As my colleagues have been visiting school districts lately, it’s been clear that educators’ back-to-school stress is at a whole new level. It’s bound to be emotionally taxing when ramping up a new school year while we’re also still dealing with past and present ramifications of the pandemic. Is there a way to help ourselves bounce back a bit, to regain our energy, focus, and confidence? I asked my colleague Dr. Karen Baptiste, a former teacher and school leader who also has experience in social services, for some counsel to share with teachers. Her advice? Know when to say no.
Our expert researchers, evaluators, and veteran educators synthesize information gleaned from our research and blend it with best practices gathered from schools and districts around the world to bring you insightful and practical ideas that support changing the odds of success for you and your students. By aligning practice with research, we mix professional wisdom with real world experience to bring you unexpectedly insightful and uncommonly practical ideas that offer ways to build student resiliency, close achievement gaps, implement retention strategies, prioritize improvement initiatives, build staff motivation, and interpret data and understand its impact.
Does believing you can accomplish something help you to accomplish it? Actually, yes. After studying how groups work together in the 1970s, Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura coined the phrase “collective efficacy” to describe the sense of mutual trust and confidence that effective groups feel as they head into a challenge. He showed how the concept can lead to good things happening in all kinds of endeavors, including schools, where educators with strong collective efficacy have students who achieve at higher levels.
A recent McREL white paper co-authored by high school students highlighted student voice and perspectives during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the students’ most compelling observations was that teachers who were engaging before COVID continued to be engaging during online and hybrid instruction, and vice-versa. The difference between the two kinds of teacher, the students observed, wasn’t content mastery, but adaptability. In talking with teachers over the last year, it became clear to me that the most effective ones were able to transition their instruction to a virtual or hybrid format by being flexible and open-minded. Here are some of the things they learned, that all teachers might consider as school resumes.
The phrase “learning loss” came under criticism shortly after it started being used to describe what students experienced as a result of remote and hybrid learning during the last 18 months. With the pandemic already exacerbating a long list of educational inequities, the thinking goes, the last thing kids need is to be told they have lost something that it was not in their power to gain. I’m among those who think the phrase “learning loss,” along with its purported solution, “remediation,” can cause more problems than they solve. They epitomize deficit thinking, which can be perceived as accusatory by those on the receiving end—an impediment to engagement that can lead students and families to turn their backs on school. There’s also ample evidence that remediation is terrible at helping students learn and progress. This is why we’ve all been hearing about “accelerating learning” lately.
As schools make plans to return to in-person instruction in the fall, many are having crucial conversations about how to best use their staff resources to support students. One of these conversations centers on how to use instructional coaches in the upcoming year. As many coaches are considered “teachers on special assignment” and occupy a teacher’s salary, school leaders have begun to ask if there are better uses for their coaches. But coaching is an investment that benefits the quality of teaching throughout an entire school or district.
Many of the challenges that schools face heading into 2021-22 are technical in nature; the organization already possesses the knowledge needed to solve them. Others, however, are “adaptive” challenges that will require entirely new ways of thinking, working, and leading . . . and lots of collaboration.
We have all been through a very difficult, traumatic year-plus. The transition back to in-person school this spring or in the fall is an important time to strengthen and forge relationships—to rebuild routines and rituals or make new ones to create a community at school. It is a critical opportunity for educators to address attendance in a meaningful way. Educators can provide clear structures and expectations that say, We want to see you every day and help students and families get back into a regular routine of showing up to class.