Lasting Lessons Learned

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Leading one of our community’s private schools in this sea of educational change has provided our small community of learners, teachers and families with countless lessons. Come summer, we will have an opportunity to think about the sudden shifts schools were forced to make in going remote. Perhaps this will be the kind of reset needed to think about the future of K-12 education. These lessons, spurred by the disruptive loss of face-to-face school due to the pandemic, will be salient enough to linger beyond this closure period.

Some educational thought leaders have suggested the sudden shuttering of schools to be merely an accelerant to the changes already brimming in our 21st century educational landscape. Technology, long viewed as a permanently evolving fixture in K-12 education, has necessarily affected learning while home – if only to facilitate a school to home connection for students. Even when re-entry does happen, technology’s hold will likely linger and become a more prominent force, allowing learning to be done continuously at home. But still, the end goal should not rely solely on technology’s grip, but rather scenarios that involve returning to place-based learning where human interaction, socialization and collaboration can once again drive student motivation.

What other long-range lessons or takeaways can be forecasted for our schools as they contemplate their reopening? As we tie the remote bow onto the 2019-2020 school year with virtual graduations, carpool parades and yard signs, here are just a handful I find myself reflecting on in the case of my school, a small school serving children ages 3 through middle school.

  • • The closure of schools affirm that it is never the physical school that makes a school great, it is the relationships within that space that make it meaningful for students.
  • • While our goal should be place-based learning, meaningful education must continue to move beyond the industrial nature of K-12 school, which tends to silo disciplines, adhere to an agrarian calendar, and teach to tests. Let’s see schools make way for authentic learning that empowers students to solve problems, collaborate, and draw meaning and relevance from the content.
  • • COVID-19 has been an accelerant for the underlying value of social-emotional learning (SEL) within K-12 education. Going forward, our students’ overall well-being deserves a front-seat ride in every school’s plan for strengthening their student outcomes. Teachers tending to our students’ needs and “checking in” should always outweigh undue pressure to cover curriculum.
  • • The smaller a school, the more responsive it will be in addressing each student’s unique needs and learning potential in the classroom. Class size is a key variable in promoting positive learning outcomes.
  • • Change should come to be expected as part of the new normal in K-12 education. It is time to get strategic and to use shorter increments of time to continue evolving even as schools look to reopen. While we get back to doing school, we may not go all the way back to the way it once was before March 2020. Let’s keep the needs to students as our north star when navigating education into 2020-2021. If we have learned anything here, students and families need the constancy of school and the influence of teachers in their lives.
  • • Despite the physical divide that has been created due to school closures, many students are learning positive habits of independence and self-advocacy, time management, resilience and agility. These lessons need to linger and be a part of the outcomes we seek once we are back in a brick and mortar school.

At St. Martin’s, as we wave goodbye (from a distance) to our students and as we close the door on this season of radical change for students and teachers, we will pivot yet again and begin to prepare for a safe and welcome re-entry, all the wiser for the lasting lessons we will have learned.

Serving students from 12 zip codes, St. Martin’s Episcopal School is a preschool through grade 8 independent school in Severna Park. Learn more about St. Martin’s responsive education at a virtual tour every Tuesday at 10:00am. Register at www.stmartinsmd.org.

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