The pandemic has at times both bewildered and humbled us. Occasionally, our confidence waned and uncertainty haunted us. Meanwhile, our circumstances also pressed us to learn and grow as educators. We found ourselves in places where much of what we relied upon to organize our work and engage our students was no longer available. We had to decide whether to persist as though nothing had changed or shift our attention and efforts to develop new strategies, create new learning environments, and nurture new relationships with our students.
Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of us chose to engage, learn, and grow in response to the challenges we faced. It wasn’t always easy and the path was often not clear. We weren’t always successful, but one thing is clear: We grew, added skills, and expanded the strategies and approaches we employed to connect with students and nurture their learning.
Now is a good time to pause and reflect on how far we’ve come and what we have accomplished. Of course, there is more to do and ways to still get better. Yet, if we fail to take stock of our progress and appreciate our successes, we risk losing our momentum and stalling our growth. To help us start our reflection, here are five key areas worthy of note and celebration.
We developed a new appreciation for and command of technology tools and developed crucial skills and strategies for using technology to nurture and support learning. Prior to the pandemic, technology often served as an option for and enhancement of the experiences we offered to learners. It quickly shifted to a primary vehicle for reaching and teaching students. As we look to the future, we now have available to us a rich and expansive set of options on which we can call to support our instruction and nurture the learning of our students.
We learned to lessen our dependence on compliance to manage student behavior and developed strategies to gain their commitment and engagement. When we shifted to remote learning many of the tools and much of the leverage to control student behavior disappeared. In response, we increasingly relied on intrinsic motivation and self-discipline to create conditions to support learning. As we make the transition back to full face-to-face learning, we can bring this expanded set of skills and strategies to build classroom communities and culture that are less reliant on compliance and coercion.
We learned to instruct with less dependence on presentation and more reliance on exploration and experience. Whether synchronous or asynchronous, lessons had to include variety, opportunity, and purpose, or we risked losing the attention and engagement of students. We developed an ever-widening set of options, opportunities, and experiences to keep students connected with learning while maintaining a focus on standards and benchmarks. In short, instruction became more learner-centered and the learning experience became more customized.
We spent more time and energy focused on developing self-regulation habits to help students become more skilled and independent learners. We have always aspired to have our students become more independent, self-regulating, and self-motivated. The pandemic has magnified the importance of self-management as a learning skill well beyond where it was in the past. This set of skills has consistently determined the success of students during remote learning, but they are also, increasingly, core skills for success in the workplace.
We also expanded our skills and strategies to assess learning. We were pressed to move beyond assessments that were vulnerable to students Googling answers or conferring with family members. We migrated to assessment practices in which students explain their learning rather than supply a single answer. We gave students opportunities to demonstrate competency rather than rely on selections from limited choice responses. Of course, long before the pandemic, students often defaulted to finding answers over developing understanding. However, we now have a better developed repertoire of assessment strategies, practices, and frameworks to support deeper, richer learning.
The past months have certainly been challenging, and at times, overwhelming. Yet, it has also been a time of important growth. As the pandemic subsides, we have a wider, more flexible, and useful set of instructional, relational, and assessment tools we can tap to nurture learning. Indeed, we are much better from the experience.