As I step into the new year, my mind is forever in school mode, #educatormindset. Educators are in the trenches of the school year. The academic calendar, a sort of rite of passage, packed with an array of student experiences and many life milestones. The first day of school, the first sports team try out, the first dance, school concerts, theater productions, and graduation ceremonies are commemorative moments that mark progression through the academic calendar. 2020 has ended quickly and as we progress into 2021, we must ask ourselves: What we have learned? What are the key takeaways from the 2020 school year? Are we prepared for teaching and learning in a world that was abruptly transformed by the course of COVID-19?
Teaching and learning in a world changed by COVID-19 is an opportunity to transform what education looks like with innovation that really matters. Taking on this monumental task, the educational community will have to be collaborative, responsive to new ideas, and provide support on addressing students’ academic, social, and emotional needs. Redefining and planning for better learning outcomes changes the focus of education to include more than just content but to incorporate connections. Humans are social creatures and we learn through connections, experiences, and relationships. Social Entrepreneur, Kim Smith of New School Ventures, at the Reimagining Education Webinar discussed what trends the parent and community stake holders are seeking from schools. She provided four value sets as follows:
- Custodial Care
- Academic Content
- Social Relationships / Social Developments
Remember those milestone moments? One school year ended in June and another began in September with millions of students missing out on important school experiences. Before education can meet the above value sets, data needs to be examined including both academic and social emotional learning data. “Students who develop ways to cope with stress, emotions, feelings, and behaviors in different situations are likely to do better academically.” (Messano, Childress, and Atwood, 2020, How To meet Students’ Social – Emotional and Academic Needs When Schools Reopen).
The time for reimagining and redesigning education policy is here, with so many competing priorities to tackle. Through technology, we have access to more student data than ever before. Data may feel like the topic of yesteryear but moving forward, schools can no longer be focused solely on performance data. Schools need to be student support–driven, cultivating a sense of belonging, developing emotional strengths, and focusing on relationship skills. The work students do now will prepare them for their career and help them to become the people they want to be in this world. Nurturing true motivation is essential for academic success. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) data is the missing piece of what student information assessment data cannot tell you. Quantitative data shows that a student is chronically absent for first period. It is equally, if not more, important to report why, using qualitative data to paint a complete picture. It is from the intersection of both types of data that educators can gain the comprehensive profile of information needed to make assessments and ultimately make changes that positively impact student outcomes.
My key takeaway:
At this moment, education researchers and policymakers have an opportunity to use the wealth of available data to contemplate the rationale and outcomes of our existing policies. Education technology now affords us the tools new models of learning and assessment such as project based and competency-based learning, driven by robust data. These models allow students to prove understanding on more personal and authentic terms, while also effectively utilizing the resources of time and money for school districts. All stakeholders in the education industry need to open the conversation to schools, teachers, students, and their families. We need their voices to rethink how we educate within the physical classroom walls and the virtual ones as the pandemic has forced us to teach beyond prior norms.
Written by Briana Helm, Educator.