When U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona applauded the passage of the American Rescue Plan, he commended the vital resources that would be made available to schools and colleges across the country. These resources will help ensure that schools can reopen for full-time, in-person instruction as safely and as soon as possible. In related remarks, Cardona said he envisioned a return to school this fall with reimagined opportunities for teaching and learning.
During the pandemic, education leaders, school board members, educators, students, and families experienced unprecedented transformation in a remarkably short period. While some teachers, students, and parents struggled, others embraced the innovative, personalized advantages of seeking out and implementing new ways of teaching and learning. The creativity and ingenuity of teachers and staff who shifted from in-person instruction to a virtual learning environment almost overnight is remarkable, transformational, and astonishing. How closely aligned are these new methods and approaches to the reimagined education that Cardona envisioned? Is this a peek into what the future holds for public education?
Many school boards have approved changes for this fall, including flexible scheduling options via asynchronous instruction and learning options for students with unique and special needs or health accommodations. In most cases, these creative options are being made available in response to needs expressed by students, parents, and educators. They also are the result of lessons learned over the last year and a half.
Collaborative partnerships were established among teachers across grade levels, with colleges and universities, and among content area specialists and education entities. A repertoire of activities such as online courses and training was refreshed, developed, and made available for professional development on new modes of teaching and learning. “Train the trainer” sessions have become widely available to facilitate rapid and consistent alternatives to in-person training.
Agility, flexibility, and responsiveness to changing environments, guidelines, and circumstances, require that creative online programs continue to be adopted and refined. And this is not just to respond or react to a crisis. We learned important lessons that we can take advantage of for improved instruction and learning.
We have learned that creative online programs can help students feel connected. They can provide educational and social stimulation by allowing time within the school schedule to socialize and chat online. Teachers also have adapted practices from previously existing online instruction, including real-time checks to assess daily participation and learning to provide students with immediate feedback.
Early during the pandemic, educators not only adapted to the change from in-person to virtual instruction, but also responded to inequities and disparities. Students without access to the internet or the means to purchase digital learning tools were provided with devices, hot spots, and extended Wi-Fi services at local schools from their districts, internet providers, philanthropic foundations, and community members.
In preparation for the new school year, school board members, I believe, are and will continue to respond creatively and responsibly to the demands for innovative options for students and with reimagined and better ways to address the inequities that were made so clear during the pandemic.