This week I delivered a number of Chromebooks and WiFi hotspots to students in our school community. I was surprised by the mixed emotions I felt as I stopped at trailers, houses, and apartments to drop-off the devices. It was great to see my students and register their excitement at the prospect of being able to use technology to connect with teachers and classmates, but it was also humbling to be “hit in the face” by the reality faced by many of our families. I was filled with regret for not getting devices to them sooner. Worried about their health — physical and emotional. Concerned about their living conditions, the heat (we are already in the 100’s here in Phoenix), and their access to food and basic supplies. Frustrated to be standing at their door with a facemask and gloves and unable to shake hands, hug, or high-five.
After getting into my truck after the last delivery, I thought of a quote and image that a dear friend shared on his Facebook feed.
We are all in the same storm. We are not in the same boat. – Damian Barr
This is certainly true of our battle with the Coronavirus and it has always been true about struggles to provide equitable access to quality education for all of our kids. The current school closure and crisis highlight the inequities in our education system (as well as many other aspects of our society) and it is likely that those who were struggling before Coronavirus will be disproportionately impacted by the disruption to school and education.
To that end, I have started to read and consider, how we will return to school and ensure that all of our students have equal access to educational success. The possible scenarios appear to be endless and overwhelming. However, I think there are a few core tenets we must plan for if we are going to be successful.
- Maslow before Bloom. Regardless of your school setting, or circumstances, it is going to be important to recognize that many families are going to be focused on survival, and school may not be a priority (certainly not a top priority). As an educational community, we are going to need to do all that we can to ensure our students have access to basic supplies, food, school materials, and social/emotional support. If we don’t help bear some of that burden we can forget about kids being able to focus on school
- Embrace technology. I can already hear some of you saying this should have been done years ago. You are right. However, there is no sense in shaming educators for a lack of familiarity or comfort level with technology. But, we are going to have to provide ongoing professional development and access to tools to enhance instruction — whether in a traditional classroom setting or via online/distance learning. As educators, we have an obligation to our students to “get up to speed” and learn to purposefully use technology to provide meaningful learning experiences
- Ensure equitable access to technology. This is a significant hurdle (as illustrated by my tech deliveries this week). We have to be prepared for the possibility of staggering attendance (to reduce the level of physical interaction), providing resources to at-risk populations for whom a traditional school setting may not be an option and the possibility of rolling school closures. In other words, we have to be ready for anything. This means getting a device into the hands of every student and ensuring they have internet access. In my humble opinion, this can not all fall on schools and districts. Let’s face it — we aren’t exactly rolling in money. We are going to have to enlist the help of corporations, non-profits, small businesses, churches, and our local communities. “Packets” of work are not adequate education. Asking students to learn and complete assignments on a cellphone using spotty service isn’t going to cut it.
- Be flexible and become comfortable with the unknown. Truth be told, we don’t know exactly what lies ahead. We are “building the airplane as we fly it.” Educators are going to need to demonstrate flexibility, empathy, a consistently reflective attitude, and a reasonable level of comfort with the unknown. Effective teachers and school staff members are constantly working to build a growth mindset in their students. Now, more than ever, we have to be sure we approach our work with this outlook. Don’t be afraid of failure. Learn from it.
- Build and maintain relationships. As educators, we are going to have to reconsider how we do this — especially if we have diminished face-to-face access with our students.
No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship. – James Comer
This is going to be especially important as we work with an increased number of students who have experienced trauma, anxiety, and social-emotional issues related to the Coronavirus pandemic. It’s difficult to replace personal interaction for building relationships, but we are going to need to be creative and do our best through synchronous learning, opportunities for online chats, text messages, phone calls, and other mediums of interaction.
There are obviously many other things to consider (including safety issues related to the virus), and A LOT of work to be done as we prepare for the 2020-21 school year. These are just a few of the things that came to the forefront as I begin to think about how to help my school and staff members get ready for what lies ahead. It is daunting but doable.
Please comment, or connect with me on Twitter. I would love to be a part of optimistic and creative discussions about how school leaders can identify and tackle the challenges of a new and dramatically different school year.
Until then. Be safe and stay the course!