FETC preview: Why education can’t return to normal post-COVID

"I hope we learn some big lessons," FETC keynote speaker and equity leader Lisa Williams says
By: | December 10, 2020
Empathy and an attention to students' social-emotional will be crucial as schools recover from COVID, says an FETC keynote speaker. (GettyImages/Courtney Hale)Empathy and an attention to students' social-emotional will be crucial as schools recover from COVID, says an FETC keynote speaker. (GettyImages/Courtney Hale)
Lisa N. Williams, FETC keynote speaker

Lisa N. Williams, FETC keynote speaker

Persistent equity issues and systemic racism mean returning to normal post-COVID would be “immoral” for U.S. schools, says Lisa N. Williams, an FETC® keynote speaker.

“We have to resist the urge to try to get back to a normal that’s very comfortable for some of us,” says Williams, Baltimore County Public Schools’ executive director of equity and cultural proficiency. “We’ve seen all the ways people in which people have been dropped out of the system.”

Williams will deliver the keynote session, “Advancing Equity During the Challenges of Covid: Staying Focused on What We Can Do!”, at the Future of Education Technology Conference 2021 in January.

She will discuss how ensuring all students have access to technology and the internet is essential but will not be the entire solution to making education equitable as students return to classrooms post-COVID, Williams says.


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Educators will have to be aware of how the disparate financial and health impacts the pandemic has had on students and colleagues—from food and housing insecurity to job loss to illness and death.

“I hope we learn some big lessons around the collectivist nature of society,” Williams says. “Societies are about our interconnectedness. If systems are not responsive, the question of how it will impact all of us is a bill that will soon come due.”

Leaders will have to place greater emphasis on the social-emotional needs of students and teachers. Educators will have to create time in the school day for teachers to find out how students are feeling.

When the pandemic hit, for instance, some students fell off the radar as they took jobs to compensate for other family members’ loss of employment, she says.

“We need to deploy empathetic practices,” she says. “These are not aberrations, these are not soft skills. They are necessary for teaching, learning and leading.”

FETC keynote description

Advancing Equity During the Challenges of Covid: Staying Focused on What We Can Do!

Jan. 27, 11 a.m.

The global pandemic has created unprecedented challenges across the world. Loss, disconnection, and instability are just a few of the common experiences this traumatic moment has caused for us all. What are those critical considerations about equity and access that we should be having? What are the actions essential to advancing access for our most marginalized students? How do we transform our institutions to respond to all that we knew and have learned? These are a few ideas that we will examine as consider the ways we can stay focused on the work to make a difference in the lives of our students and communities especially now.

Online learning opportunities

The shift online also gives educators a great opportunity to further rethink discipline. Pre-COVID, educators in many districts were overhauling disciplinary practices that resulted in the disproportionate punishment of students of color.

The fact that suspensions and behavioral problems have dropped even further since students shifted online should encourage education leaders to more reforms.

For instance, some students may perform better if they are allowed to continue with online learning, she says.


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“We have to find out what it is about that technology that has allowed our students to engage differently,” Williams says. “We can think about socialization more broadly by using technology as a resource rather than a detriment.”

The shift away from standardized tests during the move online has also forced educators to rethink how they assess students.

This should inspire teachers to expand the methods they use to measure student growth and continue to employ them after the pandemic is under control,Williams says.

“Will we honor those things that found valuable or will we marginalize this experience as just a blip that didn’t tell us anything concrete about how students developed?” she says. “That would be a missed opportunity.”


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