Parents, some of you made such a commotion about sending your kids back to school as quickly as possible. And I am just watching you on TV, asking myself “Why rush back to school?” If you think your child’s teacher was terrible during distance learning, she was probably worse pre-COVID19, and will be worse post-COVID19.
Think about it. Distance learning was the most transparent scenario to observe your child’s teachers in action. The teachers knew we were watching. Because the possibility existed that they might be seen by a parent, teachers were on their best behavior during distance learning.
Once back in the classroom, with no parents running surveillance, and administrators more concerned with safety than with the quality of instruction, many teachers will breathe a sigh of relief. Soon after, the guard will drop. We’ll be back to business as usual pre-COVID19 style, in no time. All the gains made by our teachers will be lost. So why rush back to school??? People! Please think outside the box!
Let’s choose not to lose the gains that have been made
As an active member of the school site council at two schools I had the opportunity to listen to teachers discuss their distance learning experience. It was promising to hear teachers adamantly asking to be equipped with the software they were licensed to facilitate their instruction online. They asked for laptop carts and projectors to use in the classroom to replicate the visual effects they produced during distance learning. Nice! The really thoughtful ones asked for extra cords, cables, and Chromebooks in anticipation of wear and tear. Good thinking! I even overheard a couple of teachers say “We’re not going back to the way it was before!”
If THIS is the new attitude most teachers will exit distance learning with, public education just experienced a tremendous gain. How so? Think about it! Twelve months earlier most teachers couldn’t figure out how to log into Zoom, much less know how to use Nearpod, Google Jamboard, Microsoft Sway, Scratch, Google Keep, or Padlet. Now they do. Let’s not let them lose that knowledge. Because if they do then why rush back to school?
How do you preserve a gain like this?
Had COVID-19 not happened teachers would not have yet developed their appreciation for 21st century instructional tools. But instructional tools are not the only things that need to be upgraded to the 21st century. Still stuck in a 19th century paradigm are the concepts of curriculum, standardized testing, fear-based incentivization, prioritizing attendance over learning, etc… Without a 21st century upgrade in these other areas, the gains forced by COVID-19 will be no more than a convenience for teachers. And, if that is the scenario we anticipate, then why rush back to school?
Teachers must be challenged to leverage the gains they experienced in the use of instructional technology to deliver true and effective differentiated instruction. They must do the same with the application SEL and ELD strategies with fidelity to the procedures and depth of thinking these teaching and learning models demand.
Will Richardson, author, blogger, educationist, and speaker on educational technology spoke at a Tedx Talks event in 2015. He spoke about this very necessary upgrade educators needed to make if we are to adequately prepare our youth for the world they are inheriting.
He has many published works, including the book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, and the edublog Weblogg-ed which he wrote from 2001 to 2011.
I took screenshots of some of the slides Mr. Richardson used during his talk. I’ve added a couple of my own to elaborate or accentuate where I thought it was necessary. You see, I am an Educationist also.
What do you believe about how kids learn best?
In this set of slides Richardson shares a summary of what he has heard from audiences around the world when asked the question above. Pay close attention to the slide entitled “What people never say.” It describes how most teaching still happens today. If that is what our kids have to look forward to, then why rush back to school?
It’s True! Schools were never built for learning
In the prior set of slides Richardson touches on the ethereal influences that affect our beliefs about how schooling is done. I elaborated on his thought by providing you with a summary of the history of education in the United States. As you read through the chronology you too will understand that those that made public education happen, always had the bottom line as the ulterior motive and true driver of their investment.
That motive has shaped the design of our public school system – down to prison-like design of many of our older larger schools. You do not even notice it, because you yourself were born into this construct. Think about it. Every day millions of children are required to wake up early and come home late, because they must catch a bus (or get driven by dad) to go across town. Why? Just to be able to attend a school that is safe and may offer a slightly better opportunity to learn.
Think about how counterintuitive that is when you have half a dozen schools in your neighborhood. Think about how unconducive to learning this is for the kids, especially if they have parents who have trouble getting out of the house on time. None of this has to be this way. Think of your mileage. Think about the taxpayer dollars that go into keeping a fleet of diesel fueled, air-polluting, lung killing school buses.
But because this and other relics of public school transportation was around when we were kids, we just accept them as normal.
This is what is already happening to our youth because we haven’t moved public education back into the 21st century
Educator stubborness is driving families away from traditional public schools
I really hope this recent experience has charged up teachers to proactively continue to innovate and learn before this window of opportunity escapes us. Already 2,000,000+ American youth are homeschooling. They have officially rejected the current public school system. Trust me, these are not a bunch of white Christian Evangelical zealots many of you may think make up these 2 million people; not even close.
And guess what? These homeschooled youth have a higher rate of college admission than traditional public school students. And that gap is growing. A COVID-19 survey of parents who set up their own Learning Pods found that many have already decided they are not sending their children back to traditional schools, ever. COVID19 provided them the opportunity to try something different, and they realized they can do better on their own.
I know several of these non-returning parents and homeschooler parents. They sat there with me as we watched hysterical parents on TV threaten our Governor, pressure him to open up our public schools, and use their children’s mental state and need to socialize as the premise for their anxiety. Homeschoolers figured out how to balance this dichotomy years ago. All we could do is watch and ask, “Why the rush back to school?”
Richardson must be a fan of the KISS principle. Simple solutions are always the best. That means they’ve been thought through, and all the fluff has been removed. Simple solutions for simple questions, like “Why rush back to school? is what more educators need to demand from our instructional leaders.
Have you ever attended a district or county office of education teacher training? Are you as amazed as I am at how much paper they consume to prepare binders for their trainees? Now that is comedy.
Give them a 1 inch – ring binder, and they will fill it up. Give them 2 inch – ring binder, and they will fill it up with paper that no one reads or uses after the training is done. You won’t get that from Mr. Richardson.
So why rush back to school?
I have no idea. The eldest asked to stay 100% distance, and so that is what she will get. The youngest has asked to hybridize, and so that is what she will get. We are not holding onto any absolute truths. It is virtually impossible to know what is truth anymore. Those who pretend to know what it is can go fly a kite.
Bottom line is that our school district needed to make a decision, because something had to be done. And something is better than nothing. Nobody else could have come up with a better solution, because no one really knows what is going to work. The best thing we, the actual parents, can do is support our principals and teachers, and let the professionals do their job. They have enough on their plate.
However, if our public schools begin to show they have embraced John Dewey’s mission, it will be as evident as the difference between night and day. And, I will be the first in line.