Six Challenges for Schools Once Students Return
Will you be ready this fall when students return (hopefully)? Schools have been in crisis mode for the past 6-8 weeks due to COVID-19 Coronavirus and consequential closings. While educators have been focused on transitioning to online learning to save the semester, it may be time to accept that the gaps probably cannot be narrowed enough while students are still learning from home. Pivoting the focus from this school year to next might be the best chance to level the field.
There are many challenges that schools will have to overcome, but I’d like to focus on six... Each will be critical and solutions must be ready to implement--the virus gave educators no time to pivot, but there is now time to plan for recovery.
1. Supporting Educational Staff
In this USA Today article, a picture of what life in the classroom will look like when schools reopen comes into focus. It includes many things that you might imagine such as hand-washing, routine sanitizing of surfaces, social distancing, and more.
The ramifications of social distancing, however, extend beyond simply greater distance and spacing in the classroom (not to mention cafeterias and school buses). This could mean smaller class sizes but with the same number of students to educate. Due to this, schools will need more teachers and staff in order to be able to teach smaller groups of students together.
The article quotes Jake Bryant, a former teacher and associate partner at the global consultancy firm McKinsey & Company. He says, “I don’t believe reopening will be a linear path to normalcy.” McKinsey & Company released a report with ideas for schools to consider as they plan to reopen:
“U.S. schools could consider bringing back vulnerable students first for more one-on-one help, or scheduling more days of in-person instruction for them. Students with disabilities, or those whose families rely on schools for food or other assistance, could attend in-person three days a week, while more highly resourced students with access to technology at home could attend two days a week.”
Bryant goes on to say schools will have to get better at remote learning, whether because of another virus outbreak, a need to quarantine infected students, or because school days need to be split up to create more space in the classrooms.
All of this means that administrators will need to prepare their staff more than ever by investing in their schools’ team to help prepare, supporting them throughout, and empowering them in the post-Coronavirus classroom. This means an investment in new teacher orientation, continuing education, technology education and practice, as well as in self-care and student care with the newly added stresses of health safety. All these together will demand new and greater skills from the education team and schools must prepare to resource and support their staff in this new environment. Moreover, it might have to occur as teacher turnover rises and budgets fall.
2. Remedial Education
In an effort to continue delivering education to students at home while “sheltering in place,” one unintended consequence has been the obvious gap widening into a chasm between socioeconomic sectors of the student body.
In essence, technology has widened the learning gap due to issues including access to high-speed internet and in some cases a lack of computers and tech devices, or technical inexperience of parents and students at home (not to mention many teachers who are educating online for the first time). This has resulted in a segment of students who will have failed to progress at the same rate as their peers.
In this article by Brookings Institution, they note that, “The worst kind of learning is to sit passively and listen, and this may be the form that most students will receive during school closures. It serves no one well, especially those who are the furthest behind.” A student struggling with the material being taught and then also struggling with eLearning methods has an additional barrier that ultimately results in less mastery of material while others move forward.
School leaders must plan for new levels of remedial education that will be needed. Early assessments will be important to identify where to place students.
3. Technology Buy-in
While the technology has not only been challenging for parents in terms of helping children access the necessary materials and content, students have also had different experiences with technology during these months at home. For example, time spent on games like Fortnite increased (CNET.com) and if students had less than invigorating online classroom experiences, there can be a disinterest and lack of buy-in for school technology from students. It’s difficult for elearning to compete with games like Fortnite, but the reality is it does.
RELATED POST: Can Time Spent Playing Online Games Help Teens Develop Cultural Competency?
In a post-Coronavirus world, the partnership between parents and teachers will need to increase, making family engagement a key task and opportunity for administrators and educators to ensure that elearning is respected.
Teachers may also need to “up their game” with the digital side of teaching and find helpful technology that deeply engages students and stimulates their interest much like games do.
But make no mistake, increased technology should not result in decreased confidence-building human interaction, such as simple positive reinforcement. Teachers who voluntarily reinforce positive learning with their students will get greater results when the work is turned in digitally.
4. Remediation for ESL Students
Along with what was already mentioned in point #2 above, remediation for ESL students (English as a Second Language) is an important and unique item to address within schools. This may also prove to be especially challenging.
