Everyone, literally everyone, has found themselves face-to-face with challenge and sacrifice, worry and strife, confusion and questions in recent days and weeks. No one in the world has encountered what everyone in the world is encountering today. Tell me then, who is anyone to judge the actions and choices made by others during this unparalleled scenario in which we find ourselves?
As a teacher during this time, I have been witness to conversations regarding how teachers, administrators, and districts at large are handling the sudden change in school dynamics. Social media has become an outlet for people to raise their voices about what should or should not be done or said by this group or that. Some think what is being asked of students is too much while others feel it is not enough. I ask – how does anyone know? And how can districts, administrators, or teachers possibly provide equitable access or expectations knowing every household is different from the next? And of course, there is the amount of time we are all being provided to establish such things.
The truth is, no one knows best practice for this scenario because no one has been faced with this scenario before. Instead of raising our voices about what is or is not being done correctly or quickly enough in this moment, why don’t we take some time to look at what we DO know?
What Is Most Important?
First, let’s think about what this pandemic has revealed about what schools believe to be most important for our students. Safety, full bellies, and human connection. The need for student safety is evident in the very fact that our school doors are closed at this moment. Upon learning that it might come to this, our district did everything in its power to organize and gather two things as quickly as possible. The first was finding a way to provide food for those students who rely on school for one or two meals every day. The second was providing access to technology from the home by sending devices and free hot spots with any students in need so they could stay connected to their teachers and school.
Because we have never faced an immediate need to transition to digital learning like this before, my school district administration is taking time to discuss its options and best practices. Because my district is so large, it often takes longer to implement changes of this scale. The bigger the ship, the more time it takes to change course. However, despite the time it is taking for our district to land on a solid decision about how to move forward with academic instruction and expectations, one thing has been very clear. The one thing teachers are being asked to do is to connect. Be there. Reach out. Provide opportunities for human connection with each student whenever possible. That’s what my district finds most important at this time: safety, food, and connection.
What Is Not Most Important?
In a crisis like this, when schools are forced to decide what stays and what goes, when it matters most, what have you noticed? What have we seen put on the chopping block? Quarter three was immediately cut short by one week, prohibiting any end-of-quarter tests, projects, or other assessments from occurring. State testing was cancelled for all schools. And now, as we wait for further direction, teachers in our district have been guided to only offer supplemental activities, which at this point equals a loss of two weeks of instruction, leading to more.
As I speak with colleagues and friends from other surrounding areas, the discussions being had and decisions being made by each district are very interesting to me. I have heard phrases like “cut your content down to just the basics” or “ only the essentials.” One district told their teachers to scale their content back by 70% and then to cut that in half. First of all, who determines what is “essential” or “the basics” or what “35%” to keep and what to toss? But more importantly, when the rubber hits the road, can we admit that schools are now realizing and accepting that every single bit of content thrown at our students during the school year is not actually necessary?
So What’s Next?
I don’t have an answer for this question, but I know it cannot go back to how it was. This is a chance for the world, the entire world, to rethink a lot of different things. For our country and our state, one of those things is education. We have been gifted an opportunity to really discern what is and is not most important when it comes to what school provides its students each day. Education should not, cannot, look the same when we return.
Imagine a school year where students only learned 35% of what is currently being taught. How much quality time could be spent on those “essential” skills? How in-depth could teachers go? How creative could they be if given the time to innovate?
What if we did away with standardized testing completely? If it’s okay for one year, why can’t it be okay for the next? And the next? What impact could removing this one thing have on teacher morale, student confidence, and family concerns?
Is there a version of school that exists where secondary students participate in one digital learning day each week or each month, providing teachers with collaboration and professional development time without intruding on student learning days? Is there a version that exists with no bell schedule shuffling students from one core content area to the next and the next and the next and the next?
What changes would you like to see? Because there will be change. An event like this doesn’t take place without a good amount of change following in its wake. What that change looks like depends on a lot of factors though, and voices is one of those factors. Perhaps we could use our social media and other communication outlets to raise our voices about positive change for the future of our schools. Our students, our teachers, and our families deserve it.