No More “Good Ole Days”

This blog was written in Dec. 18, 2020

As 2020 winds down, it’s natural to look back over a tumultuous year and look forward with hope

What words should we use to describe what we’ve been through? Uncertain? Confusing? Unsettling? Scary? None of them seems adequate to capture the disruption of normal we have experienced in the world of education — the loss of connection, the demands for personal courage and leadership, and the call for creative problem solving on the fly. 

We quickly learned that solutions from the past were insufficient to handle issues of today. Didn’t we?

School leaders needed to provide internet access and devices as well as meals to children at home. They needed to anticipate and address teachers’ support needs for teaching online, and they needed to create schedules for remote or hybrid learning that worked for everybody. 

Teachers needed to learn new technology and design new ways of teaching for remote and hybrid environments. They needed to figure out methods for making connections with students – including new students in the fall that they had never met. Most of all they needed to establish ground rules for themselves and their households, balancing their children, extended families and pets. 

Families scrambled to set up learning work spaces and schedules so their children could participate in remote learning. But for many this was a minor adjustment compared to the issues related to work-from-home, or essential worker overtime, or loss of income. Too many suffered the loss of loved ones on top of everything else.

Students needed to become self-reliant and develop frustration tolerance related to unreliable tech access and disconnection from teachers and classmates. Some who had been model students under teacher supervision became rebellious or indifferent to learning with prolonged screen time. Others were relieved to be able to proceed at their own pace away from the stigma of peer comparison, surprising us with their growth.

I have so much admiration for teachers and leaders who have not run away from the challenges. Once they realized that this wasn’t a  temporary crisis, they buckled down to create structured systems for their schools, for learners, and for families. I know one special education leader who directed her staff to reach out to families of children with IEPs. They contacted every family each quarter to check in, to talk about progress and to collaboratively address current scenarios. This was not business as normal. 

What’s ahead?

It’s easy to predict that the new year (both Jan and Sept 2021) will continue to bring challenges as well as opportunities.

But we’re unlikely to ever see a return to the “good ole days” of school as we knew them a few month ago. 

The last time I saw change this big coming was in 1975 with the passage of the Education of the Handicapped Act (PL 94-142). This week two publications shared research findings that reinforce what I see ahead.

The RAND Corporation report, Remote Learning is Here to Stay, published on Dec. 15, shared findings from a survey of 375 school leaders at the district level, including: 

  • 20% of the districts have already adopted, plan to adopt, or are considering adopting virtual school as part of their district portfolio after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, in response to student and parent demands for continuing various forms of online instruction.  
  • 3 top concerns for the 20-21 school year were disparities in students’ opportunities to learn during the pandemic, students’ social and emotional learning needs, and insufficient funding to cover staff needs. 

The National Parents Union report, What Parents Really Think About Their Children’s Education , published on Dec. 7, shared findings from an Oct. survey of 1000 parents of public school students k-12, including:

  •  68% of parents are worried a lot/some about making sure their child stays on track in school. Low-income parents and parents of students with disabilities indicated their children are losing ground. Parents of kids in a hybrid model are least satisfied, compared to families using  in-person or fully remote models. 
  • Two thirds of parents want schools to rethink new ways to teach children as a result of COVID-19, while only 32% want schools to get back to pre-pandemic operation. 
  • 58% of parents want schools to continue to provide online options for students after the pandemic has ended and a vaccine is widely available. 

So, what does this mean for the future of schools? As an educational consultant, I’m gearing up to provide teachers, leaders, inclusion coaches, and families a treasure trove of support. I’ve brought my videographer, cartoonist, and web designer on board. I’ve reached out to educational technology and online learning experts. 

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