Admittedly, the pandemic has caused confusion, trauma, and disruption. It has also offered important insights, alternatives, and opportunities to make schools better as teachers and students return in the fall. The experience we gained, the challenges we faced, and the lessons we learned can be harvested to provide some important modifications and improvements, but only if we commit to identifying, applying, and leveraging them.
We know that pre-pandemic learning environments did not meet the needs of many students and educators. Now is the time to address some of the most intractable deficits of traditional education. However, we need to make specific commitments and allocate resources in ways that make the changes realistic and sustainable. Shifts in classroom practices, the role of learners, the nature of professional learning, and improvements in other areas are within our reach. Let’s explore eight post-pandemic predictions for this fall based on lessons we have learned.
Prediction #1. Instruction and learning experiences will be more responsive to student readiness and needs.
Lesson learned: One-size, standardized instruction does not meet the needs of too many students. Remote learning during the pandemic made this truth even more visible and had an exaggerated impact on learning.
Prediction #2. The focus on building relationships and creating communities of learning will grow, gain greater credibility, and be viewed with increased urgency.
Lesson learned: Building and sustaining connections and strong support presented a difficult challenge during remote learning. Unfortunately, where strong relationships were absent, students experienced lower levels of engagement, increased feelings of isolation, and lower levels of learning.
Prediction #3. Families will remain more directly involved in their children’s learning.
Lesson learned: Families can be effective and influential partners in their children’s learning, if given the right opportunities, adequate support, and necessary guidance. While in most families the intensity of involvement will retreat, there will remain an important role for families to play.
Prediction #4. Classroom rules and discipline will offer increased flexibility and tap student motivation to manage behavior.
Lesson learned: Many of the immediate behavior control levers available during in-person learning were not available during remote learning, so educators were forced to consider, adopt, and develop other strategies that led students to choose to cooperate and engage. These strategies are also effective in developing self-regulation, self-motivation, and learning independence as students return to in-person learning. Consequently, they will increasingly be recognized as key features of effective practice.
Prediction #5. Teachers who must be absent will have options to connect and lead instruction remotely.
Lesson learned: During remote learning, teachers routinely engaged their students in learning without being physically present. Many of the same tools and strategies can offer options for educator parents who need to be home with an ill family member, deal with a contagious disease, or otherwise be physically separated from school. While an in-person monitor may need to be present in the classroom, remote instruction can maintain continuity of learning even when the physical presence of the teacher is not practical.
Prediction #6. Professional learning will be more flexible, practical, and personalized.
Lesson learned: The pandemic forced rapid learning, flexible approaches, and increased collaboration. Learning that resulted led to shifts in instructional practices and modified classroom environments and innovative approaches. Lessons about flexibility, practicality, timeliness, purposefulness, and collaboration in professional learning will continue to be important to teachers beyond the pandemic experience.
Prediction #7. Technology will be a more integrated tool for students to gain knowledge, apply new learning, and generate insights and ideas.
Lesson learned: Prior to the pandemic, technology was often an appendage to the learning environment rather than a central tool for learning. Remote learning shifted technology to be a crucial access tool and learning conduit. Many educators also discovered the power of technology to give students a voice in their learning, an outlet for their creativity, and a way to extend their learning beyond the confines of prepared lessons.
Prediction #8. Remote learning options will remain available to learners with conditions and where needed.
Lesson learned: Remote learning can offer important flexibility to meet specific needs and unique circumstances. Some families may choose to continue remote learning in response to their children’s needs. Remote learning might also be helpful in response to extended school absences for travel, illness, etc. Of course, remote learning might also play a useful role during short term disruptions such as inclement weather and natural disasters.
If we fail to honor and apply the lessons learned during the pandemic, we are likely to find that schools and classrooms return to what existed prior to the pandemic. Unless we make these changes a priority and provide professional learning support and adequate resources, we risk losing some of the most important and beneficial outcomes of what has been a difficult and disruptive year.