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It's critical to focus on the voices of educators and students in order to shape learning environments in 2022

4 concepts that will shape education in 2022

It's critical to focus on the voices of educators and students in order to shape learning environments in 2022

2021 was a tough year for teachers and students, to say the least. Coming back to in-person learning and navigating the increased demands of learning loss and social emotional needs has taken its toll on everyone. 2021 has also brought major developments and an ongoing global pandemic that have changed the way we think about work and life.

These can provide some interesting insights for education going into 2022, where we need to acknowledge the challenges we still face, but also look for ways to infuse more joy and authenticity into learning.

1. Entering the Metaverse

One thing we’ve been hearing a lot about recently is the metaverse, the idea of an interconnected set of immersive digital environments where people can socialize, work, and learn. While the concept of the metaverse usually conjures up images of virtual reality and wearable technology, it can also include experiences accessible today like social media and online games. 

What does this have to do with education? Students today are growing up online, or even in the metaverse in whatever form it exists so far. If schools don’t embrace that technology and way of life, they run the risk of invalidating the world in which students live–and losing students along the way. Instead, we need to meet students where they are, showing them that we value where they spend their time. What does this look like in practice? Edtech doesn’t need to primarily function as a content delivery method, as many learning management systems and cognitive tutors do. It could take the form of esports leagues where students build core skills, or tools for learning about and creating with AI. Letting students choose the technologies and apps they use to learn shows that we trust them and empowers them to be lifelong learners.

2. What the Critical Race Theory debate unveiled, and where we go from here

A contentious debate in education and politics this year was around what should and shouldn’t be taught in schools. In particular, the academic concept of critical race theory generated intense debate. Critical race theory has been conflated with anti-racism and social justice, as well as diversity and inclusion more generally. So without going into detail about what critical race theory actually is and what was and wasn’t banned in schools, the public discourse has highlighted the fact that racial equity in education is a pressing issue.

Following on the racial reckoning of 2020, we must increase our ability to openly discuss and address racial equity issues as we go into 2022. This includes teaching about the history of marginalized groups that are often silenced, and implementing strategies that center and support students from all backgrounds. Teachers wondering how to do this should know that while it can feel difficult at first, there are more and more excellent resources available to support them, including well-developed approaches to culturally responsive pedagogy, and sites like Learning for Justice.

3. The Great Resignation–adaptability and meaning in the spotlight

A signature phenomenon of 2021, The Great Resignation is revealing itself to be more of a Great Reshuffle. People are leaving their jobs in record-breaking numbers, and while in some industries this is leaving staff shortages, in others it just means a lot of rethinking, moving around, and adjusting. Having lived through multiple years of a global pandemic, many workers are questioning what they really value, finding work that is more meaningful to them, and designing the lifestyle they want. 

One key takeaway from this phenomenon is that people need the types of skills that can help them adapt to new fields, and that is something schools need to do a better job preparing students for, with a focus on competency-based learning and future-ready skills. Another takeaway is that agency and relevance matter! People are rearranging their lives to find more meaning, and everyone should have the opportunity to do that. Students too should be empowered to choose the projects and problems that matter to them and pursue those areas in their studies. Approaches like project-based learning are a great way to encourage students to follow their passions and prepare them for a rapidly changing world.

4. Pandemic heroes: Only words or real support?

Another constant refrain during the COVID-19 pandemic is the recognition of unsung heroes and front-line workers, including health care workers, food service workers, and of course teachers. While they are being rightfully recognized and praised for their dedication and bravery, they often suffer from inadequate support and protection, with little say in decision-making. Research is showing that the narrative portraying essential workers as heroes can actually overshadow the unfair treatment of people being put in impossible situations. This has certainly been the case for a significant number of teachers, and many have left the profession or are deeply unhappy in their jobs.

Teachers being undervalued and under-resourced isn’t new, but these issues have been thrown into stark relief with so many additional demands and pressures put on them during the pandemic, such as addressing learning loss and supporting students who have experienced trauma. For many educators, the past year has been the hardest of their career, and utterly unsustainable. Moving into 2022, there need to be systemic changes in schools’ and districts’ expectations of teachers if we are to have any hope of maintaining our heroes’ mental health and their ability to do good work, and to make teaching a sustainable profession. School and district leaders can start by addressing health and safety concerns as much as possible, and genuinely listening to teachers.

Uplifting the voices of educators and students in 2022

The common thread running through each of these big ideas from 2021 and into the call for action in 2022 is centering the voices of educators and learners. We want to promote student-centered learning by meeting learners where they are, giving them agency in where and how they learn, and creating learning experiences where all students can actively participate. Tech tools and pedagogies that let students create and communicate their ideas, even teaching those ideas to their peers, are a great way to empower learners, and will continue to gain traction. Similarly, we want teachers to feel valued and heard, giving them a voice in their education ecosystems. To support that, new platforms are emerging that connect teacher communities and position them as experts, providing ways to share materials and methods and impact education in non-traditional ways. 

While student-centered learning is not a new trend, it feels particularly essential in this time of pandemic fatigue and burnout. We’re all tired of being told where we can go and who we can see, and educators and learners alike are taking on new identities as creators and leaders. By embracing some of the practices and approaches suggested here, school communities can work toward reclaiming some of their joy and motivation for learning and teaching.

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