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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
Education must apply pandemic lessons to improve system
From the Executive Director, Wesley Smith
April 26, 2021
Whether the quote “Never let a good crisis go to waste” is more accurately attributed to Winston Churchill or “Rules for Radicals,” I struggle with calling COVID-19 a “good” crisis. The loss of life and negative impact on the mental health and wellness of our students and educators have been severe and will impact us for years to come.
That being said, the pandemic has provided us the opportunity and the impetus to learn, innovate and evolve. To do so, we must apply a metacognitive lens — identify what we have learned, reflect on those learnings and apply that knowledge moving forward. Our education system must be better exiting the pandemic than it was entering it.
As I interact with amazing site, district and county leaders across the state, I have asked them, “What has your system learned during the pandemic and how will your system be better because of what you have learned?” One of the first things our leaders identify is the renewed focus on building relationships that support whole-child and whole-adult success.
Relationships have always been foundational, but our current realities have made them even more important. Dr. Pedro Noguera recently mentioned in an interview that relationships must come first, “relationships before content.” Our teachers have found creative ways to let their students know they care about them, and our students have commented that their teachers’ genuine care and concern for them has motivated them to persevere. Similarly, those systems that have prioritized labor/management relationships have more adeptly navigated constantly changing dynamics.
Another widely held lesson is the need to eliminate the digital divide that disproportionately impacts students and families, and the power and potential of virtual connections. Moving to distance learning illuminated the expanse of the digital divide. Districts and counties across the state marshaled their resources — including partnerships — to provide internet access and devices to students and families. The First Partner and state Superintendent of Public Instruction secured 70,000 devices and 100,000 mobile hotspots from businesses and philanthropies for school distribution. We have a long way to go to eliminate the digital divide and inherent inequities, but the pandemic has accelerated our progress.
Just as important, education systems have learned how to connect virtually with students, parents/caregivers and communities. Before the pandemic, many of our systems were limited to offering instruction, intervention and support during the school day while students were in person. Educators were forced during the pandemic to find virtual ways to connect and support their students. Consider how many teachers, counselors or support staff had experience using WebEx, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, etc. before the pandemic.
As one educator shared, “The pandemic forced us to meet students where they are ... our interventions and responses to student needs will be more robust in the future.” Another shared that they will “be able to tutor students at diverse times including evenings and weekends” and reduce time out of class.
The innovations around virtual connections are not limited to the “classroom.” Education leaders have also identified significant growth in parent involvement using technology. They point to participation increases in school site councils, DELAC meetings and IEP meetings. They recognize that “eliminating barriers to participation like childcare, travel time and meals have made parents and caregivers feel welcomed and empowered.”
These and other lessons like improvements in grading — what students know and are able to do versus compliance and completion; the importance of community partnerships to reduce educator fatigue; and skillsets like time management, coping with frustration and self-advocacy will improve our systems for generations so long as we learn from said lessons and carry that knowledge forward in policy and practice.
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