By Susan Corrie
School leaders spend a large percentage of time during each school year planning and preparing for the next school year. As a rookie principal, I remember a veteran colleague sharing that “being a building principal is like trying to change the tires on a speeding semi.” Daily tasks and emergencies are intertwined with preparation for the future. With the current educational challenges of dealing with a pandemic and trying to provide students with an excellent academic experience, planning for the future seems to be just too much to ask. Yet as John F. Kennedy shared, “The time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining.” As we look back on 2020 and look ahead with hope for 2021, it may be the perfect time to reflect on what we’ve learned and plan for ways in which we can implement our learning in the years to come.
Lesson 1: In the face of challenge, we’ve developed some pretty cool new teaching strategies.
While teachers’ patience and stress levels have truly been stretched, so have their abilities to create and design new strategies in the face of challenge. It is exciting and amazing to see what classroom teachers are bringing to their students via online instruction. When we return to school in the future, all agree it will be a “new normal”. Taking what we have learned through 2020 with online learning, and blending it with in-person methods has great potential (Tugend et al., 2020).
For example, Danilee Donnelly, a music teacher in Long Island, created a “Music Mobile” so she could bring her lessons and instruments from class to class, rather than having students gather in the music room (Schneider, 2020). Another teacher, Nellie Williams, teaches from a remodeled treehouse in her backyard, while Abigail Dillingham asked her students to craft pictures out of laundry during the pandemic (Natanson et al., 2021).
Lesson 2: Online learning has become more robust.
Although this is the first time in our country’s history that all schools have needed to close and move to a remote instructional setting, it is not the first time for certain areas in our country. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the city’s education leaders needed to design a plan of attack to address closed schools. In areas with snow-laden winters, which can close schools for lengthy periods, remote instruction planning has been in place for a number of years. The myth that learning can only occur in the classroom has been debunked.
Research illustrates that in-person learning is crucial for students, especially younger students (Winthrop, 2020). We have also seen that for some students online instruction has been very beneficial. We know that the more engaging learning styles are those that are interactive. Looking to a blended program of in-person instruction and interactive online instruction, we can strive to better meet the needs of each individual learner (Winthrop, 2020).
Lesson 3: Schools provide so much more than education.
It has become evident the role schools play in our society, is not limited to education and caregiving but also includes the delivery of essential services such as food and health care. It is the ultimate time to look beyond our current concerns and plan for the future; an improved, well-designed future (Vegas & Winthrop, 2020). Questions school leaders can reflect upon for future improvement may include:
- What online programs or platforms have had a positive impact and yielded positive results?
- How has the ability to design breakout rooms in a remote classroom met the individual needs of students?
- How has the inherent independence of students completing online assignments been of benefit to the learner?
- Has the direct involvement of parents in their children’s education been of benefit and how can we build upon it?
- Collaboration among teachers has come to the forefront; how can we seize these opportunities again in future planning as professional learning communities?
In so many ways, COVID-19 has stolen memories and experiences from us that will never be replaced. Yet it has also given us an opportunity to learn more about ourselves, those around us, and our culture. It is up to us as educational leaders to grab this moment for reflection to create and design an improved educational setting for all of our students, their families, and our communities as well (Siegel, 2020). Are we willing to think “outside of our historical, traditional box” or are we doomed to repeat and re-establish systems that were not meeting the needs of our students only because those are the systems with which we are most comfortable? Abraham Maslow reminds us, “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or step back into safety”. Which shall it be?
About Susan Corrie
Susan Corrie is a former elementary building principal for the Clarence Central School District in Western New York. Susan has worked in education for over 35 years and works with PLS 3rd Learning, PLS Classes’ parent company. Thank you Sue for sharing your ideas with our readers!
Natanson, H., Stein, P., & St. George, D. (2021, January 3). Treehouse teaching and laundry art: Educators find creative ways to reach kids. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/creative-pandemic-teaching/2021/01/02/d96a1e92-3bdd-11eb-bc68-96af0daae728_story.html.
Schneider, C. (2020, October 12). Teachers adjust, find innovative ways to teach. Newsday. https://www.newsday.com/long-island/education/teacher-innovations-in-new-normal-1.50032466.
Siegel, M. (2020, August 12). 5 Major Shifts Needed Post-COVID-19 to Transform Education. Government Technology State & Local Articles – e.Republic. https://www.govtech.com/education/k-12/Five-Major-Shifts-Needed-Post-COVID-19-to-Transform-Education.html.
Tugend, A., Jordan, P. W., & Stein, M. A. (2020, October 14). This School Year Has Been Unlike Any Other. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/14/education/learning/pandemic-school-remote-learning.html.
Vegas, E., & Winthrop, R. (2020, October 23). Beyond reopening schools: How education can emerge stronger than before COVID-19. Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/research/beyond-reopening-schools-how-education-can-emerge-stronger-than-before-covid-19/.
Winthrop, R. (2020, April 10). Top 10 risks and opportunities for education in the face of COVID-19. Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/education-plus-development/2020/04/10/top-10-risks-and-opportunities-for-education-in-the-face-of-covid-19/.