For educators, the transition from remote learning back to in-person classes has significantly impacted the perceptions and approaches there were with regard to learning and education. Specifically, the essential need to form learning communities filled with teachers, students, families and local individuals coming together to collaborate and innovate.
Yet, educators face many different challenges in the current and future classroom, including fears of lost learning time, students’ emotional and physical wellness and overall stress from the pandemic and education politics.
In our recent webinar, Newsela founder and chief academic officer Dan Cogan-Drew and Dr. Pamela Cantor invited Dr. David Miyashiro and Ron Berger to discuss their collected stories of finding “bright spots” in the challenges of the past couple of years. In this article, we’ll dive deeper into their firsthand accounts and stories of how communities have joined together with heroism and collaboration to drive the future of education.
Ron Berger, Chief Academic Officer, EL Education
Dr. David Miyashiro, Superintendent and education leader, Cajon Valley Union School District
Many faces of the same problem: stress
When looking at the current school system and the challenges that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Cantor explained that at the core of these difficulties, students are being asked to meet “the challenge of unremitting stress” on their minds and bodies.
Factors such as lost time in the classroom, the physical and emotional wellness of students, teacher exhaustion, or the state of education policy today all contribute to this unremitting stress and have psychological and physiological impacts on the body.
However, she also noted the opportunity that can come from disruption. “We can elevate solutions that are born of scarcity, exhaustion and creativity. Disruption does allow opportunities for innovation,” said Dr. Cantor.
Berger added to this point, “We need to not use a deficit mindset toward educators or kids… A lot of our partners and districts are working with kids in ways they never have before… The new approach considers the stress on the students and also respect for them and what they bring to the table.”
A window into new relationships between students and teachers
Before the pandemic, teachers had a limited view of the lives of their students, framed by the start and end of the school day. However, that boundary between home life and school life evaporated once students moved to online learning.
Berger shared an example of a student, an immigrant from Africa, who held three jobs in addition to going to school. When the student was coming to school in person, teachers had no idea of the expectations and stress that impacted her everyday life. Suddenly, teachers were more aware of students whose families worked multiple jobs and/or housed many generations in their homes.
With this newfound connectivity, teachers were inspired to build initiatives that help students and develop stronger relationships with their learners — all of which help to improve the overall quality of learning.
In Berger’s example, the student with three jobs was given an opportunity by her teacher to co-host a podcast and share her voice nationally with others. A one-of-a-kind outreach opportunity that would’ve never occurred without that deeper level of connection.
How communities and schools can support each other
Recent challenges to the national education system have also put a spotlight on the significant role communities, both in school and out of school, play in their districts.
Ron Berger spoke about how schools he works with were pre-wired for the pandemic by having the Crew program already in place. With Crew, students have daily meetings with peers to talk about their health and well-being, as well as to hold each other accountable for their learning. Crew groups were built-in support systems, a school-based community, for students who lost loved ones, were struggling with mental health, or needed an extra hand with academics or at home.
Dr. Miyashiro highlighted the steps his district took the day after California shut down and forced everyone to shelter in place (March 13, 2020). With 70% of his students living below the poverty line, he and the superintendent understood that if schools weren’t open, those kids weren’t going to be eating.
That Saturday, the superintendent sent out an email asking the community for any volunteers with an SUV and cooler to sign up on a Google sheet to start a distribution plan for the following Monday. By the end of the weekend, 3,000 people had signed up.
“The list included local churches, businesses, spouses and our own faculty and staff,” explained Dr. Miyashiro. “This helped start our collaboration with local organizations.”
What does change mean for the future of education?
As open communication between schools, teachers and students increased in the past couple of years, it became clearer that relationships were the key to the success of education.
“Relationships are the antidote to stress,” said Dr. Cantor. “They power the electrical power of the brain, they power motivation and they power engagement… There are positive effects if you power learning through a relationship model.”
Ready to learn more about the role of relationships in the future of education? Watch the full recorded webinar here.
This webinar is the third of a series on designing learning environments for successful whole-child instruction. Stay tuned for upcoming sessions discussing the evolving role of the teacher, and frameworks for assessing whole-child instruction