For Dr. Matthew X. Joseph, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment in Leicester Public Schools (MA), this past year has meant fewer frequent flier miles but a huge increase in his network, albeit virtually.
In this conversation with eSchool News, Matt talks about the importance of these sorts of connections for both students and faculty.
The following has been edited for clarity.
eSN: Talk a little bit about how the pandemic has changed your work.
MJ: One of the things that I have seen coming out of this is the grit and resilience of teachers has gone up exponentially. When the world stops and you have to teach from home, there’s no, “We don’t have time for this.” It’s a “Please help me.” I said last year was emergency education, not remote education. So learning Jamboard, learning how to use Zoom, learning how to use breakout rooms? It wasn’t an option. Now it wasn’t an extra. So one of the things I’ve seen with this pandemic and crisis is the teacher’s willingness to try things and open up their repertoire of toolboxes.
eSN: Have the use of new platforms for remote learning helped or hurt communication?
MJ: There’s an efficiency piece in Zoom. For instance, with the school board meetings, I’ll say we’ve had more people attend our school board meetings in the last year. Before we would set up like 15 chairs and half would be empty. We now have almost a hundred log in and it’s great for communication. It’s great for transparency. It builds a community. Would we have liked it without a pandemic? Absolutely. However, this type of learning and technology has opened up the world. And I can just say for school districts to allow families to participate in their kid’s school in just a different way.
But when it comes to instruction, nothing will ever replace the in-person experience. I was a teacher and then I was a principal and then was a district leader. What we crave in this profession is that human connection that comes from talking to kids—that dialogue. So it’s been missed for so long that when the kids come back, we have to ensure that teachers don’t just say, “This is so great to have you back. Let’s just talk.” On the flip side, let’s make sure that they’re not just doing pandemic-style learning in the classroom. Find that balance. That’s been the challenge we’ve had here in Leicester, my last two PD days. I’ve tried to model a more balanced approach. Like still use some of these new techniques, but yet you still have to have a dialogue.
eSN: Why is it so important for districts to share best practices?
MJ:I think you have to have leaders who are willing to try and are willing to understand that education is moving outside of the four walls of your school or outside of your zip code. I think it also starts with taking risks. Your leaders have to be comfortable with trying certain things that you don’t know what the outcome’s going to be. I call it flooding the market, where I’m going to try five things. And if one works, I’m not gonna to worry about the four that didn’t work. I’m going to bring it to my teachers and say, “Here’s how this happens.” And I think the other piece for leaders is you have to be able to allow teachers some autonomy. If I come back from an event and there’s four things that I think that are impactful when the teachers try all four and one works, let’s not worry about the three that didn’t work.
eSN: Will we ever go back to in-person professional development?
MJ: I think remote events are only going to flourish because it saves on airfare. It saves on hotels. It saves on days off. My superintendent has attended more events this year because I just get her a log-in code. I won’t speak to the business side of the events and then what they are going to have to do to stay afloat. But if we’re looking at just the professional side, I think the learning opportunities are going to increase.