Post-COVID learning will certainly look different--here's what the experts have to say on what to expect and where to go from here

11 educator perspectives on post-COVID learning


Post-COVID learning will certainly look different--here's what the experts have to say on what to expect and where to go from here

Kathy Hoffman, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Arizona Department of Education

What has been your state’s biggest accomplishment since March 2020?
It is difficult to nail down just one accomplishment since March of 2020 and the onset of the pandemic. Arizona’s teachers, families and students have been resilient and shown tremendous grace for the past two years. Today, I am most proud of the Arizona Department of Education strategically using federal relief and recovery dollars to fund over 180 new school counselors and social workers bringing desperately needed supports into Arizona school communities.

What is your biggest take-away—what have you learned from pandemic learning?
Students and teachers need and want additional supports to bring teaching and learning into the 21st century. Digital resources like those provided to teachers and students through our new partnership with Discovery Education have the ability to take students beyond their classroom and introduce them to people, places, and ideas they might not otherwise encounter. However, in the past, access to transformative, high-quality digital content was not equitable. Our partnership with Discovery Education brings these resources to classrooms across our state, ensuring every Arizonan student has the opportunity to access a new world of information and ideas from any device.

What will you do with those lessons learned?
We’re continuing to learn from the experiences of students, families and teachers during the pandemic. There is still so much work left to do when it comes to accelerating learning, re-engaging families and ensuring students have the mental health supports they need. We are thrilled about our already announced and upcoming projects and initiatives funded used federal relief and recovery dollars.


Meagan Erwin, First Grade Teacher, Columbus (OH) Public Schools

What has been your school/district’s biggest accomplishment since March 2020?
It’s difficult for me to choose our biggest accomplishment because I feel that the teachers, students, and staff of the Columbus City Schools have accomplished so much. What stands out to me is the resilience and perseverance of our teachers. Last year, we were asked to teach 100% online from August to February. Those outside of education may not fully understand the gravity of asking teachers to provide engaging, rigorous instruction in a completely new format with very little time to plan and prepare. It felt like just as we got into an online groove, our district then asked us to move to hybrid classrooms where we had to teach in person and also provide learning for those students at home. Again, a huge shift in our job with very little time to plan and prepare. Finally, this school year we are “all in,” a term which betrays the complexities and stresses of teaching students who are not used to full-time school and many of whom are dealing with loss and trauma. All of this while trying to navigate COVID protocols, too. And yet, our teachers continue to come to school and do the best job they can.

What is your biggest takeaway- what have you learned from pandemic learning?
Teaching during this pandemic has reminded me that helping students to develop their place in the community is as equally important as helping them meet the standards set forward by the state. Yes, students should leave my classroom with the math, reading, writing, and critical thinking skills they need for the next grade level, but they also need to know how to work with one another, how to express themselves appropriately, how to ask for help, how to share and take turns, and how to respectfully disagree. The social isolation of the pandemic took a toll on my young learners. They missed out on time at the playground, birthday parties and other celebrations where they would have learned important social cues and norms. My first graders didn’t have that critical time in kindergarten where they learned about being a part of the school community. This deficit is going to take time to fix. I’ve started dedicating classroom time to these activities to reflect the importance of these skills.

What will you do with those lessons learned?
We learned quickly that the quality of our online programs mattered. Programs that were visual and tactile, like ST Math, were a lifesaver to me. The engaging puzzles in this program let me do problem-solving with my students even though we weren’t all together in a room. Remote learning caused us to look at our online programs with a much more critical lens. We also learned that the teaching profession is at a critical point. There were a couple of months in 2020 when it felt like our society finally realized that teaching is a hard job. Those of us who have been teaching for a while knew that it was always a hard job, but the pandemic made it even harder. I agree that teaching is a calling, but at the end of the day, teaching is a job. If we want young people to make teaching a career, then the decision-makers need to decide what kind of job they want it to be. I think as a district and as a state we need to think about how we are going to attract and retain the type of teachers who can do this challenging job well. Teachers are the people who often spend more waking hours with children than the children’s parents or caregivers do. Who do we want these people to be? How does how we talk about, treat, and compensate teachers reflect their importance? I hope that we ask ourselves these hard questions and use what we’ve learned from the pandemic to try to find good answers together.


