Reflections on How the Pandemic Is Reshaping Education

American Educator, Fall 2020In response to the pandemic, educators have rapidly developed practices for remote instruction and fought to address dire inequities. Our goal is not to get back to normal, but to build a better society. How can schools and communities reimagine curriculum and instruction? What supports do educators need to strengthen relationships between families and schools?

These are among the questions that “Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic,” a blog series published by the Albert Shanker Institute, seeks to answer. In more than 15 posts, educators and researchers reflect on how the pandemic is reshaping education. Their pieces range from the scholarly, “School Organizational Practices and the Challenges of Remote Teaching During a Pandemic,” to the personal, “Have We Found Héctor, Yet?” Here, we share excerpts from the series; to read more, visit here.

–EDITORS

When schools suddenly closed in March and moved to online instruction, I wondered how I would have responded if I’d still been a high school English teacher. I imagined having to prepare a series of engaging Ted Talks with follow-up Q&As. But having talked with many administrators and teachers, I’ve realized that good online schooling during the pandemic is a team sport not a solo performance. It calls for careful preparation and coordination among many players. Just as COVID-19 has revealed hidden shortcomings in our society, it has exposed the limitations of compartmentalized schools that continue to rise or fall on the skills, autonomy and self-reliance of individual teachers.

Susan Moore Johnson, “Teaching During School Shutdowns Should Be a Team Sport,” May 28

 

Across the country, everyone is asking one question, “When will we get back to normal?” A cry similar to that of previous generations who often beckon back to the “good ole’ days.” If we are honest, the desire to get back to a place called “normal” is not because the past was better, but simply because it was familiar. The very fact that our past “normal” included a system where, in most school districts, you could identify by race and ethnicity which students were more likely to be suspended, expelled, or less likely to graduate says it all. Our past “normal” was actually abnormal (unless, for some reason which defies all science, you believe that intellect is distributed by race and ethnicity).

In America, the “good ole’ days” meant prevalent systemic racism, a widening achievement gap, and scarce resources for our students and teachers. Rather than longing for “back to normal,” our public school system has the opportunity to once again move us forward towards creating a more equitable and just “new normal” for students, parents, and families.

John Jackson, “For Students, The ‘Good Ole’ Days’ Are Not Good Enough,” July 7

 

As we turn our eye towards next year, there is increasing concern about “catching students up,” particularly those students who are presumed to have done the least learning during quarantine. This might mean summer school, double blocks of reading and math, and high doses of remediation.

We have a different suggestion. Marie Kondo the curriculum.

As everyone now knows, Marie Kondo is the Japanese cleaning expert who showed you how to declutter your home by keeping only the items that bring joy.
The curriculum is as overstuffed as most American houses. Curriculums are often decided by committees, who have different views of what is important, and they compromise by giving every faction some of what they want. The result is a curriculum with too many topics and too little depth.

Jal Mehta and Shanna Peeples, “Marie Kondo The Curriculum,” June 25

 

During parent-teacher conferences, the most common refrain from parents to their children has been “I work to the bone to make sure that you have everything you need.” Parents stake their lives on assuring their children get opportunities for success that they weren’t afforded.

If parents can invest that much hope in their children, then our education system—including the educators that serve at the behest of the public—can reimagine the operations and principles of schools better now. We can do away with high-stakes standardized testing and other narrow measures of intellectual capacity. We can make internet access and high-capacity devices a public utility for everyone. We can bolster schools that serve as community hubs. We can develop deeper communication with parents about their students’ educational progress, while creating flexible plans for students whose parents have been deemed essential workers from now on.

José Luis Vilson, “Our Profession Requires Hope, Now and Ever Since,” May 19

[Illustration by Agent Illustrateur / the i spot]

American Educator, Fall 2020
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