Earlier tonight, I watch my local Board of Education meet mostly in an empty board room and approve a plan that would return students back to school in a few weeks. While I had my own strong opinions about the return of students and educators to school this fall, I listened with open ears and really sought to understand. Our superintendent and district staff has worked hard with input from school administrators to create three plans for the return of students. Last week, our Governor shared that systems may only choose one of two plans eliminating the plan would return all students fully to the classroom for now.
As I listened to tonight’s board meeting, three things were very obvious to me. One is that our district administrators have spent a tremendous amount of time and effort to create the best plan possible. Also, they have worked really hard to provide forums for educators to share concerns. One of the more uplifting things that I will remember about this time is that I have seen a lot of empathy shared from administrators at both our central office and at the school level. I know that this is not easy for many individuals but I am so pleased to see that our system worked hard to model what they wanted educators to have with students, take the time to listen, be present, and humanize relationships.
Another thing that I observed during the board meeting is that I felt all board members really wanted to do what was best for students. I don’t think anyone can question that. The way that we resume school is not an easy answer. Everyone wants students back in the building in a face to face environment. However, there are safety concerns and we must acknowledge that. Many educators are uncertain about what the next few weeks will hold and several are anxious about their own safety and well being as well as their students' well being. I was also happy to see that the board strongly considered the working schedule of teachers who were teaching both face to face and virtually. I was concerned that the hybrid plan that was approved would translate into double work for teachers. While this may still be true, several board members realized this and shared that they did not want this to be double work. I hope and pray that that will be closely monitored as we move forward with the plan that was approved.
Fast forward toward the end of the meeting and the board approves a plan to have our students attend 2 days a week in face to face with 3 days at home with virtual/digital learning. Cohorts will rotate and Wednesday will be a workday for teachers. Families may also opt to do entire virtual instruction as well. While many may be unhappy with the plan and will be challenging for many educators, I realized that we are now seeing a new challenge for our parents, stakeholders, and greater community.
As we move forward, we will have to rely on parents in a way that we have never before. I realize that parents have much not their plate. As the father of an 8 year old son, I know the challenges associated with getting my son to do his work in a timely fashion. I also realize that my son is fortunate in that he has two educator parents who will support him, see that the has the resources needed, and push hard to learn. Unfortunately, not all parents have this ability. We are privileged enough that we can take time out in the evening to help him or find friends who can assist him. We don’t have to work multiple jobs and make the difficult choice about helping my child learn or making sure that rent or the mortgage gets paid. We must acknowledge this and find ways to fill some of the gaps that many of our students face. It is time for those parents who can to be deeply involved in the education of their own students. It is also time that other stakeholders including elected officials work to actively support rigorous learning that transforms all students into independent learners. It is time that many community organizations such as churches work to fulfill this missions to help all. We have got to have everyone on board supporting all students, especially those who may not have advocates. I would encourage each person to ask what the organizations, businesses, and community agencies can do to help ensure that all students are successful.
While many will be unhappy with the board’s decision, it is time that we unite to find the resources, support, and materials needed to ensure that no students fall into the gaps that will exist. We also have to ensure that our students are prepared to be active participants in their learning. Learning is something that they need to be willing to take the responsibility for and not lay it all on the teachers. Students must be active partners in their learning along with educators and the community. When we went to emergency remote learning, I heard many parents say that this did not work for their student. Part of this may be due to the sudden and involuntary change in instructional delivery. But I also wonder how many students were prepared to be online students. This is a mindset shift and requires responsibility on the student that is not required in the face to face classroom.
As we move forward, we must help our students understand what is needed in order to be successful as an online student. It can be a completely different set of behaviors and expectations than being in the classroom. It also requires students to be active in the learning process, to ask questions if they don’t understand, seek help when needed, and use feedback appropriately. We have to also work to provide the professional development needed for teachers to learn best practices and what works in virtual instruction. We must provide time for teachers and students to learn how to learn digitally.
Each of these are extraordinary challenges that no one individual can surmount. But collectively, we can and will rise to meet these challenges. We must work together to support our students and ensure that both the students and educators can safely learn whether in the face to face classroom or virtually. We must continue to show empathy to all and work to find real solutions to the problems that exist. This challenge is too important not to overcome. Let’s remember that as we move forward.
The ideas shared here are my own and do not necessarily represent my employers, associations, or organizations. These thoughts are entirely my own.