5 steps to building stronger schools after COVID-19
The changes that have swept across our schools over the past weeks would be literally unimaginable if they weren’t true. Sadly, they are true. COVID-19 has completely disrupted the lives of our students, teachers and communities. But here’s the thing: Most of us recognize that the education system has been in need of disruption for years.
As education leaders, we need to see this crisis as our chance to do more than simply return to the status quo ante. Instead, let us seize this opportunity to reorient ourselves to the real challenge we face: helping our children achieve brighter futures in a radically transformed world.
Acting on our mission statement
At Cajon Valley Union School District, our mission statement–“Happy Kids, Healthy Relationships, On A Path To Gainful Employment”—directly responds to today’s challenges. Now more than ever, we seek to support the happiness of our kids with learning that helps them build healthy relationships with their peers and teachers, as well as deeply understand their personal strengths, interests and learning styles.
When this is all over, we are going to learn what our students love most about school—and it’s not going to be the content. It’s going to be the people who take a deep, abiding interest in them.
When this takes place, kids actually like coming to school, whether it’s physical or online. They are able to envision their futures in the world of work and use that understanding to engage in their classes and keep their academic momentum—even in the face of today’s disruptions.
Here are five ways we are acting on our mission today:
- Getting our kids fed and connected: Along with setting up food distribution centers at all of our Title I schools, we made sure kids brought their devices home (we’re a 1-to-1 district) and are ensuring our students have access to reliable internet. We did this so they could do schoolwork, but most important, so that one of their teachers could work with them via video chat every day. Many of our students deeply need to feel heard and loved by someone outside their family.
Rethinking academic delivery through a model of support: Since we shifted online, we’ve been using an elementary school model for all grades, with one primary teacher consistently guiding a small group of students. Expecting middle and high school students to interact for 30 minutes with five to seven different teachers every day doesn’t work online. In fact, it barely works in person. One adult is now responsible for a small group of students so that each child is known well.
- Focusing on relationships and human connection over content delivery: We leveraged the quick transition to online to fully realize our goal of moving to a support-first learning model. Reading, math and other content areas are moving to online programs, enabling teachers to focus on relationships first and content second. In this model, students have someone they can reach out to immediately for support, which is critical when their world is upside down.
Personalizing academics: Along with providing online programs for different subject areas, our teachers are working with their small groups to personalize academic content. Because of their closer relationships with individual students, teachers can identify specific challenges, expand the online offerings for a few students at a time, and customize content playlists to deepen the academic experience.
- Building self-knowledge to develop persistence: For years, Cajon Valley Union School District has been piloting a World of Work curriculum that builds students’ self-awareness through self-assessment tools and that encourages their exploration of different academic and career pathways. The engagement that ensues from this learning is especially important today, given the growing risk of absentee students when school moves online. Our students, however, are in a great position to persist because they understand that their school success has a direct impact on their future opportunities.
In this time of crisis, but also in our future “new normal,” the role of educators is not to be deliverers of content, but champions of human development. When this is all over, we are going to learn what our students love most about school—and it’s not going to be the content. It’s going to be the people who take a deep, abiding interest in them. And once they have that connection, students can begin to build their pathways to the future, ready to engage the challenges that will most surely await them there.
David Miyashiro is superintendent of the Cajon Valley Union School District in California. He was named 2016 Superintendent of the Year by the Association of California School Administrators Region 18.
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