Tony Spence, Chief Information Officer at Muskego-Norway School District, Muskego, Wisconsin

What has been your district’s biggest accomplishment since March 2020?
From the onset of planning for the 2020/21 school year, our Board of Education approved our administrative plan to open fully for in-person learning in the fall. Making this decision early on in the process allowed us to create a strong plan, including tracking data, having constant communication with our teachers, families, and community, and using technology to continue to innovate with instruction. This plan allowed us to stay open since the start of the 2020/21 school year. Being able to avoid the uncertainties of switching between opening and closing schools and switching students from in-person to remote and remote to in-person helped us accomplish three important things. First, our district had the opportunity to continue co-curricular and extra-curricular activities which are so important to student wellbeing. Second, we were able to reduce or eliminate loss of learning for all students. Third, we made sure to implement technology and find ways for it to help in classrooms every day.

What is your biggest take-away – what have you learned from pandemic learning?
The biggest takeaway from all of this is how incredibly important it is for everyone to work together. Everyone in our district collaborated to find ways to be aligned with one another, whether it was at a macro level across various district-level departments or at a micro-level in our schools, classrooms, libraries, and other work spaces.  Our goal was to be open for students from the beginning and we understood the difficulty of going back and forth. By working together, we eliminated blind spots and stayed focused on providing a continuity of all services for staff and students.

What will you do with those lessons learned?
Our district has become focused on what potential changes we keep as well as the ones we move on from. The past two years taught us how to make good decisions about what our best practices are. This helped us realize how important it was to align our universal standards and units of study, and share resources between classrooms and even schools across the district.  It was definitely a growth opportunity for our district and another great example of how our staff pulled together to navigate extraordinary challenges. 


Maria Armstrong, Executive Director, Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS)

What are some of the biggest accomplishments you’ve seen schools achieve since March 2020?
Nationwide, the biggest accomplishment I’ve seen is a consciousness about the need to provide a more personalized learning environment to meet individual student needs. By this, I mean to create an environment that isn’t dictated by seat time, the school bell, or the Carnegie unit – the measure of the amount of time a student has studied a subject, which go hand in hand with the constructs of a traditional graduation from one grade level to the next.  We’re in a constant state of change where anything can happen at any time and the pandemic has caused us to consider the need to look at a more competency-based approach. Some states have made huge strides in this, and some still have a way to go. The good news is this continues to be a topic of conversation among states and national education leaders. 

What have we learned from pandemic learning, as an education industry and/or education as a whole?
The pandemic has validated what we’ve known for quite some time in education – that as an industry, we have a system with very little flexibility to react and with minimal resources with which to respond to such an event. As an education industry, and education as a whole, thinking about the future has sometimes taken a back seat in our strategic planning within education. Perhaps we need to collaborate and think about how other industry sectors utilize research, design and development to innovate. Our current education system is designed in a way that creates an environment with very little systems flexibility. Oftentimes we find ourselves having to create sideline or pilot programs to try new things and they stay as pilot programs decade after decade and it leaves very little chance to reconstruct the system in a way that’s aligned with state-of-the art tools and methodologies for teaching.

What can educators and edtech partners do with those lessons learned?
There are plenty of lessons learned and perhaps one of the most important is that collaboration extends throughout the community. Through encouraged collaboration and continuous improvement of available resources, and evaluation of effectiveness, we may find untapped innovative approaches to improve partnerships. Edtech partners and educators may consider the value of constant communication, reflective practices and seamless integration. This collaborative process opens the communication door between educator and edtech leader on what is working and what needs to be improved. We can also welcome the learner alongside educators and edtech leaders in this process. Students have an appetite for creating and designing how to improve learning tools. Perhaps if we expand beyond educators and edtech leaders, and we make room at the table for students to engage in this collaborative process, we can then address the needs of students at various levels.


Scott Kinney, CEO, Discovery Education

What are some of the biggest accomplishments you’ve seen schools achieve since March 2020?
I believe K-12 education’s rapid, almost total pivot to digital learning at the onset of the pandemic is the biggest accomplishment of the COVID era. As the Pandemic erupted, school systems rapidly leveraged all available resources to make the digital transition. This shift, which prior to COVID sometimes took months or years, was in many cases made in a matter of weeks and maintained the continuity of learning for students worldwide.

