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The school year is underway, and so, too, are new trends and changes in schools across the country

7 eye-opening back-to-school predictions


The school year is underway, and so, too, are new trends and changes in schools across the country

This back-to-school season is unlike any before it. Not only are many students heading back to full in-person learning after more than a year of virtual or hybrid learning, they’re doing it in the middle of COVID-19 surges nationwide.

The pandemic brought with it a renewed focus on glaring equity gaps, the need for strong cybersecurity practices, and social-emotional support for students and educators.

Here, educators share some of their back-to-school predictions, including trends and practices they expect to see as the school year progresses.

1. As schools and districts get ready for a new school year, data protection and security for students and districts will be a top priority. The increased use and reliance on technology in the last 18 months, as well as the increase in ransomware attacks, has put the spotlight on data security in education. With an increase in students bringing their own devices to connect to the school building’s network or other technology in the classroom, such as Epson laser displays, it will be critical to secure our networks and servers and ensure the integrity of our back-end systems.

–Tim Klan, Administrator of Information and Instructional Technology for Livonia Public Schools in Livonia, Michigan

2. One of the biggest challenges this school year will be to make sure students and staff members are supported from a social-emotional and mental health standpoint. Last year was incredibly difficult, and this year everyone will be focusing hard on getting students back on track – both emotionally and academically. Schools will need to make sure they have strong mental health supports, as well as social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculum and assessments in place for students who are struggling. Using SEL screeners such as the DESSA are incredibly helpful in figuring out where students are and how best to support their SEL needs. We can’t forget about teachers’ mental health either. Providing teachers with professional development — while not overwhelming them – and providing them with opportunities and resources to focus on self-care will be incredibly important this school year.

–Lisa Micou, Intervention & Training Specialist for Social and Emotional Learning for Chesterfield County Public Schools in Virginia

3. Increasing literacy proficiency for grades K-3 will be a priority during the 2021-2022 school year. And, as such, coaching will be needed to support this. According to Dr. Diane Lauer, Assistant Superintendent of Priority Programs at St. Vrain, our goal with coaching is to ”help create a responsive system that helps set all students on a trajectory of excellence for foundational literacy skills.”

We will be starting out the year with an emphasis on team coaching to build collective efficacy and capacity within grade-level teacher teams. Teacher teams will leverage their previous training in the science of reading to fine tune their daily lessons to meet student needs, and develop skills to accurately collect progress monitoring data to gauge student response to instruction and intervention.

An important aspect of our coaching work this year will be the use of video as a tool to foster ongoing reflective practice. Our use of Edthena, a video-based platform that allows educators to upload video clips of their instruction, will foster intentional opportunities for teachers to self-reflect, receive coaching, and ask each other questions about their practice all in one place. The best part of using video is that teachers don’t have to miss out on time with their students in order to see their peers’ instruction. They are able to go back and watch the video at any point in their day. And, they will also be able to build their own library of practice so that they can see their own transformation throughout the year.

–Courtney Groskin and Violet Christensen, Learning Coaches at St. Vrain Valley Schools in Longmont, Colorado

4. Through NWEA’s recent research, we are better able to quantify the vast impact that the pandemic has had on learning for historically underserved students. The disproportionate  disruption requires immediate action from policymakers, particularly in how they invest the unprecedented federal funding that’s been made available to school districts and states for COVID recovery. Education leaders must begin to transform our education systems through evidence-based, effective programs and interventions to support recovery and address inequities. The impacts of the pandemic will outlast the current relief funding; thus, leaders must invest in ways that will lay the groundwork for equity-focused transformation of our education systems for many years to come.

Lindsay Dworkin, VP of Policy and Advocacy at NWEA

5. One of the biggest challenges this school year will be finding ways to help staff and students handle stress due to pandemic-related uncertainty. Everyone has been on edge for over a year and that creates a great deal of stress and pressure for teachers and principals on top of the traditional challenges of heading back to school. It will be important this year for school districts to provide support to staff members to help them manage stress and anxiety so they don’t reach a breaking point. Our district, for example, is partnering with an outside provider to offer free counseling sessions to any staff member who wants it. It’s also important to provide social and emotional support for students and to understand when dealing with challenging student behavior, that pandemic-related stress is likely a contributing factor.

–Matthew Keyes, Director of Human Resources for the San Juan School District in Utah

6. With a strong growth mindset and a belief that they own their learning, students can be the MVPs of their education with a strong coach (their teacher) by their side. There has never been a more urgent time in modern education for leaders and teachers to explore and implement practices that build student agency. There are multiple aspects and perspectives that drive to the heart of what students need. It is essential that we, as educators, continue to understand the factors that influence student ownership of their learning journeys and that we in turn implement a mosaic approach to fit the pervasive student-centered instruction needs we face daily. From goal setting, to culturally responsive and sustaining environments, to the various ways educators can create connections and opportunities within the academic content areas, these are the actions we must take on behalf of students to support their growth, achievement and develop a sustaining belief in themselves as learners.  

Jacob Bruno, Sr. Vice President of Professional Learning at NWEA

7. In the past 18 months, it’s been very difficult to provide hands-on lab activities, so it will be important to teach students lab safety and skills this fall. Students will need help and refreshers on proper lab skills and with lab safety, including reading and following directions autonomously. Creating strong supporting materials this year will be incredibly beneficial for students to help them easily learn important lessons as they readjust to connecting with their peers and overcome new obstacles in the classroom. To help teach lab skills, I like to make videos to go over lab rules so it’s easy for students to follow along and access this information. I create my videos using Ink2Go and a Wacom Intuos tablet so I can annotate slides and emphasize the importance of each lab rule. This helps students by making it easier to follow along and better understand what to take notes on.”

–Beth Tumminello, Chemistry Teacher, Calhoun High School, Merrick, New York

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