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[Educator Network] Changes Coming in Education

[Educator Network] Changes Coming in Education

One long term consequence to the COVID-19 pandemic and related school closures is that it has clearly exposed cracks in our educational system. The conversation has been beaten to its essence; how things have changed, why things have changed and what we are facing as a global society. Yet are we asking the right questions? Are we trying to put a square peg into a hole that has been dramatically altered since the peg was removed? What are the right questions we should be asking? How do we stop being reactive and use what we are learning to support education in a different way?

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an opportunity to look at some of the foundational questions in education in a fresh light. It is important to look at these as opportunities for action now. Here are several challenges education has encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic and the questions we should be asking about them:

  1. Learning has been majorly disrupted. How can we get things back on track?

Getting things back on track assumes that we were all on the right track in the first place. Identifying this as a catalyst to change acknowledges the cracks and the prospect to make systemic changes in areas of access and equity. This new era is not only a shift in the tools we use or the places we use them, it could be a shift toward global student-centric instruction. It is not just an opportunity for a shift from assessment for students, but also for teachers. Educators are often right next to their students learning to operate and understand new technology, and discovering new ways to leverage experiences and unique ways to assess individuals understanding. Unfortunately, the assessments for classroom teachers are being played out in the struggles to stay online, find the right tools and pivot in the everchanging plan for classroom instruction. Technology is the tool here but being used in sometimes unfamiliar ways.

  1. Assessments are no longer working in the way they were intended. How should we really be evaluating students?

National and exit exams have been significantly affected by the spring school closures and with so much unknown, may continue to be a challenge.

According to UN Policy Brief on Education, different countries are adopting different strategies in how they are evaluating students - in many cases a mix of solutions - to cope with disruptions caused by COVID-19, including organizing exams with special arrangements, cancellation, postponement/rescheduling, online assessment, and introducing alternative approaches to exams and validation of learning.

Journeymen approaches to content, application and practice may be a more practical solution, but would require a significant restructure of instructional strategies and testing procedures. Is this just another opportunity?

  1. Learning should and must be accessible anywhere and everywhere. Is it time to ditch our idea of the traditional classroom once and for all? If we are considering the varying ways in which to evaluate and assess students, should we also move to envisioning a different classroom?

Many educators had already started down the path of a non-traditional classroom with flexible seating and study areas before school closures changed the classroom landscape. We have spent years converting our classrooms into living rooms and coffee shops, the exact place that our students are studying in right now. Let us recognize there are significant issues with socialization and peer support in these times, but somewhere in the middle may be what our classrooms should really look like. Educators should recognize that what we understood to be the “right way” to sit in a desk has absolutely and dramatically changed. We were heading in that direction for years, now we can bring those ideas front and center.

Globally we are seeing unique approaches; traditional distance learning modalities, sometimes a mix of educational television and radio programming, and the distribution of print materials have clearly become a catalyst for developing an add-on to the traditional classroom.

Students and educators returning to the brick and mortar are not returning to the classrooms they left behind in March. Social distancing creates limitations for interaction, but also opportunity to rethink what it means to teach in a new environment. For classes with access and ability to go outside to learn, perhaps it’s time to consider that moving the classroom outdoors should not mean conducting business as usual, only beneath the cover of a tent. It should mean harnessing local assets and opportunities. Leave the textbook and grab the hiking boots.

Challenge the assumptions we make about what constitutes a classroom. Realize the initial classroom assumptions are based on an outdated factory model adopted by Massachusetts educator Horace Mann after encountering it in Europe in the 19th century. Think outside the classroom. Take students outdoors this fall.

  1. We are educators, we know that we are essential and flexible and dedicated to the point of danger, what can we do to adjust the narrative?

As stated in UN Policy Brief on Education,“[with] the combined effect of the pandemic’s worldwide economic impact and the school closures, the learning crisis could turn into a generational catastrophe.”

Educators have been caught up in the political turmoil and loud uncertainty of what school looks like in a pandemic. The opportunity exists to bypass the noise and support a developmental process whereby an individual learner gains the opportunity to excel. This might mean the educator meets regularly with students to create goals, identify strategies to manage existing and potential challenges, improve academic performance, and further development toward reaching the learner's highest potential. Supporting students, of course, is about more than mechanics, it is about providing a chance to move from direct instruction to providing opportunities to support individualized learning using tools new to educators. It also means coaching those at home in how to provide support students and educators.

To adapt to the challenges presented by a learning environment that has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, learners and educators will need to display agility in the months ahead. There are just a few of the new considerations we should be discussing in our educator circles as we brave a new frontier. But that’s not all the pandemic has left us to consider. Check out trending issues in special education, and how COVID-19 has impacted these trends.

winnie.oleary's picture

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 a Curriculum Manager for Edmentum. Her experiences have allowed her to work with districts all over the country where she finds something new and exciting every day.