As educators across the U.S. enter their classrooms for a new school year–one that is still a bit uncertain given concerns over new COVID variants and how to safely bring students back to school–many are bringing new strategies, tools, and practices with them.
While COVID presented educators with myriad challenges, it also prompted many to discover new ways to teach, to lead, and to inspire. In fact, many educators are starting this new school year with so-called “COVID learning practices”–tools, mindsets, and strategies they never used or knew about until COVID forced their hands.
One important–arguably the most important–lesson? Learning cannot return to how it was pre-COVID.
“I joke that it took a pandemic to get us to implement 21st-century learning. I almost feel like there’s almost a growing mindset to say, ‘OK, now that we’re moving past the pandemic, let’s get back to the old,’ and I think it has to be a blend,” says Dr. Jeff Gorman, Deputy Superintendent of Schools in New York’s Mount Vernon City School District (MVCSD). “And if it’s not, we’ve missed an incredible lesson. I would be so sad to see it missed and squandered.”
MVCSD was among the first districts in the nation to be impacted when COVID began its rapid spread, and as a new school year approaches, Gorman says the district is moving forward with some valuable lessons after a year and a half of pandemic learning. A big part of that is combining successful pre-pandemic learning strategies with lessons learning during COVID.
“I think what has to happen is we have to model a combination of this blend,” Gorman said. “We have to have critical conversations with people to get them to process and understand that a lot of these practices should have–and could have–been in place years and years ago.”
For many, COVID brought with it a chance to advance learning beyond what’s “always been done.” Going back to pre-pandemic practices will waste valuable learning opportunities.
Here are a few of the COVID learning practices and mindsets MVCSD educators will carry with them this fall:
1. Blend professional development when possible. During MVCSD’s yearlong PD series, teachers have 2.5 days where they can choose professional learning opportunities based on goals and needs within their buildings. Most are taught by the district’s own teachers and educators, while some taught by vendors. Instead of putting everybody in one building for traditional “go get professional learning,” the district will deliver content in the morning and then set up one-on-one or small group meetings with those who need it in the afternoon. Learning can be asynchronous, and at the end of the first day teachers will take their outcomes, compile them into a plan to implement, and reconvene the second day to share.