The COVID-19 pandemic forced educators across the country to pivot on the fly and adjust their style of teaching. The disruption was unprecedented, stressful, scary, and physically and mentally taxing for teachers and students. But it also created a once-in-a-generation opportunity: A chance to rethink education to meet the needs of all students.
As the first full school year since the pandemic has drawn to a close, it’s a good chance to reflect on what educators have learned and rethink the standard school curriculum for a new era.
While there are many lessons learned, we’ll focus on four:
- Curricula needs to be more inclusive and diverse
- Learning loss must be addressed
- Equity in schools and homes must be improved
- This is a golden opportunity for family empowerment
All people experience events in different, personal ways—even ones as world-sweeping as the COVID-19 pandemic. That goes for teachers as well as for children in the classroom. No one can have a full understanding of someone else’s lived experience.
Educators can acknowledge they don’t have the complete picture by understanding and confronting their own implicit bias. Simply being aware of what implicit biases are and how they can affect judgment will help educators better treat their students with equity.
It’s also important to incorporate diversity into the curriculum.
Jenni Torres, our Senior Vice President of Curriculum and Instruction here at Waterford.org, tackles this issue in a recent article for the American Consortium for Equity in Education.
“We must invest in a curriculum that both meets individual students where they are, and takes into account the perspectives of all students,” Torres writes. “We must invest in a curriculum that both meets individual students where they are, and takes into account the perspectives of all students.”
That’s important because incorporating diversity and multicultural awareness in the classroom not only helps students with different backgrounds succeed, but it also helps prepare students for an increasingly diverse world.
We Must Address Learning Loss From the Pandemic
One of the most important reasons for updating curricula is the specter of learning loss as a result of the pandemic.
Marion County School District Superintendent Dr. Kandace Bethea noted in a recent webinar that many students have not had sound instruction day-to-day since spring of 2020.
The ways schools have addressed summer learning loss in the past can provide a template for focusing on pandemic learning loss. Home-based reading programs can work to provide students access to books during the summer. Simply communicating with families over summer has also been effective.
The American Rescue Plan included $122 billion in funding for schools to reopen safely, including money to host summer programs to combat learning loss. Some states were able to use Waterford Upstart’s Summer Learning Path to help ensure students entering kindergarten are ready for school.
The pandemic illustrated that schools could continue to create educational spaces remotely, but not without addressing the inequity faced by many students.
The pandemic shone a harsh light on just how inequitable many students’ situations are. From lack of computer access to childcare issues, not all students got the same benefit from online learning. Educators worked hard to compensate as much as possible with asynchronous teaching and providing computers or internet access to students.
Confronting these issues required educators to think deeply about creating equity in education. As schools reopen, there’s an opportunity to keep that momentum going in creating equitable brick-and-mortar classroom spaces.
Here are five things to keep in mind when establishing an equitable classroom:
- Recognize every child has unique challenges and needs
- Cultivate an environment in which every student is heard
- Keep an open line of communication with families and parents, so they’re partners in their child’s education
- Seek equity training so you know how to resolve common barriers
- Add diversity and inclusion activities to school curriculum so every child knows they belong
This Is a Chance to Empower Parents and Families
The pandemic brought the classroom into homes, giving families a rare firsthand view of their children’s learning environment. Teachers can seize on that momentum and work to improve family empowerment and engagement.
One of the most accurate predictors of achievement in school isn’t a student’s socioeconomic status or even the school they attend. It’s family engagement in their children’s schools.
When families are engaged in their children’s school lives, students not only have support from home for schoolwork, but they are more likely to develop a love of learning.
That’s why it’s so important for teachers to encourage family involvement not just in classroom activities, but also in helping create a diverse curriculum.
Again, from Jenni Torres: “[E]ven when curriculum developers explicitly seek out voices and experiences to add to the content, it won’t be impactful without the support of educators and families who can complement content with conversations.” Teachers (and their classrooms) will benefit from having conversations with families about different perspectives and even painful experiences that make up shared history.
The pandemic was a once-in-a-generation challenge for teachers. That means it’s also a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the way we teach for all students.
Torres, Jenni. “Learning From the Pandemic to Develop More Universal Curriculum.” American Consortium for Equity in Education. March 2021. https://www.ace-ed.org/learning-from-the-pandemic-to-develop-more-universal-curriculum/
- The National Education Association (NEA). Confronting Implicit Bias Through Exemplary Educator Preparation. https://www.nea.org/assets/docs/23840%20Confronting%20Implicit%20Bias%20Thru%20Exemp%20Teacher%20Prep-v2.pdf
- PTA, N. (2000). Building Successful Partnerships: A Guide for Developing Parent and Family Involvement Programs. (pp. 11-12). Bloomington, Indiana: National PTA, National Education Service.
- Quinn, David M. and Morgan Polikoff. “Summer Learning Loss: What Is It, and What Can We Do About It?” Brookings Institute. September, 2017. https://www.brookings.edu/research/summer-learning-loss-what-is-it-and-what-can-we-do-about-it/
- Drexel University School of Education. “The Importance of Diversity and Cultural Awareness in the Classroom.” https://drexel.edu/soe/resources/student-teaching/advice/importance-of-cultural-diversity-in-classroom/