by Janet Hale, MEd
As a curriculum consultant who travels to schools and districts throughout the school year, my in-person work came to an abrupt halt due to brick-and-mortar school closures in early March.
Since then I have been meeting with many of the teachers and administrators (a.k.a. heroes) I have the honor of working alongside. I admire them, as well as educators around the world, who have managed to construct virtual schools quickly, care about the emotional needs of their learners, and continue to create engaging remote learning environments.
In professional conversations, as well as in the social media sphere, I am hearing more and more (with some angst in voices and tone in texts) about the uncertainties of learning in the upcoming school year:
If these questions are not yet at the forefront of your school’s curriculum conversations, especially regarding the core areas of Mathematics and English/Language Arts, they will be.
I had a virtual meeting recently where these questions were weighing heavy on the mind of a K-8 charter school principal, Ms. Stacey. During our conversation I shared what I have been pondering regarding a possible solution to the lack-of-learning realities happening around the globe:
“Given the teachers who are currently teaching their students remotely are the ones who truly know what their students are learning versus not learning, they should be the ones who teach what has been missed in the new school year, rather than asking the next grade level teacher to take on this added expectation. I believe it will reduce the overall anxiety for both teachers and students. My idea is ‘going back’ to get to ‘the future’.”
To explain my back to the future concept as applied to Ms. Stacey’s school, you need a little background: students do not go to school on Mondays to provide extended time for teachers to collaborate about student learning, participate in professional learning, and have personal planning time. Tuesday through Friday students arrive at 8am and stay until 5pm. The last two hours of these four days are devoted to club time where students attend based on interest. Teachers are savvy regarding the needs of the students in their clubs and interweave application of learning with passion projects and activities.
I continued to share with Ms. Stacey:
“For the first quarter--and longer, if needed--have your students in Grades 1-8 literally walk back to their previous year’s teacher’s classroom for the first hour of the club time each day, or better yet, use the full two hours every other day. This way the teacher teaching the missed learning is the teacher who not only knows what has not been learned--and to what depth per student--but has the expertise, experience, and necessary resources for instruction. I believe students will realize that going back to last year’s teacher, or teachers, ensures they are explicitly receiving the missing learning needed to be ready to face the future--the current year’s learning. Of course, it will take strategic planning and ongoing conversations during your teachers’ Monday meetings to ensure that the current year’s learning can be taught while the club time with the previous year’s teachers focuses on the prioritized skills still needed.”
I literally saw this principal's face light up when I shared my idea. My hope is that going back to move forward lights up your face, too.
Regardless of the size of your school or district, there will need to be collegial conversations and decision making concerning how to make a “back to the future” construct happen. For example, here are several questions Ms. Stacey and I began contemplating concerning her school’s configuration:
What do we do with the Kindergarteners during back to the future time, given there are no prior-year teachers to go back to on campus?
The specialists may also choose to plan activities collaboratively based on cultural themes or overarching learning topics to create connections among the specials.
What do we do for the Grade 8 students who will not be on our campus during back to the future time, given they will be on a high school campus?
How will we know what the missing learning focuses need to be?
While we did not solve all the concerns about making back to the future a reality in her school during our meeting time, it was a wonderful start that Ms. Stacey is excited about pondering and pursuing with her faculty and staff.
So, how might you start thinking out of the box with your colleagues and create a back to the future structure that works for your learning environment--whether elementary, middle, or high school?
I would love to hear your ideas! And, I would enjoy brainstorming with you, if you’d like to set up a time to meet virtually! Contact me to share your school/district configuration and back to the future how-to contemplations.
Your future hasn’t been written yet. No ones have. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one. – Doc Brown, “Back to the Future”