Attention School and District Administrators:
The 2021 Opening of School Checklist is aligned with the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL). My colleague Marcia Baldanza, an ASK Group author and assistant professor at Marymount University, wrote several issues of Professional Practices for Educational Leaders (available on the Just ASK website) focused on examining each of the 10 PSEL standards and providing implementation suggestions. In preparing the 2021 Opening of School Checklist I reviewed her work so that I could include a notation indicating which PSEL standard is addressed by each entry.
What Do We Stop Doing, Keep Doing, and Start Doing?
At Just ASK, we hope to
STOP ourselves and our colleagues from trying to return to “the way it was” and focus instead on creating a “new normal” aligned with the needs of 21st century learners
KEEP providing tantalizing tidbits and words of wisdom that help us all keep our eyes on the goals of student and staff learning and well being
START more collaborative endeavors, promote better use of technology (beyond worksheets), and work harder to convince all educators that the keys to deeper learning are student connection-making, application of their learning, and the social-emotional well being not only of students but of staff.
In many school districts across the country most students are returning to classrooms for the 2021-2022 school year. After the dizzying experience of the past two years, many educators are reflecting on what they have learned from the pandemic phenomenon. Lori Hough captured in Ed Magazine the realities of what teachers have been through, and how we should envision this future. She writes, “So many variables demanded radical flexibility, forcing us to try what we would have resisted before, to fail, then to try something else. We learned how to learn again in this bizarre here and now. And to both our chagrin and delight, these years inspired us to ask and really mean it: What matters now in education? As we prepare to depart Zoomland to return to classrooms or grapple with leading schools or districts, we must remember to never stop asking this question and to mute ourselves to listen for answers. If we are lucky enough to work with students, let’s not forget the tenderness we felt when someone greeted us warmly by name when we arrived in class – and how sometimes that was the only proof we had that we were actually there.
A great deal is being written about how we should approach this school year. Our decisions range from “I never thought of doing it that way,” to “I don’t want to make that mistake again.” It’s a whole new ball game. As we deliberate about what we will be doing in the future, it may be prudent to apply the “stop, keep, start” method by asking: What should I stop doing, what should I keep doing, and what should I start doing? The ideas below can provide food for thought as you make your teaching and learning plans.
Publish a Digital Agenda
Teacher Samantha Pack wrote in “Enduring Practices From Remote Teaching,” “Instead of a static daily agenda written on the board, create a digital agenda for the unit that includes each day’s lesson outline, relevant hyperlinks, the learning targets, the rationale for each activity, and homework. Picture the routine of assessing and following the agenda each day in class, and remind students to refer to it throughout the school day and at home. Samantha’s idea is a good way to help students with organization as well as engaging them in each lesson.
Solicit Student Feedback
During the pandemic, many teachers began the practice of finding out what was “going on behind those small squares on their screens.” They did so by frequently soliciting feedback from their learners on a variety of topics including the pace of the lessons, the method and modality used, the homework load, and most importantly, the state of students’ emotional health. Teachers gathered feedback through polls, surveys, or in class summarizers. The message to students is clear: I value your opinion and insights.
Include Parents from the Outset
During the past school year, parents took on a completely different role. As writer Frederick Hers of the American Enterprise Institute noted, “With remote learning, parents have had a front row seat on their children’s curriculum content, how teachers teach, and how school time is used.” He sees parents’ accessibility during virtual learning as a plus. “There’s great power in all this. This kind of openness can strengthen the school communities, enable valuable oversight for what schools are doing, and provide students more of the support they need. Schools can view parents as partners rather than a nuisance.
Remember to Insert Fun into Lessons
Many educators have spent the year with the challenge of keeping students online and simultaneously engaging them. This has proven to be no easy feat especially for teachers who have been “teaching to a box of squares belonging to Zoom-fatigued teenagers.” Early childhood teachers had the challenge of “trying to wrangle the youngest students away from their favorite toys (or any nearby object).” In many cases we have learned that fun, often unintentional, became a major priority in their classrooms. Many instructors have made time for more games, music and levity to elicit laughter and joy from their charges to continue using in face-to-face learning during the new year. Fun is a great component.
