A Moment in Education, Pregnant with Opportunity

A Moment in Education, Pregnant with Opportunity

Part 2 of 3: Multiple Models for Learning

This is our moment to re-imagine education.  Our efforts to pivot ‘on a dime’ beginning mid-March have been impressive. Basic needs are being met in high volumes, in collaboration and through school delivery systems. Our district just surpassed 1 million meals distributed to students experiencing food insecurity. Devices and connectivity have made it to the vast majority of homes throughout our city (100% at our school). But the dust is settling. And barriers to authentic, meaningful and consistent learning are becoming clear. Beyond that, inequities that have plagued our practice persist. The achievement gap is widening and we must act. Now is the time to dream, to take risks, and to keep our most vulnerable, promising students at the center of our designs.

Since we are driven to deliver on the promise of public education, I want to see three seismic shifts explored and launched over the next two school years.

In the previous post, I argued that now is the time to make moves towards implementing a competency based system, that honors student interests, individualized pacing, and more precise support for students. While this proposed shift is major, it holds promise for increasing student autonomy, competency, and ultimately preparedness for a 21st century that is beyond what we are able to imagine today.

A second seismic shift that deserves exploration and possible implementation is:

Let’s offer multiple/ blended models of learning in the short and long term.

Let’s offer multiple/ blended models of learning in the short and long term.

Across our nation, state, and state we will be forced to rethink how we gather for learning experiences.  Today, our district publicized preliminary plans to allow all students to return to campus, in different configurations. More resources are needed and being sought from the state however. With the need to keep gatherings small, schools will likely be forced to offer alternating days of in-person instruction.  This article details a few versions of rotating schedules that may allow for a safe opening of schools.

Recognizing that we face a multi-dimensional challenge, providing some choice to parents is the right thing to do.  Based on marital status, employment realities, and childcare options, families are bound to have clear needs and strong opinions about what may work for them.  Considering health realities and vulnerabilities, some families may delay returning students to traditional school settings.  A number of our families may opt for a distance learning (exclusively) model until an effective vaccine is discovered and widely distributed. We should accommodate and honor families in these situations.

To pull this off, we’ll have to identify “musts” and “mays” for both students and educators. We’ll have to be ready to shift all three categories of resources: land, labor and capital.  And we’ll have to innovate supportive structures, like childcare centers by area, so that teachers with young children can give our students their undivided attention.

In the short term, student and staff safety will drive priorities and limitations. This makes sense. Long term, we will have to respond to the fact that many of our students are excelling because of the shifts. Last week, key teacher leaders on our site instructional leadership team shared some encouraging new realities that are worth finding ways to preserve:

  • Numerous students who were once passive and quiet are showing up to small groups, asking deep questions, showing signs of increased motivation and actively seeking support.
  • Numerous students are turning in work with increased quality, due to the flexibility they are provided.
  • Struggling students are benefiting from modifications and adaptations to assignments that are possible through new technology platforms and increased teacher prep time.
  • Parents are increasingly knowledgeable, involved, and supportive with their children.
  • General education and special education teachers are collaborating at levels.
  • Teachers are becoming more targeted with their teaching objectives, focusing on critical concepts and leaving behind less relevant material.
  • Teachers are growing exponentially in their skills and abilities, due in part to a new reality.

We can and should hold on to what is working for students, parents and teachers. Going back to “school as normal” would undermine efforts to reach students in new and meaningful ways. In the short term, because public health realities are variable, we should offer multiple models of schooling for our students. In the long term, because students learn differently, we should offer multiple models that provide choice and promise increased motivation for learning. It will, no doubt, impact learners we once struggled with. And this may be a doorway that leads to more equitable outcomes across our student population.

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