The Teaching Must Go On, No Matter Where Students Are
With COVID-19 continuing to spread, school systems across the country have approached the fall semester in different ways.
For instance, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Houston Independent School District both decided to begin the 2020–2021 academic year online, with the latter anticipating a switch to in-person instruction after six weeks of virtual learning. Meanwhile, Georgia's Cherokee County School District reopened classrooms at the beginning of August, only to see more than 250 students quarantined after exposure to the coronavirus during the first week.
Although the teaching must unquestionably go on, many educators, union leaders, and experts have spoken out against asking teachers to compromise their own well-being by returning to brick-and-mortar schools before it is safe to do so.
Regardless of whether they deliver lessons online or face to face, teachers will be looking to prioritize student instruction and support during what promises to be an unusual school year. Read on for some techniques to do just that.
Recognize the new normal
While we all want the pandemic to be over sooner rather than later, public health experts are predicting that precautions such as mask-wearing and social distancing may need to stay in effect for approximately the next two years.
In a recent episode of his weekly COVID-19 podcast, infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Osterholm emphasized that there is simply no way to safely rush through a pandemic, despite everyone's desire for school—and other areas of life—to go back to normal.
Instead, Dr. Osterholm urged his audience to both prepare for and accept the "ups and downs and ins and outs" associated with the pandemic running its course. Moreover, he encouraged school communities to plan around shutdowns and upheavals, as these disruptions are likely to continue for a while.
"Declutter" the curriculum
When the nation went into lockdown earlier this year, many Americans seized the opportunity to spring-clean their living spaces. As they sorted through the possessions they had accumulated over the years, some individuals chose to emulate the Marie Kondo approach of asking "Does it spark joy?" when determining which items to jettison and which to keep. (For the unfamiliar, Kondo—who stars in her own Netflix series—provides advice on how to apply Japanese principles of organization and simplicity to one's home in the name of greater focus and efficiency.)
So, how does this relate to education? In a recent blog post on the Albert Shanker Institute website, contributors Jal Mehta and Shanna Peeples encouraged teachers worried about the upcoming school year to "Marie Kondo the curriculum" as a way to set themselves up for success amid ongoing coronavirus-related uncertainties.
According to Mehta, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Peeples, the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, many teachers are working with a curriculum that is "as cluttered as most American houses" due to years of mission creep and committee-based decision-making. To address this issue, the duo outlined a five-step curriculum simplification method that teachers can use to better meet their students' current needs.
Activate distance learning
Beyond decluttering the curriculum, it is also important for educators to rethink the way they teach at a time when more students than ever before are involved in distance learning.
As Arizona State University professor Lindy Elkins-Tanton asserted in a recent Slate article, "Online teaching should be active and interactive. That's what works best online, and it's what works best overall."
Yet both in person and remotely, many teachers default to a passive approach classified by Elkins-Tanton as an extremely ineffective way to inspire and educate students. In her opinion, lecture-driven teaching not only numbs learners' natural curiosity but assumes a one-size-fits-all approach that is "anti-equity" and does not provide enough space for students to develop a sense of ownership and excitement over their own learning and their future potential.
For teachers eager to embrace active learning strategies in any setting, Elkins-Tanton offered a list of starting points such as collaborating with peers, finding ways for students to work together, and encouraging students to actively participate in the structure and purpose of the class.
The bottom line
As the 2020–2021 academic year kicks off, educators who recognize the new normal, take steps toward decluttering the curriculum, and embrace active learning both in the classroom and remotely can help set up their school communities for success. After all, no matter the obstacles placed in their path, the teaching must go on.
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