What have we learned from pandemic learning, as an education industry and/or education as a whole?
I believe educators’ use of digital content and other edtech resources during the COVID era validated the belief that technology can connect students and take them beyond the traditional classroom. During remote instruction, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other collaboration software helped teachers and students maintain contact and provided learners a much-needed lifeline to their friends and peers. With a connection to students established, educators used digital content to engage students in online instruction. Through rich digital media, like virtual field trips, educators could take students beyond their homes or neighborhoods to visit places and meet people that were off-limits due to COVID. While it is certainly true that improvements to the remote learning experience must be made, Pandemic-era instruction showed education stakeholders across the spectrum that digital content and other edtech resources can meet the needs of today’s learners wherever they are.

What can educators and edtech partners do with those lessons learned?
As we enter the post-pandemic world, the most important thing edtech partners can do is accelerate the pace at which we merge educator feedback and best teaching practice into our products and services. For example, as the pandemic wore on, we heard directly from educators that, given the increased demands on their time, they needed simple, standards-aligned, ready-to-use digital resources they could quickly snap into instruction.  That feedback, coupled with the detail they provided as to what they needed and how they would integrate those lessons, drove the implementation of our no-cost Ready-To-Use resource initiative. Aligning educator feedback to best practice and then rapidly building and deploying useful solutions to educators that specifically meet their needs is a lesson everyone in the edtech space should take to heart.


Ken Tam, Executive Director of Personalized Learning and Assessment, Curriculum Associates

What are some of the biggest accomplishments you’ve seen schools achieve since March 2020?
There are so many success stories from districts across the country, but two districts really stand out to me – Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) and Georgetown County School District (GCSD). After a multi-year effort, KCPS achieved full accreditation this fall. They were able to improve student growth and accomplish this accreditation by focusing, in part, on using criterion-referenced data to guide their teacher-led instruction, ensuring fidelity of implementation, and setting and maintaining high expectations for all of their students. In GCSD, teachers’ hyper focus on data allows them to utilize their time more effectively and personalize learning for their students. This has led to notable progress during the pandemic – in reading, 21 percent of students went from being a grade level behind to being above grade level. This is something that should be celebrated!

What have we learned from pandemic learning, as an education industry and/or education as a whole?
As evident by the unfinished learning experienced by students over the past couple of years, the historical relationship between normative data and grade-level learning has changed. To help support student growth and get more students to grade-level learning, educators need solutions that save them time and make their jobs easier. And, with turnover and the additional stress of teaching through a pandemic, educators want – and deserve – empathetic partners who understand their situation and can provide intensive support to aid them in addressing their students’ unfinished learning. Giving more resources without guidance on how they can be used to scaffold grade-level instruction is not effective. 

What can educators and edtech partners do with those lessons learned?
The pandemic has emphasized the importance of kindness and patience which go a long way in relationships with educators and students, educators and their colleagues, and educators and edtech partners. These two things should always be prioritized both in and out of education. During the pandemic and beyond, it is also important for edtech partners to remain flexible with the implementation of their programs. For example, we are seeing some district office staff going back into the classroom because of staffing issues and, understandably, they may not be able to implement the programs with the same level of fidelity as classroom teachers. Edtech partners should understand this and be offering up support as much as possible.


John Wheeler, CEO, Vernier Software & Technology

What are some of the biggest accomplishments you’ve seen schools achieve since March 2020?
The pandemic has reshaped education. And, from the onset of the pandemic until today, the challenges have been enormous. Educators and the education system quickly had to pivot from presential education to remote learning. This presented technological and connectivity issues as well as equity issues ranging from ensuring accessibility to making sure students had food to eat. While there is no denying we have seen the impact these challenges have had especially among many students of color, English learners, and those living in poverty, there have been great accomplishments that should be recognized. One of them is how many districts reimagined what schools should look like and how teaching can be delivered. Remote learning, while not for everyone, is becoming a good option for children with diverse needs and for those who want expanded access to courses.  Another great accomplishment is how thousands of educators created content almost on the fly to keep students learning when they transitioned to remote learning. Today, educators and education leaders all over the United States are also continuing to design programs to address learning loss and accelerate students’ progression. 

What have we learned from pandemic learning, as an education industry and/or education as a whole?
Educators need ongoing support and resources to ensure they can perform their job and to help avoid burnout. As such, at Vernier, we are extending the free usage of our software to educators for the entire school semester until June. We are also continuing to provide educators with ongoing tech support and professional development services. It is also evident that remediation alone will not get students back to grade-level learning. We collectively need to rethink how to engage students to accelerate their learning and recognize that learning can – and should – take place anywhere.