Lead With Humility and Compromise
A major lesson that resulted from the past year was the importance of how leaders, both teachers and administrators, approach their roles. In order to establish and maintain a smooth-functioning and productive environment, leaders must be willing to make bold decisions in times of uncertainty, but they also need to acknowledge what they don’t know, depend on and learn from colleagues with different skills, capabilities and backgrounds, and strive for focus on student learning in ever-evolving circumstances and directions.
Choose Post-Pandemic Learning Experiences Carefully
Jennifer Gonzalez from the Cult of Pedagogy continually provides excellent suggestions for ways to improve teaching and learning. In “The More Easy Button: A Suggested Approach to Post-Pandemic Teaching,” she makes the case for including experiences for children that are not necessarily the easy ways to do things. Below are approaches in four different categories that Jennifer suggests, along with several other ideas put forth by practicing educators:
- Fewer “worksheets” and more learning experiences that are “densely packed with learning”
- More hands-on active student learning
- Increased collaboration among students
- More teacher pre-recorded videos students can watch on their own.
- Flipped classroom instruction to promote lively classroom discussions
- More feedback, fewer grades
- Multiple opportunities to reach mastery
- Flexible, fluid deadlines with periodic check-ins
- Open-book, open-notes, open-resource assessments that require a deeper understanding by students
- Allowing students to demonstrate learning in different ways
- Giving introverted learners a greater voice in the classroom
- Utilizing classroom materials that represent different cultures and histories
- Offering remote and hybrid pathways to meet different student needs.
- Build connections with students
- Create an environment that feels safe and welcoming for everyone
- Make time for fun, joy, and laughter.
Rethink Grading Practices
In “3 Assessment and Grading Practices That Need To Be Obliterated,” Arthur Chiaravalle recommends getting rid of approaches that many teachers follow, and instead apply new ways oaf thinking:
- Do away with penalties within academic grades. He writes, “The lowered scores are not intended to reflect lower academic ability, but rather failure of punctuality.” Penalties rarely lead to improvement.
- Stop giving group grades. Groups often consist of “go getters” and “hangers on” students. When teachers give all members of a group the same grade, it is not a fair and equitable approach.
- Quit assigning random projects that “don’t demonstrate anything except “regurgitating facts in a fancy way”
Many of us have been following what educator Joe Feldman refers to as “century-old inherited grading practices.” Some of these grading ideas have “disproportionally punished students with weaker support nets and fewer resources,” such as students of color, students from poor families, children with special needs, and individuals who are English language learners. Teachers should explore creative ways to assess learning in real time and include assessment strategies that will more accurately and fairly measure learning.
Lead with Humility and Compromise
A major lesson that resulted from the past year was the importance of how leaders, both teachers and administrators, approach their roles. In order to establish and maintain a smooth-functioning and productive environment, leaders must be willing to make bold decisions in times of uncertainty, but they also need to acknowledge what they don’t know and depend on and learn from colleagues with different skills, capabilities, and backgrounds
Make Connecting with Students a Priority
During the pandemic some teachers learned that touching base before and at the end of class “paid off in ways both expected and surprising.” Teachers often heard first hand what was on students’ minds and about the competing pressures students faced outside of school. Personal engagement with students can actually improve a student’s desire to participate and learn during class time. Additionally, several instructors learned that offering one-on-one instruction via Zoom “greatly increased the number of students who showed up.” As a result of these findings, instructors are seeking ways to continue these practices in the new school year.
Develop an Organized Plan
During remote schooling, many educators did not find the time for conversations with peers about what each of them was doing in their Zoom sessions. They simply were not together in one building. Teachers finished their year without having the opportunity to touch base or compare experiences with their colleagues. Harvard Professor Jal Mehta suggests that schools and districts find time now for individuals to brainstorm about what worked well during virtual learning. Mehta further proposes that at the beginning of the new school year, teachers should participate in a more formal planning process as they work with their colleagues by applying four research-based tasks:
- Naming practices that worked well
- Nourishing those practices as they take root and begin to grow
- Connecting educators by scheduling common time for discussion
- Growing expertise by drawing upon the best thinking inside and outside the school.
Whatever process educators might use, it is important for schools to put a plan in place by which they can use the experiences from the months of isolation to make “homecoming” for their students a productive and worthwhile endeavor.
Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use. Please include the following citation on all copies:
Oliver, Bruce. “The Just ASK 2021 Opening of School Checklist and More.” Just for the ASKing! Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development. © 2021. All rights reserved. Available at www.justaskpublications.com.