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[Educator Network] 3 Ways to Adapt to New Education Challenges

[Educator Network] 3 Ways to Adapt to New Education Challenges

Let’s talk about some good things. As we adapt to changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, students and educators are being driven to change or build on how they learn and teach. Changes to education as we once knew it can be good; there is a light at the end of this unusual and challenging year in the form of some positive new perspectives. What should we be aware of and how can we capitalize on these good things?

Independence and Ownership of Learning

Educators have the opportunity to nurture and support student’s independence and ownership. This does not mean that students can function without direction or connecting. Education that permits students to have a voice and choice in their study, paired with interest, personalized instruction and a varied approach to pacing, can provide multiple opportunities for a unique path to success for students. There is a faint line between supporting independence and having students vanish from the classroom. How do we celebrate the independence and not lose the student to the ether? High engagement with independence can be fostered when a student is given choice over what they want to investigate. Fostering independence requires work from both the educator and the student. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Share the target; work with students to understand where they are going and let them help chart the course
  • Make sure students are self-directed and self-monitoring; connect them on a consistent basis to help them evaluate their progress
  • Develop rubric for demonstrating mastery of the target; use the students to help develop that rubric
  • Provide occasions for students to reflect on their progress
  • Provide advice by asking questions; asking not telling fosters critical thinking
  • Provide examples of expertise; give students occasion to practice evaluating through peer reflection or small group reflection
  • Prioritize feedback over content; feedback that is of value, that is reaction to their content, can provide opportunities for growth and can be used for improvement
  • Consider student-led family conferences to guarantee students are principals of their own learning

Deeper Learning

This is a moment that calls for trying to do fewer things well. That means looking at the curriculum, and strategically reducing our coverage goals so that we can go deep and do a great job within those topics. Why not use this time to really dig into a topic that engages students? Deep learning drives students to engage deeper with content by building complex understanding and meaning. It is motivated with open-ended questions.

There are ways that might help you with some of the heavy lifting. Use your team. Consider splitting up the curriculum. Make use of your grade level or content teams and their interests and specialties so that not every teacher is lead facilitator for every lesson. One teacher teaches one lesson, other team members help with the assessments, breakout rooms, and support while another teacher plans for the next lesson. Ta-da, teamwork and the opportunity to explore the content with an interested instructor focusing on content that has been identified as interesting to students.

Review the content being delivered right now. Look toward being driven by what is engaging and find ways to include a variety of options to demonstrate learning. Find the core of education. Can students explain their thinking? Can they do that using multiple tools and strategies? Can students use their knowledge to address real problems and do they have the confidence to maintain until it is solved? Do they have the foundational skills? Can they apply prior knowledge? Streamline to the essential standards.

Teachers of special education know what I am talking about. Accommodations in delivery of instruction and assessment design have always explored options. Using video lessons versus purely written instructions. Using smaller, more focused assessments that cover fewer standards-sometimes call micro learning, sometimes called chunking content. These are tools that translate well to the fluid classroom environments and provide the opportunity to dig into deeper learning.

Try, and while in that process, you are modeling learning for your students. It is fair to talk with them about how you are trying new things where you are struggling, how you are overcoming and working toward success. What a powerful message to your students.


With everything else taking priority, where does feedback fit into the schedule? Everyone needs feedback, so put it on the to do list. Students and their grown-ups need to know where the edges are to feel supported in their progress. A benefit of working online is that students have more time to absorb, evaluate, and dig into the content as we have mentioned. The rule of thumb is to aim to provide feedback within 24 hours. Just as there are multiple ways that the students can demonstrate to you that they know content, there are a variety of ways you can respond. Just make sure it of value, targeted and frequent. Be instructional, be connected to the work and mindful of the student.

Educators will benefit from that feedback as well. If communication is part of your process, then asking for feedback can be one more piece. We need to ask our students and their supports - What is working for you? Where are we succeeding? What feels confusing? And then we need to respond. Reflected on the responses and shift if it is warranted.

Do not allow a pandemic to hamper creativity or block opportunities for you or your students to explore their passions and strengths. This is an opportunity to be imaginative, to be flexible, and to give the process a chance to explore new and exciting ways to collect information and share that information. No matter what modality, passionate and engaged teachers are making a difference. Empower and motivate the teachers and students with technology but remember, behind every technology solution is a human being. Technologies are only as powerful as the communities of educators or students that guide their use. Technology is the paintbrush, the artist is the educator.

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Winnie O'Leary

Winnie O’Leary has spent over 25 years in education, as a classroom teacher, school board member, a family advocate, special education teacher, curriculum writer and currently the Educator Initiatives Manager. Her experiences have allowed her to work with districts all over the country where she learns something new and exciting every day.