Monday, July 27, 2020

Education here and now: Opportunity is knocking. Will we open the door?

The tunnel may look dark at times, but look closely
and find the light. It is there and we can hop on and go!
(Photo by Rebekah Remkiewicz)
For the past several weeks, my household of educators has talked at great length about education of the past, but more importantly, education of the future.

As districts nationwide look at what learning will look like as the school year begins, there is a bigger picture to consider. Some are equating distance or remote learning with schools being closed; however, we can and should look at things much differently. Classes may not take place within the walls of the classroom, but schools will open.

We have talked for years about breaking down the walls of the classroom to build learning into something more than reading from textbooks and filling in worksheets. We now have the opportunity to do that and so much more.

We first and foremost have to stop looking at the current situation as a problem that needs fixing and start looking at it as an opportunity. We have a golden opportunity to transform education, here and now. We can change education for the better. We can make a difference and create positive change. It is dangerous to threaten schools with the idea of pulling funding. If you think schools being physically closed equates to them being non-operational, you are not paying close enough attention. Teachers across this country and around the world have worked hard, many on their own time, to prepare and learn for the ever-changing challenges ahead and to bring the best to their students. Administrators, teachers, cafeteria workers, and other school employees have worked to invest their time to be a part of this transformation process, and they will continue to do so.

We have an opportunity to shift toward those things we know are right and that we know work. Among those, we should look at later start times. We can meet students where they are and bring them along on an educational journey. California plans to shift to later start times within the next couple of years. Let's start now. Students can begin their asynchronous learning in the late morning and meet for synchronous sessions in the afternoons.  We cannot do remote learning -- which is different than crisis learning (as we experienced in the spring) -- the same way we do in-classroom instruction. We cannot expect students to sit in front of their screens for hours at a time. We should have them DOING learning. Have them plant a fall garden. How will it be different than a garden they planted in the spring? Provide them with canvases and paint pictures that demonstrate something they learned in their history instruction. Promote reading novels and have them create book trailers. Really dive into the writing process. Have them write everything from poetry to short stories to news articles. Is it a challenge? Absolutely. Is it a problem? No. It is a challenging opportunity to create change.

"Students will fall behind," some argue. Fall behind who? Fall behind in what? And, by what measure? If we do learning differently, then outcomes will also look different. Different does not mean bad. Different, quite simply, is just that. Different.

We can be at the forefront. We can be leaders in the changing tide of education. We can protect our teachers, students, and families while seeing this as an opportunity rather than a problem. In addition to growing gardens, students can build things at home, cook, and learn through those processes. We are on the cusp of a shift. Let's make it happen.

From Joe Sanfelippo's LDI Keynote address on Saturday,
July 25, 2020. We must help people see the INVESTMENT
that is education. (Photo by Rebekah Remkiewicz)
I attended a (virtual) conference keynote on Saturday. I found myself nodding in agreement throughout Joe Sanfelippo's keynote. He shared many things that fell right in line with the conversations that I have had at home with my retired educator parents, in forums and phone calls with friends who are educators, and in study with fellow educators. One of the biggest take-aways of his keynote, for me, was that the time has come that we help people stop seeing school as something we pay for and start seeing it as an investment. I have read far too many times where people want to demand their tax dollars back because they don't have school-age children or they see remote learning the same as school closures. What if we did more to help them see that those tax dollars are actually an investment in the future for everyone. Education is the very foundation upon which careers are built. We guide students through so much that ultimately benefits so many. And we can continue to do this and we can make it even better and better.

We can unlock the potential this opportunity offers us as educators.
(Photo by Rebekah Remkiewicz)
Before people start entertaining the idea of cutting funding (which will cut salaries), they need to think about the teachers who have responded to texts and emails even in the middle of the night. Before the pandemic, if I saw a message come through from a parent or had a student reach out for help on an assignment, I did not stop and look at the clock. I did what needed to be done. Since March, many teachers have continued to do this and moreso. They see that assignments are being completed late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. They have a communication roll through from a concerned parent. They see what needs to be done, and they do it. Additionally, many teachers have invested time in training and more to continue to build their skills and add to their toolbox so that they can prepare their instruction for remote learning. They give of their time and of their talent and through a passion for education to provide the best possible learning for students. This is just a part of the educational investment we make.
We can travel this path of opportunity together.
(Photo by Rebekah Remkiewicz)
There exist some very legitimate concerns about access. I know some things are happening behind the scenes in districts everywhere to help with this, but I have a few thoughts as well. One, get Google and/or Microsoft to team up with Acer, HP, and other manufacturers to make sure every school district is one-to-one. Perhaps Apple can help with this as well. iPads for TK-2 and laptops/Chromebooks for grade three and up. Two, districts can team up with AT&T, Charter, Comcast, and other Internet sever providers to make sure all families with school-age children have Internet access. Perhaps treat it similar to free and reduced lunch when discussing pricing. Three, stagger start times and synchronous learning sessions. A family with multiple children may have a lot of difficulty with multiple synchronous learning sessions for hours at a time. This must be considered by every school and district. We want our students to show up. Some may feel left out before they even start. Attendance and accountability are important, but we must give students the reason to want to show up and the ability to stay there once they do. If they know they will be marked absent if their connection fails in the middle of a synchronous session, what motivation do they have to rejoin the session? Five, we absolutely must act with grace across the board. Grace for our students. Grace for our teachers. Grace for our administrators. Grace for our families. We can see this current situation as a problem and institute strict guidelines that will potentially burn out teachers, students, and families; or, we can see this as an opportunity to do something EDUAWESOME.

We may never have another opportunity such as this. Let's be the change. We are the change. Our students and families deserve it.