A large percentage of K-12 students in the US do not speak English at home and now having lacked daily exposure to classes and friends in an English context, they may be especially far behind.
This article by ednc.org interviews Joan Lachance, associate professor of education and program director for UNC Charlotte’s Teaching English as a Second Language Programs. She says, “From a language development perspective and even from a brain development perspective, we know that language development is a social construct and kids need to sit with each other and have lots and lots of peer interaction.”
The article also mentions the reliance ESL students have on body language in the classroom to communicate with their teacher and other students, something non-transmissible over the internet.
This gap means that these students will need special attention and instruction with a focus on English language learning (or relearning) and potentially the need to repeat material that was assigned during the stay-at-home period in order to ensure mastery of it.
While some ESL students need to go back and focus on English basics and the material that was taught previously, other students have moved on. This will require special attention by school staff and a plan to tackle this important issue of remediation for ESL students.
5. Data Gap
The lack of data from test results due to the cancelling of assessments makes the task of teachers and administrators even harder in the new school year. With the areas noted above having an impact on learning that was accomplished, a new plan for testing and retesting may need to happen to monitor progress.
In fact, our whole approach to placement in a particular grade level and personalized education in general may have shifted dramatically, or will need to.
This article by the National Conference of State Legislatures states several schools have altered their admissions policies, making the ACT and SAT optional for college admission in lieu of cancelled testing. While this may be helpful in some cases for students wanting to enroll in college, at the K-12 level the data gap is a significant concern as teachers relied on this to assess student readiness to move on to other material and to ensure a baseline mastery of core material. Without assessment data, will the subjective assessment of teachers be accurate enough to ensure students are ready to proceed? Or, will more and more frequent testing need to be done to evaluate progress and fill the data gap?
How a school system decides to work at this data gap issue needs to be determined soon so that a plan can begin to be put in place this summer prior to the start of the new school year.
6. Experiential Learning Pivot
As I wrote about in last month’s blog post, the primary pivot schools will need to make is to create experiential learning opportunities to ensure the most complete education and best prepare students for today’s work environment. Much of this must happen through arts programs because the arts directly impacts the social-emotional well-being of every child. This cannot be understated, and even though I am a strong music education advocate, we should revisit the important elements of home economics including the culinary arts. For so many reasons (five, to be exact...read linked-post below), the culinary arts contributes to social skills, social-emotional learning, cultural competence, and so much more.RELATED POST: Increasing Cultural Competency through Multi-sensory Culinary Experiences
Knowledge delivery can and should continue to have significant digital elements to it even once students are all back in school, but in a hybrid context that also involves creating experiences in and through school (including extra-curricular) to deepen that knowledge. There must be a focus on equity in terms of access to technology, and if this cannot be guaranteed in the home, it has to be primarily offered in the classroom.
The big question is, how will educators best implement experiential and collaborative learning if we are still social distancing? Technology can have a positive role in that too, as social media has proven.
A Final Note
We must focus on four of the many c’s discussed in education: curiosity, communication, compassion, and critical thinking in new and creative ways. The challenge for schools will be to not overlook these key items while dealing with the front-burner issues that the COVID-19 pandemic created.
Click below for a specialty curated checklist for teachers, administrators, and parents (extrapolating the most important parts of this post on how to prepare for back to school in a post covid world.
Ravi Unites Schools Update
We had two Realtime Audio-Video Interactions scheduled with Shanti Bhavan in India: one with Bethel Elementary School in Virginia and another with Londonderry Middle School in New Hampshire. All of these schools are currently closed due to COVID-19 and these interactions will be rescheduled for later in the year.
If you or your organization would like to learn more about becoming a strategic partner of Ravi Unites Schools, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other News and Announcements
Be sure to check out Ravi's daily "Minute to Pivot" video series. You can subscribe to it on his YouTube channel by clicking here, or visit any one of his social media pages @RaviUnites.
Ravi recently gave a keynote to the Virginia ASCD association at their annual conference. It was very well received and he followed that up with a school convocation at Gloucester Virginia public schools.
A number of school districts have inquired about online convocations. If you are interested in having Ravi deliver your 2020 or 2021 school convocation keynote, please send us a message through our contact page, https://raviunties.com/