their children. They have realized that they have resources of their own and can assist their children in learning, perhaps in some ways, more effectively than some schools have been able to do. They see more clearly what their children are being offered while many schools are still in disarray as they transition, and parents want more and better and are finding it for themselves. Others have learned the opposite about their ability to replace schools- they are not qualified, nor do they have any interest in the challenge of educating their children. And, they are discovering they have preferences. They also want more and better. No matter what, parents (and many of our students) are seeing that they play more of an integral role in their family’s education than they previously realized.

Administrative leadership and educators' autonomy have freqently been in conflict. During this crisis we see more clearly the value of strong receptive leadership and powerful teacher independence as well as the paramount value of effective collaboration and planning drawing on the expertise of all stakeholders.  Good ideas are more gratefully recognized in this intense climate of fast change.

The green and brown path through tall yelllow grass heads toward a sunrise.

Schools provide more than just instruction for children.  

All over the nation, schools have stepped up to provide meals to families whose lives have been disrupted by the coronavirus. Additionally, as schools have had to be shuttered, many people are beginning to recognize the vital role schools play in providing childcare, teaching social skills and promoting mental health. Teachers knew it, but not everybody else did.  Students, who have always cheered for a “snow day” or thought life without school would be terrific, are discovering how much they miss the safety, structure, and fun of school. Families are rightfully concerned that their children will fall behind in their learning. Students really miss their friends. Almost all of us have realized that virtual connection isn’t nearly as satisfying as time spent in the physical company of others.

It is unlikely that schools of the future will be entirely online.  However, there is no doubt that the online structures teachers are (of necessity) creating will not go away completely once the current crisis is ended.

It also seems evident that schools will be even more entrenched in meeting the basic needs of families, especially as trust is developed over this challenging time.

A sign that says "No Entry Restoration zone" is in a field of tall grass.

Instruction can be restructured. A strictly followed curriculum isn’t always what is best for every student.

In the first week of the closure, my students were informed that any school work they completed at that time was not going to be graded.  One student immediately sent me an email, “Na, I not gonna do nothing,” and I’m sure he’s still not. Playing videogames will always be the more popular choice. Binge-watching Netflix and raiding the kitchen cupboard for snacks is vastly more satisfying than rereading texts, taking notes, and identifying complete sentences. Some of our students will find the joy of leisure exceeds the joy of sitting at a desk for seven hours.

As a result of coronavirus stay at home orders, most of our students will have discovered new ways of making learning more enjoyable with frequent breaks and different online methods. Students who have become accustomed to educational choices, will desire and expect the more entertaining, interesting, and relevant options. Teachers will find increasing student dissatisfaction if they aren’t able to adapt to students’ needs and interests more specifically. The need for differentiation has never been more obvious and after this, will be much more expected.  Some students do extremely well with online learning systems, while others require a different approach. Teaching the whole class the same thing at the same time may have just become a thing of the past.

purple flower beside a path

The gap between the haves and have nots is becoming increasingly obvious and can not be ignored, nor should it be tolerated.

One of the biggest problems that has slowed our ability to provide instruction and learning experiences, when students are not able to come to school, is the inequality of students’ home lives and resources. Because our district was providing options and resources purely at school buildings, learning from home became a distinct disadvantage and in many cases, isn’t even happening in many homes. Online learning isn’t available to families without devices or Internet. Many working parents, event those who work from home, aren’t able to oversee their child’s use of time, even where educational materials have been provided. We are all playing catchup, trying to determine who has what, who needs what, and how will they get what they need.

Equity issues should have been addressed long ago so that these students weren’t disadvantaged by a disruption in traditional services. Our district is quickly responding and taking on the gargantuan effort of ensuring Internet and computer access to the myriad families in our Title One school district.

One of the greatest problems has been a lack of information about individual student’s needs. Incorrect contact information exacerabates the problem. Improved communication has become imperative.

A Trail sign points left and right.

Good communication with parents strengthens schools and student learning. Poor communication and miscommunication fuel dissatisfaction and hurt student learning.

School Administrators (State, District, and School), educators, students and their families are all partners for achieving student learning goals. The virus threat sent all in the system into panic mode as school closures happened abruptly and everyone scrambled to figure out how to continue to serve students.  State level education leaders had to make hard decisions about recommendations once the threat became obvious. There wasn’t a clear system for what was happening where and inconsistencies across and between districts and states confused schools and the families they serve. It became clear that we need to work more collaboratively and effectively so that our communications are clear, correct, and build confidence in our school systems, our teachers, and our communities.

A blue sky is over a path headed to the hills in the distance.

We are part of a vast community of educators and thinkers that goes beyond our classrooms, schools and districts. We can draw on each others’ expertise to build success for our students. Everyone is looking for answers at the same time.

Weeks into this adventure, we now have almost too many places to go for help and suggestions. Our support networks, including Facebook groups, are ready to solve problems and answer questions about what is working for them. Fresh solutions are not hard to find. Teams are finding new ways of connecting without actually being in the same room.

There is no more going in your classroom and closing the door. We are not and cannot be a mystery to our colleagues. Answers abound. We just need to apply diverse solutions to our various situations in ways that strengthen every student no matter where they are. Collaboration has never been more necessary.

We are in a giant experiment that may yield amazing data about what works well and where we go from here. Our destination holds the promise of positive transformation. Education will be different as a result of COVID-19. We will be in the thick of it.  

budding branches in front of a blue sky

 

How do you feel about educational change?

What do you foresee for the future of education after social distancing and schools reopen?

 

 

 

 

  • Alternative education
  • Collaboration
  • community
  • Equity
  • parent involvement
  • SEL
  • #selfcare
  • social justice
  • System and School Improvement
  • Teacher Collaboration
  • Technology
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The opinions expressed by the CORElaborate Bloggers, guest bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD), Ready Washington or any employee thereof. PSESD is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Washington State Teacher Leader or Guest Bloggers.

Irene Smith Board

National Board Certified Teacher at Discovery Lab School

Irene Smith teaches middle school Language Arts and Social Studies to clever, interesting, and energetic students.She is married to her best friend, Brad, and they have five grown up children.She loves backpacking on the Olympic Peninsula, spending time with her grandchildren, reading and writing books, and going to Shakespeare plays.

Twitter: @TeachLearnHope
Website: irenesmith.org