by Dr. Toby A. Travis
Over the past weeks, through conversations with many parents, teachers, and school administrators, I’ve become increasingly aware of two faulty assumptions that are exacerbating the current crisis.
The first is a false belief that a previous definition of “normalcy” can be achieved on our campuses during the pandemic.
Now, it is true that we are all attempting to provide as “normal” an experience as possible for our students, but what our teachers are being challenged to do to be ready for toggling of their students between campus-based and home-based instruction is a completely new and different expectation than they have ever had.
Thus, it is like every teacher is experiencing their first year of teaching all over again, with a completely new set of rules, expectations, tools, and adjustments to their lesson planning.
What this means is that whatever we have established in the past as expected learning outcomes for any given grade-level or subject area will not be met this year.
Pause and let that sink in.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, whatever we have established in the past as expected learning outcomes for any given grade-level or subject area will not be fully met or realized this year.
And if, as administrators, teachers, or as parents, we set the expectation that we are going to measure success or our pursuit and commitment to excellence this year by benchmarks that were established during the previous year, we do not fully understand our current and very extraordinary situation. This year is not a “normal” year. Therefore, we cannot and should not expect that we will be able to achieve the same level of learning and progress that we have seen in years past. And it is ok.
Every student, teacher, and administrator is faced with this same reality around the world. So, relax. We will keep our students engaged in learning. They will grow. They will learn. But our metrics for assessing their learning and growth this year must look different.
If teachers attempt to create the same pacing of learning as they have in previous years, they will burn themselves out in a matter of weeks. That strategy will not work. And as parents and administrators, we need teachers to know that we understand and that it is ok.
This year we have an opportunity to focus far more on measuring success and excellence in the development of social and emotional skills. Those life competencies that will serve our students for a lifetime.
Numerous studies have shown that over 90% of the content delivered to high school students is forgotten within four years of graduation. Yes, content is important, but it is not the chief and highest learning that needs to take place.
This year, perhaps more than any other, we have the opportunity to focus intentionally on the development of life skills such as patience, understanding, empathy, and placing others ahead of ourselves. Supporting students and each other in the development of these skill sets is where we can shine this year.
Mom… Dad… do not worry that your 3rd grader may not be covering all of the same material your older child covered during their 3rd-grade experience. It simply is not possible this year. And that’s ok. What is far more important is what they learn from watching us as parents and teachers and administrators in how we manage to go through a crisis. That lesson will stay with them forever.
A second false belief is that our plans are going to work.
I am a firm believer in the old phrase of “plan your work and then work your plan.” And I am very proud of our team and the plan that was developed over the summer.
But I also know that we could not predetermine or pre-calculate every issue or nuance to what and how it looks like to operate a hybrid program of a school while amid a pandemic.
They didn’t offer that topic in Superintendent or Principal 101 when we were in university. We are all learning how to do this, and we will make mistakes. There are parts of our plan that may not work or that we need to continually adjust and modify to meet the needs of students, parents, faculty, and staff.
And, again, it’s ok.
We have an opportunity to grow as a school community through these extraordinary times. We have an opportunity to intentionally choose to encourage one another through the challenges and shifting sand that we are all standing on at this time.
One of the tenants of my philosophy of education is that we learn best through failure.
It is ok when our plan fails. What an incredible learning moment so that we continually improve in how we operate and function.
So, set aside any previous measurement of what normal should look like this year. Please do not use that as a benchmark for what we are doing this year. And be prepared for when our plan doesn’t go exactly the way we may have imagined.
Rather, focus on the social, emotional, and spiritual growth that we can all experience as we go through these days together. And celebrate the opportunity to focus on the chief end of learning; students maturing into leaders who can be trusted to care for the world with an unknown and unpredictable future.
©Toby A. Travis, EdD. All Rights Reserved.