With lots of unknowns with regard to the months ahead related to teaching and learning, I want to focus on what I do know today--aspects of teaching and learning that won't change no matter what happens in the fall.
Awesome teaching and learning depends on strong relationships within and amongst all members of the learning team including families, students, educators, administrators, and community members. Whatever we can do to make relationships strong, meaningful, purposeful, and transparent, the better. In some cases, this quick transition to remote teaching and learning has strengthened relationships, and in other cases, this transition has compromised relationships.
When compromised, it seems that information wasn't transparent or readily available, expectations were unrealistic or unsupported, and roles were undefined and confusing. This speaks to the need for school systems to be transparent, realistic, and clear about needed information, expectations, and roles.
Strong teams that grew stronger during this time clearly demonstrated the fact that we need each other, and when we work together we are better. These strong teams had a history of working well together for common goals and mission. There was a strong foundation of good communication, readily available, transparent information, and a collaborative mindset and history in place. The pandemic has clearly emphasized the need for strong relationships and strong teams when it comes to optimal teaching and learning.
At the foundation of exemplary teaching and learning there needs to be a strong sense of mission. This mission brings us together as a learning community of families, students, educators, administrators, and community members. I think it is important for all to rethink mission statements this summer--we've learned a lot in the past few weeks and we'll likely want to rethink our mission statements in some ways as we move forward.
Role Definition Matters
It is also time to rethink roles in the school community. Clearly some roles have been pivotal during this learn-at-home time and some roles less impactful. The same goes for our role definitions and expectations--in some cases, the role definitions and expectations need to change. For example, teaching assistants have played a critical role with regard to carrying out optimal virtual teaching lessons. This has been a new role for them, and one that needs to be added to their repertoire with regard to professional expectations as well as training. The same is true for all classroom teachers--we've never had to teach virtually like this before, and now it's a mainstay. We will need to gain more training and better definition around this expectation. Roles have changed for leadership too--what is the right way to lead so many satellite campuses as teachers work from home to teach students in all kinds of settings. And, of course, the roles for parents who support their young learners have changed too. How will we redefine roles for optimal teaching and learning across all the various work that is done in schools--what needs to change?
Service Delivery Expectations: Health and Welfare of Families and Children
We may also want to revisit service delivery. For example, teaching online with special educators has been truly enriching for me. To work together to try to make lessons meaningful for children with Individualized Expectation Plans has been challenging, yet the conversations that have resulted in this work has helped to grow our collective repertoire with respect to meeting these children's needs. This teach-at-home time has demonstrated to me that the collaboration of special education and regular education is a sweet spot for growing teaching and learning in positive ways--the challenge is how do we foster the best possible collaboration. What works and what doesn't work?
Service delivery related to school lunches has made me ponder the relationships between schools and social service agencies. Families' needs for day care, and the plight a pandemic has had on children's health has made me think that rather than "school" perhaps we should build family/child support agencies that include health care, education, and social services under one umbrella with the goal being holistic support and services for the general well being, today and into the future, for families and children. I think that there can be some systematic changes in this regard to better serve the health and welfare of families in every community. Change in this area could result in very positive effects going forward.
Best Practices are Important
There are a number of best practices that translate from school as we know it to virtual school. We need to identify and embrace those practices. There are other practices that are simply best at real school or at virtual school--those practices are important to identify too. As I teach, I am constantly thinking about what makes the teaching/learning engaging, motivating, meaningful, and successful? When students continue the learning on their own without prodding and with enthusiasm, I know that a lesson has succeeded since, after all, our overarching goal is to promote successful lifelong learning. As we think about best practices, we need to think about how we assess success--what do we look for with regard to success and how do we quantify or describe that. These accountability measures do matter because we want to provide every child with the best possible education--an education that empowers and enriches their lives today and into the future.
Process Matters Too
How we share information, how we communicate, and how we make decisions all matter. The processes we use to teach well together and continually evolve as effective school systems are critical to good, positive, proactive effort and growth. We all have to re-look at the processes we use in our multiple system teams to make sure that we are using processes that are effective, growth producing, and forward moving, rather than processes that oppress, belittle, stay stagnant, or, in the worst, case move us backwards rather than forward. It is time to reevaluate the systems we use in schools for effective education at all levels. We can see this process re-evaluation as a positive outcome of a challenging time.
I will take these areas of note and think about each of them via the lens of my own work in the next post. I think these are important elements to think deeply about as we move ahead in education in following days, weeks, and months.