In the coming weeks and months, many schools across the country will be making the transition from some type of remote or hybrid experiences to face-to-face teaching and learning. For most of us, moving back to more direct, in-person contact with each other is a welcome prospect.
Nevertheless, we need to attend to several issues and implications as we make the transition. Predictably, there will be people who assume that the process should be simple, immediate, and problem-free. Yet, our students will require some time to adjust after a long period of learning in a remote context without the support and distractions that come with learning in the same physical space as classmates. We too will need time to recalibrate our practices and expectations to reengage with students face to face.
We need to keep in mind that students have experienced different routines, expectations, and connections while learning remotely. Some of what students have experienced may easily and gleefully be abandoned in favor of what they recall from past face-to-face learning experiences. However, there likely are aspects of learning in the past several months that students want to bring back with them to the classroom. For example, most students have learned how to more fully integrate technology in the process of learning and may be reluctant to return to an instructional context that is less reliant on and integrative of technology. They also have learned skills and strategies for learning independently and accessing remote resources that can enhance learning back in the classroom. Now is a good time to survey students, hold focus groups, or interview students about their learning expectations and preferences as they transition back. Students will be happier and the shift will be smoother if the perspectives and preferences of students are considered and reflected in their experiences as they return.
Similarly, our expectations for student behavior had to be modified to reflect the context and variables present in remote learning. The return to in-person learning will mean that some of the flexibility students experienced might be lessened, but we need to be cautious to avoid tightening behavior expectations just because we can. Now is a good time to reflect on the behavior expectations that will best support learning. We need to draw on what we learned about motivation and engagement driven by learning interest and commitment, rather than rely on forced compliance through threats and consequences. The fact is that ownership for and commitment to learning grows when students have more choices in their learning and greater voice about how they will learn.
For some educators, remote learning has been a reality since the beginning of the year. Some of us have yet to meet our students in person. We have formed relationships and come to know our students in a distance learning context. These relationships can be strong, but they still will need attention when we return to in-person learning. We need to allocate time to renew relationships in a different context and build an in-person learning community. Of course, our efforts need to build on existing relationships with students and we need to support students to expand and deepen relationships they have formed with each other. Without question, the transition back will come with some anxiety, angst, and reluctance for some students. The more we can support them and reinforce relationships, the smoother and faster the transition will occur.
We also need to be alert to signs of emotional, psychological, and even physical trauma as students return. The past months have been stressful for all of us, but for some students the stress was compounded by family disruption, strife, and abuse. It was difficult in remote learning contexts to always pick up on signs of abuse and neglect and signals of emotional and psychological problems. For students whose remote learning experiences were colored by trauma, the transition may represent a welcome change, or it may represent more stress and lead to acting out and other troubling behaviors. We need to be ready to step in and provide support and connect them with any resources they may need to find their way forward to safety, good health, and success. In fact, this is a good time to review with colleagues the array of available resources and processes for accessing services.
Of course, we need to pay attention to where students are in their learning. Rest assured that they will not all be in the same place. Some students may have thrived during remote learning. Others will have struggled and fallen behind. We need to learn what students know and are ready to learn, and chart with them a path forward. Trying to replicate everything students have missed will not likely be the best choice. Rather, consider focusing on key concepts and skills students will need to support their progress. As time allows, these students will be better able to fill in content gaps using the core strategies and skills they have learned.
Finally, we need to stay attuned to our needs and feelings. While we may also be looking forward to the return to in-person instruction, it will take some time to find our stride and feel comfortable. We need to give ourselves some slack to adjust, while remembering and using what we have learned from remote instruction to lift our practice and enhance our impact.