While students are back in person this school year, districts continue to struggle with the long-lasting effects caused by the pandemic, including chronic absenteeism and teacher turnover. As a former district leader for Baltimore County Public Schools, I know how difficult it can be to navigate these issues in ‘normal’ times and can only imagine how challenging it must be for district leaders to navigate the seismic shifts that have taken place.
That’s why my team at PowerSchool worked with district leaders to create an Education Focus Report, with the goal of recentering PK-12 conversations. We started with what’s most important to school districts and understanding how the pandemic changed district priorities. The report was built by examining 25 district plans, discussing priorities with 75-plus education leaders and conducting an online survey of 3,500 district leaders and educators. With tapering enrollment trends and doubled rates of chronic absenteeism nationwide, it was no surprise that three of the key strategic priorities were:
- Attracting and retaining top educators
- Strengthening communication between educators, students, and their families
- Ensuring whole child supports
Knowing that many district leaders are focused on these key priorities, here are three tips to help district administrators tackle these issues this school year.
1. Create a consistent and ongoing learning path for educators
Educators want to feel supported and have professional learning opportunities for growth. When asked, educators said the most effective types of professional learning are centered around collaboration and sustained learning.
One way to support teachers and provide sustained learning, is to give them a clear and consistent growth path by:
- Asking educators what learning, and support is needed. You’ll find many teachers want to focus on the same area and can invest in ongoing professional development on that topic vs. a one-off training that may not be as useful to their needs.
- Understanding the difference between training and professional development and investing in each differently. Training fills a knowledge gap, while professional development looks to the future. Invest in creating ongoing and sequential professional learning opportunities that create community for teachers.
2. Make communications with students’ caregivers easy and accessible
Nine in 10 educators agreed that parent and family engagement can help reverse recent enrollment declines. As a parent myself, I understand the importance of partnering with my child’s teacher to ensure they are on track, but as a busy professional, I need the communications to be as easy and accessible as possible.
Make communication simple and accessible by:
- Meeting caregivers where they are. Understand what forms of communication the families in your community have access to. Caregivers may have an email address, but never look at it. A call or text might be a more accessible form of communication.
- Invest in a learning management system. An LMS ensures caregivers have 24/7 access to their children’s course content and grades and provides a simple way for educators to communicate updates.
3. Weave whole child supports into everyday teaching
Seven in 10 educators said their district is just beginning or in the process of providing professional learning to support whole child learning. Historically, academics and social-emotional learning have been running on two different tracks. We need to bring them together.
Weave whole child supports into everyday teaching by:
- Understanding your students’ needs. If a student is depressed, they likely aren’t focused on the math problem you are teaching. You need to understand their personal needs to keep them engaged. Edtech solutions can provide information on the whole child from their grades to mental health flags.
- Provide opportunities for collaboration. Over the past two-and-a-half years, children were more isolated than ever and providing collaborative opportunities will help them learn how to work together and build the social-emotional skills they may have missed out on.
Hopefully these insights and tips can help you navigate this school year after two-plus years of challenges and disruptions.
Ryan Imbriale will present two sessions at The Future of Education Technology® Conference, Jan. 23-26, 2023, in New Orleans: “Rethinking Instructional Design Going Forward” and “In Today’s World, Being a Competent Digital Citizen is Essential.”