This is a particularly confusing time for many students and educators. We had hoped to begin the new school year in a post-pandemic world. We knew that there would still be a need for some precautions and mitigations, but few would have predicted when we left for the summer that we would face rising COVID cases, increasing hospitalizations, and emergence of new and more contagious forms of the virus when we returned in the fall.
Still, our mission is to nurture the learning of our students. We need to remain focused and diligent despite the background noise with which we may have to contend. We need to devote our energy and attention to building momentum and propelling learning forward, especially in the early weeks of school. Here are six tips to consider.
Create time for students to socialize. This may seem like surprising advice for building learning momentum, but many students need opportunities to connect with classmates and experience the social aspects of learning, especially now. Socializing is an important part of relationship and community building. Further, if students feel the need to socialize, they will find a way to do it. We will be better off, and learning will be more successful, if we give them some time and permission to socialize for a few minutes before focusing on academic work.
Honor and leverage non-academic skills students have learned during the pandemic. We hear a lot about what students have not learned over the past year. However, they also learned a lot that may not be included on a standardized test or appear in a formal gradebook. Whether it is how to better use technology to support their learning, develop independent work habits, or connect with classmates virtually for real time help, students learned a variety of important skills and techniques over the past year that can help them to succeed now. Meanwhile, don’t forget what you learned about classroom management and engaging students remotely. Those skills and practices can provide a wider array of options and be even more effective at engaging students in an in-person setting.
Form a class-wide team. There is power in defining the pandemic and its impact on learning as a common enemy we and our students face. We can build a sense of “being in this fight together” as we focus on learning that was not finished last year and build learning momentum to overcome the shared challenge we face. Identifying a common challenge and working together to defeat it can represent a significant strategic advantage over leaving each student to work alone to “catch up.” Developing plans, defining progress markers, and celebrating successes can be shared energy generators and pride builders.
Engage students in learning where they are. Obviously, we need to focus on what students need to learn. We can “slim down” the range of content and key skills we ask them to learn and focus on acceleration, but we need to remember that their learning starts where they are, not where we want them to be, or the curriculum imagines they should be. Choosing to begin this year like any other, assuming students come knowing what is typically taught in the previous grade can lead to frustration and failure for our students and for us. Finding where students’ learning is now needs to be our first step. Once we understand what students know we can plan what they need to learn next.
Keep parents informed and engaged. Throughout the past year, parents were often more engaged with and better informed about their children’s learning than in previous years. Many parents may be open to continuing this new and higher level of engagement as the new year begins. We can share tips and tasks parents can use to support their children’s learning. Their ongoing involvement can add energy to and build momentum for ongoing learning activities at home and school. Of course, we also need to ensure that parents remain as informed about learning progress and related activities as they were when their students were learning at home.
Maintain a focus on the future. While these may be difficult times, they will eventually pass. Our optimism, future focus, and confidence in our students can go a long way in helping them to see beyond the present and imagine their futures. The goals students set, the progress they make, and confidence they gain can build learning momentum that can carry them through the remaining pandemic and propel their success in the months and years ahead.