Coming Back to School After Covid (Part 2)

In part 1 of this series, The New Normal in K-12 Education: Managing Expectations After Covid, we began the discussion of life after Covid in our nation’s classrooms. We reviewed Academy for Urban School Leadership’s (AUSL) Director of Program Design, Advisory Services, Shelby Hildreth’s tips from “The Return to School” webinar. These tips and topics included: 

    • Going back to the basics of practice
    • Evaluating technology and coaching
    • Assessing students’ current status 

To further discuss how to put our best foot forward as we plan for the upcoming school year, we now assess how to create equity in practice during and after the pandemic. 

How can we address and support Social Emotional Learning (SEL) needs for students and teachers as they return to the classroom?

This should be at the forefront of every administrator’s mind going into the next school year. After last year, creating a supportive and transparent environment will be critical for school climate and overall success. So how do you ease the stress and inspire a new mindset with students and staff? According to Hildreth, you should: 

  • Begin with the adults. The pandemic has asked more of our already thinly stretched educators. Big, nice gestures are great, but giving them the support and tools they need daily will effectively practice the SEL efforts that they’re asking of their pupils.
  • Give your staff a voice and places to express it. Don’t just make decisions—get their input. They are in the trenches each day and should be a core component of your planning and implementation efforts for the new year.
  • Don’t just start with academics! Take the time to prioritize mental health and SEL. Encourage discussions around the realities of the pandemic, and discuss them openly with your staff and then from your team to your students. Reducing anxiety and feelings of isolation will ultimately reduce early behavior challenges
  • Redefine your use of equity in education. It’s not just jargon, and it shouldn’t only mean that everyone has access to the same things. True equity in education reduces the predictability of who’s successful and who isn’t based on socioeconomic and other factors. Give teachers and students a suitable climate to do their best work. 

Focus on accelerating instead of remediating.  

Assessing student status has always been an important part of the new school year. But this year, that assessment should look different than in years past.  According to Hildreth, educators should: 

  • Avoid “deficit thinking” and approach this school year with a commitment to accelerating learning instead of remediating. Just because the schools were closed doesn’t mean learning didn’t happen, it was just different. Focusing on closing the achievement gap by accelerating learning will make this year more successful for everyone.  
  • Begin with the end in mind and work backward. Instead of focusing on just teaching the content, engage students in conversations about their learning. Teach them to think critically and ask questions to deliver them to the end goal, and provide them with time for practice.  
  • Engage teachers in meaningful conversations and planning to help address students’ specific needs. Enable them to provide students with the right content, in the right dosage, and at the right time. Coaching and professional development frameworks and tools can help.
  • When assessing students, consider both quantitative and qualitative data. Use the data to target instruction to each student’s specific needs. Leverage existing structures to fill the gaps so that every student reaches grade-level learning.  

How do we leverage technology to support SEL and academic needs post-Covid?

Last year, teachers and leaders learned to quickly pivot and implement new approaches and processes to accomplish goals that were historically done in person. Because of this, technology became the norm. Here are Hildreth’s pointers on leveraging technology this fall:

  • Retrieve feedback from your staff. Get documentation of what worked and what did not. 
  • Outline visions for technology usage. Use the Keep, Start, Stop method if necessary. 
  • Curate technology that supports your community. Ensure you include technology to facilitate student, teacher, and family communications.
  • Use your funding wisely. Invest in technology that supports your vision and will help your teachers and students be most successful this year.

To view the full discussion and learn more about “The Return to School”, click the button below.

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