What's a teacher to do?
First, it is important to acknowledge that there will be difficult decisions ahead in school year 2020-2021. In difficult times, people think first about their own survival and welfare, and sometimes they might not think about what you need to be healthy. You have to be your best advocate by making sure that your health needs come first by way of a safe environment for teaching, safe protocols, and taking the time off that you need when you are ill.
Sadly, a few grocery store and nursing home workers died during this pandemic because safety procedures were not in place to protect their lives. Teachers have to make sure that those safety procedures are in place in schools to protect their lives and the lives of those they work with and teach.
What is the mission?
As some lead efforts in schools during the pandemic, they may allow their ambition to trump mission by making choices that look good, but are really not that good when we consider our mission as educators. It is critical that we keep the mission up front at this time in school life--we can't just do things because they look good or feel good, instead we have to think deeply about what really matters for these children's lives today and into the future, and what matters for our professional mission as educators.
Educators are not babysitters. Yes, we are in the business of child care--we want the children we teach to be well cared for when they are in our midst, but our primary job is to educate, and how can we do that during a pandemic? That's a question many school communities are grappling with right now. Our own school community is facing that issue with initial conversations and debates about how we should frame the start of next year. In my opinion and the opinion of many, I believe we need to face this situation with the following hierarchy of priorities:
- Safety first
- Relationships next
- Engaging, empowering education following that
How can we maximize our strengths as a teaching team to reach our mission?
Once we define our mission going forward, the next job is to think about how we can maximize our strengths as a teaching/learning community to meet our mission. When we do this we have to think about both short term and long term goals. A lot of time and effort has been invested in identifying standards that create a strong academic foundation for students. I don't think we should lose sight of that. If we continue to focus on a mission of establishing children's strong academic, physical, and social-emotional learning foundation-we will continue to meet students' needs today and into the future. This is a good goal, and then within each grade-level or discipline, it will be important to think about what that looks like for their teaching/learning program.
What efforts will be put at the bottom of the list?
By putting some efforts at the bottom of the list, we focus our efforts in positive ways. For example, our team will not prioritize field trips or special visitors in the fall. We'll reconsider these valuable parts of our teaching/learning program again midyear when we see how things are going. Our school assembly will likely be eliminated at the start of the school year unless we do it virtually so that children at home and children in school can watch the presentation virtually. Some of the fun collaborative learning activities and games will also be put at the bottom of the list and reconsidered midyear to see if we might fit those in later in the year. Teaching/learning efforts such as math talk and math model making will be prioritized since those are valuable learning efforts that sometimes don't get the time they require during a typical year, but with the likely limitations the pandemic will bring to school year 2020-2021, these activities can be prioritized in valuable ways.
What processes will be used for decision making?
Decisions made with good process will result in the best decision making. It is important to involve multiple perspectives when it comes to these decisions. Inclusive process that regards the view point of all stakeholders will result in the best decisions.
Long Term Value
We have to see the pandemic for what it is which is a relatively short term event--we should not squander funds, but think deeply about what investments will support both the short term and long term goals. How can we make decisions that will profit our school community for the long run while facing and meeting the short term needs too?
In the system where I work, there's already been a lot of positive big picture thinking with respect to the 2020-2021 school year. As a teaching team at the fifth grade, we've already discussed our priorities and possibilities in this regard. We have an initial framework in place and look forward to focusing on the details as part of the greater teaching/learning team. Onward.