Friday, May 7, 2021 | 2 a.m.
When schools closed in Nevada in March 2020, teachers, students and families prepared for what they believed would be a couple of weeks away from school buildings. Yet, weeks turned into months and months transitioned into a new school year. And more than 350 days later, as students and teachers begin to return to brick-and-mortar classrooms, we remain overwhelmed by the reality that school and life in general are far from the “normal” anticipated.
Educators like me hoped that the upset to our schooling structure by the COVID-19 crisis would be a time where reinvention of our education system would finally take place. However, at the end of the day, teachers were expected to somehow force a traditional, seven-hour, face-to-face school day into distance learning via a computer screen. While it was expected that things would be different, no one could have anticipated in what ways. Teachers worried about lesson planning, pacing and student engagement; families were overwhelmed with child care and the lack of technology and connectivity; students mourned the loss of socialization, sports and significant milestones, such as homecoming, prom and graduation.
No one in the national educational ecosystem wanted to overburden our students and teachers, but it happened nonetheless. While some students thrived in the new virtual learning environment, the lack of face-to-face instruction took a very visible toll on other students’ and families’ social emotional and mental well-being. Local, state and national news headlines swirled with opinions on how and when schools should reopen.
Closing schools in the height of uncertainty for our community health was necessary. However, replicating a traditional face-to-face school day with a computer screen was not. Synchronous instructional sessions by day for guided learning and asynchronous sessions by night for homework and independent learning resulted in countless hours of screen time for millions of students throughout the country. Students, 4 years old to 18 years old, were expected to engage in what many families felt was extended and unhealthy time on the computer. Mine was one of those families. My own children were often online for live instruction with another three to four hours assigned as homework in the evening. The connections with family and friends that I wanted them to maintain for socialization were also happening online. With the blurred lines between school and home, we must consider the cognitive, social, emotional and physical impacts that extended online learning hours, additional academic expectations and COVID-19 are having on our children — and the impact that is certain to last beyond the pandemic.
As my family and I navigated the blurred lines of school and home this past year, I rethought what educators like me should prioritize as we move forward:
• Redesign and reimagine student learning. Disrupt the system as a classroom leader. Be flexible and open to new ways of instructional planning, implementation, and student learning and engagement. Plan with intention to address the greatest student needs and challenges. Twenty-first century teaching and learning focuses efforts on ensuring that all individuals have fair and equal opportunities to learn.
• Rethink how synchronous learning can be deepened in the time spent together as a class rather than relying on asynchronous or independent learning. Consider the purpose and amount of “home” work assigned to students as everyone — student, family and teacher — is being affected by the pandemic in unique and diverse ways.
• Extend grace. Reassess and reprioritize teaching and learning expectations. As a reflective practitioner, I evaluated how best to maximize and leverage student learning windows as a result of the impacts of COVID-19 — prioritizing student and family life circumstances, stress and trauma, collective social-emotional well-being, and the need for structure and support. Reassessing expectations should not be reserved for a state of crisis, but rather a commitment to best practices.
Business as usual is not how we will effectively meet the needs of our students and families. Now is the time to allow our learning during the pandemic to transform public education. Beyond the pandemic, taking care to prioritize the humanity of our students, families and teachers would be a valuable lesson learned.
Stacey Dallas Johnston is an English and humanities teacher in Las Vegas. She teaches grades 9-12 at Mission High School and serves as a Teach Plus Nevada senior policy fellow.