5 predictions for how student-led learning will help us bounce back

We will start to see new norms that include parents, educators, and districts playing a critical role in empowering students
By: | January 21, 2022
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Chris Minnich

Chris Minnich

After nearly two years of virtual instruction, hybrid learning, and inconsistency as a whole within the education system, educators are understandably struggling to navigate how to get students back on track.

As we head into the new year, we will start to see new norms that include parents, educators, and districts playing a critical role in empowering students to achieve academic success. We have some predictions of what we can expect as we seek to turn the page on the impact COVID has had on education.

1. COVID caused an uptick in parent engagement; this will be the new norm. Now, more than ever, superintendents, principals and other administrators will play a key role in family and community engagement as schools face scrutiny that calls their decisions and choices into question. School leaders will be the point of outreach for providing their communities with valuable insight and addressing concerns while also helping teachers navigate hardships and opportunities.

We will see that when school systems and leadership offer this support for teachers, they will curate a work environment that is both transparent, caring and maintains positive energy and retention—which will also grow community trust. As we face teacher and staff shortages, strong leadership that builds this school climate will also retain its most valuable teachers.

2. Students will lead a revolution in learning. Education is long overdue for a revolution. After all, our current system has practically not changed for over a hundred years, for the most part. This next year, we will begin to see our youth push the country’s education system into the next generation of learning, especially after enduring pandemic learning where traditional instruction was so disrupted.

What does a student revolution in learning mean? They are demanding education that prepares them for their own future, not their grandparents’ future. This will push us toward looking at education differently. This generation of students is galvanized—demanding more individualization and the opportunity to learn the most important things to them, while also caring deeply about how it sets them up for their future.

When students feel more recognized for who they are they will be more open to learning. This movement will usher in a new age of education that is more inclusive, customized, and more student-led than in years past, and we, the current adults, owe it to them to meet their needs.

3. Students must be empowered to own their data. As we start to turn the page on this pandemic, the question of impact and “how are the kids doing,” will be a driving focus point across the education system. Everything from the data we choose to examine to how we communicate that data will be critical points.


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First, we must increase efforts to demystify the data for parents so they have not just on the latest test score but a holistic view of how their child is doing. And just as importantly, we must continue to empower students to own their data and be critical voices in the decisions that impact their educational opportunities.

This means supporting teachers as facilitators of curiosity who work closely with students who understand their data and are empowered to advocate for their future. This also means reiterating to students that they are more than just a test score and building their abilities to contextualize what they know and what they are ready to learn next.

4. Post-pandemic education must focus on building student agency. The pandemic upended “traditional schooling” and in many aspects what students saw as their role in their education. Our longstanding education system is so dependent on students “just showing up to school” that when schools went remote, “showing up” became something different. Students were responsible for their decision to engage, to log on, to be “present.”

While there were many negative aspects to the pandemic and its immense impact on society, one positive is the rise of student agency over their own learning. This is a trend we must build upon. This includes empowering students to be champions of their own data—and ultimately their own student story.

The conversations and goal setting with students will be much deeper and more relevant when students understand and can advocate for their academic journey. Students who are more engaged are ultimately more invested in their education, driving them toward a successful future that is as individual and valuable as they are.

5. Rapid, quality research will help address urgent needs in education. The pandemic, coupled with political and social unrest, has deeply disrupted the lives and learning experiences of most students. It has created an urgent need to address long-standing opportunity gaps and has highlighted the importance of providing resources that support student achievement, social-emotional learning, and physical and mental well-being.

This urgency to address the impacts is valid, but it has also created a noisy environment of potential options of what might be best for students. It’s critical, now more than ever, for decisions to be grounded in solid research. In the coming year, our researchers are working in partnership with university scholars, school district and foundations to continue to provide rapid-response research that helps inform recovery policies, identifies high-impact programs and innovations to drive evidence-based decision making that advances equitable opportunities for all kids.

Chris Minnich is the CEO of the assessment provider, NWEA.