What can educators and edtech partners do with those lessons learned?
We have the opportunity to reimagine education and invest assets to empower students, especially those who have been historically marginalized, to succeed after high school. Since learning happens anywhere/anytime – and should be relevant to students’ experiences and lives – edtech partners should provide educators with solutions that enable students to catch up on missed learning opportunities and be successful.


Kate Eberle Walker, CEO, PresenceLearning

What are some of the biggest accomplishments you’ve seen schools achieve since March 2020?
The pandemic served to shine a spotlight on some of the limiting factors that were holding schools back from supporting their students, including Medicaid and legislative restrictions that previously prevented the use of online service solutions, and unclear funding paths for mental health counseling in schools.

What have we learned from pandemic learning, as an education industry and/or education as a whole?
The crisis activated policy changes and expanded funding resources that, if preserved beyond COVID, will open up more flexibility for schools to solve for special education and mental health service needs in their communities. Under-resourced schools, particularly those in rural areas with limited access to qualified therapists, are now more empowered to make their own decisions about when and how to deploy online therapy services, with less cumbersome limitations on how they fund them.

What can educators and edtech partners do with those lessons learned?
These changes have brought us closer to the ultimate goal of closing gaps in access to services, and have given edtech companies the opportunity to demonstrate what we can uniquely accomplish for underserved students. In essence, much of the stigma or assumptions about the legitimacy of online services have been resolved as schools across the country have experienced firsthand the power of leveraging technology to connect with and impact students.


Tyson Smith, CEO, Reading Horizons

What are some of the biggest accomplishments you’ve seen schools achieve since March 2020?
At Reading Horizons, we’ve been awed by the speed, creativity, commitment, and flexibility schools and districts have shown since March of 2020. Their steadfast work to keep students learning and teachers teaching is inspiring and a model for all of us. Also worth noting was teachers’ rapid embrace of technology to help them accomplish their work. The pivot to virtual learning, virtual professional development, and digital communication for families and communities, followed by even more pivots as schools reopened in difficult circumstances, underscores teachers’ unwavering commitment to their students. Because we are a literacy-focused organization, we also applaud schools and districts for finding new ways to ensure that learners continued to have quality instruction in foundational reading skills throughout remote learning and then again as schools reopened. Through digital resources, take-home learning packets, and special support for families and communities, we made enormous efforts to make sure students could make progress in learning to read. Now, as we work together to address the inevitable learning interruption from the pandemic, we once again see teachers, schools, and district leaders embracing innovation and their commitment to make sure we are building momentum for every child to read proficiently by the end of grade 3.

What have we learned from pandemic learning, as an education industry and/or education as a whole?
As we’ve shared with our own team at Reading Horizons, at the top of our list of “pandemic learning” is a renewed appreciation for the work of frontline classroom teachers. And more than just appreciating their work, we learned how important it is to support teachers, in the ways they need and want most. For us, that means expanding and enhancing our professional development delivery options and finding ways to reduce lesson-planning demands without compromising instructional quality. We’ve also recognized the growing importance of providing critical flexibility in instructional scope and sequence, to accommodate shifting schedules, greater needs for individualized instruction, and the need to compensate for the impacts of interrupted learning over the past 24 months. We’ve also learned the growing value and importance of making sure K-3 learners have every opportunity to build and strengthen foundational reading skills so that in the event of other circumstances such as the pandemic, they’re prepared to continue learning in any kind of educational environment.

What can educators and edtech partners do with those lessons learned?
At the start of the pandemic, we reached out to our customers, at all levels of their organizations, starting with the teachers who rely on our literacy resources and professional learning, and involving site and district leaders as well. We asked what they needed. We listened to them and responded. We collaborated with them to deliver the support and resources they needed. That made a difference for them and reinforced the value of authentic collaboration. We’ve taken that lesson to heart and infused collaboration, support, and deep listening into our service mission going forward. Teachers told us about the support and services they needed, and we learned to listen even more carefully, respond even more collaboratively, and to continually invest in the relationships among our team members and the educators we serve.  In fact, we launched a listening tour as soon as schools reopened to be in classrooms, side by side with the teachers using Reading Horizons, bringing back learning and takeaways we would not have seen or understood otherwise. Most significantly, as partners to schools and districts, we’ve reinforced the learning we’ve done over our 40 year history that underscores the value, work, and role of teachers. Teachers are the professionals who know their students, their needs, and their potential. The many lessons we’ve learned during the pandemic all point to honoring and supporting teachers’ work. It’s the direct route to students feeling empowered and ready to learn, and that leads to lifelong success.

Laura Ascione

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