April 2021 Coaching Tip of the Month
The tide is turning… vaccinations are becoming more and more available; eligible adult family members and teachers are getting vaccinated. Schools will re-open – some fully in-person and some still remote. And, in limited extenuating circumstances, some students will remain at home until September 2021. Regardless of when and how schools will re-open, there is an increasing – and understandable – apprehension about the loss of formal instruction for our students. Knowing that every student in every school nationally and internationally has experienced this does not lessen the stress and concern of what this means for all of them, their families, and their schools.
We know that not every hour of regular in-person schooling is able to be replicated at home. In fact, that’s not even needed. What we need is to ensure that our students are totally engaged; they participate fully; and there are multiple opportunities for them to collaborate and learn with their peers. We need to be reminded that learning is not always about the tools in the classroom; learning happens when student agency is present, the structure of the day is varied and not imitating the “regular” school day, and teachers and parents take advantage of a “thinking outside the box” philosophy.
In the beginning, crisis intervention was the norm. Teachers were overwhelmed with the idea of planning for remote and/or in-person teaching of students in the same classroom, at the same time. Parents were overwhelmed with providing support for their younger children while helping their older ones be more independent. At the same time, they weren’t sure how to monitor their children’s time on task or understand the informality of the structure, e.g., cameras on/cameras off situation. Should they stay in the room and help or remain in the background? Do they need to find the resources the grade school science class needed so their child could be involved? Should the older children use the computer first and the younger ones go play until it was their turn or alternate the computer use so each one has an opportunity to be the “first” to connect in the morning? These are only a few of the questions I’ve repeatedly heard from parents and teachers who had two or more children learning remotely. Sometimes, it works smoothly and easily and sometimes the gremlins possess the internet and no one can connect!
We do know that academic progress slows during the summer months and teachers plan for “catch up” in the beginning of the school year. And, we know that the learning losses for low income students and students of color are greater than their higher income peers. These are not new issues; these have just been exacerbated by the pandemic. So, do we focus on the achievement gaps or do we focus on helping re-acclimate our students to school – or both?
I wonder how much of the “catch up” is more about returning to the school structure than remembering content. I do believe that going back to in-person school requires re-orienting to school, revisiting classroom norms, re-igniting the passion for learning, and renewing the understanding of the socio-emotional support that will be needed. Teachers and administrators will need to figure out what behavioral, emotional, and cognitive engagement looks like with the variety of experiences their students are bringing with them.
So many questions…I think we need to be reflective and ask ourselves what we have learned during this pandemic; what we should carry over to the new school year, what we should change going into the new year, and how we can measure what is needed to move forward. I think teachers need to be academic detectives and diagnose with precision what students have learned this past year so they can identify where they are in their learning paths. Teachers need support so they can personalize the instruction to meet the needs of a diverse cultural and academic population, and they need to ensure inclusivity in their instructional practice. Instructional coaches are needed more than ever to collaborate and collectively problem-solve with their teaching colleagues to ensure a growth mindset is present and reflective practice occurs.
And, above all, let’s listen to our students and ask them about their experiences so we can learn more about how they survived and thrived this last year.