What a school year. You made it! Joyful graduation ceremonies for the class of 2021, send-offs for 8th graders, and end-of-school-year assemblies have given education leaders the chance to express deep gratitude for their teachers, students, families, and local communities and to celebrate the learning that continued to happen through a time of incredible disruption.
The end of the school year is always a bittersweet and poignant time; this year, the opportunity to reflect, assess, and envision the future of education is especially significant.
Challenge—whether on a micro level or a huge, pandemic scale—is a powerful catalyst for change, and the education community is positively humming right now with thought leadership and innovation.
As we wrap up the 2020-21 school year and take a collective breath, here are the top 10 ideas that are transforming education for K-12 students right now.
- Social-emotional learning
Hands down, providing authentic, age-appropriate social-emotional learning (SEL) to help students process the disruptions they’ve experienced is a top priority for many school districts. Educators were seeing the benefits of SEL in their schools before the pandemic, and now they agree that it’s more critical than ever. SEL provides students—and their teachers—with a safe environment for discussing issues, finding common ground, and promoting personal growth. Learn more about how districts are supporting SEL needs on this recent podcast.
- Increased parent engagement
Another widespread observation is that parents are more engaged than ever. So, how do you continue to foster that engagement even after students return to full-time, in-person school this fall? A reliable, consistent communication strategy is critical to keeping families connected with your schools. If possible, find a way to streamline the creation and delivery of your easy-to-understand messages on a reliable schedule.
- District-wide connectivity
Although some students across the country were doing some portion of their schoolwork online before the pandemic, many were not able to because of limited access to broadband internet and relevant devices that could reliably connect. Now, educators are working harder than ever to bridge the “digital divide” to ensure that students in both urban and rural areas—from all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds—are connected to their online learning communities.
- Support for teachers and administrators
Teaching is always a heavy lift. However, what our teachers have adapted to—and accomplished—since March 2020 is extraordinary. Burnout in many industries is high post-pandemic, and education is no exception, but there are ways to acknowledge and support educators going forward, including offering professional development, providing flexibility, and using COVID relief funding to compensate teachers. Here are ways you can appreciate your teachers 52 weeks a year.
- Creating a tech ecosystem
Everyone agrees that simply rolling out multiple learning apps is confusing and frustrating—not only for students and parents, but also for teachers. The districts that are providing the most stress-free online learning environments for all of their stakeholders are the ones that have created a streamlined tech ecosystem. One example of this is to provide a Single Sign-On (SSO), so that students, parents, and teachers have one username and password for the entire online learning environment.
- Professional development
The dated “lunch-and-learn” has been replaced with flexible, dynamic online resources to help educators connect with peers across the country, learn about best practices in education, and get valuable hands-on training with technology. On-demand webinars, tutorials, and podcasts are a great way for educators to do PD when it works for their schedule.
- Partner with a robust digital curriculum
One comprehensive digital curriculum can connect your entire district and provide the foundation for consistent learning, assessment, and budgeting. Because all educators are using the same digital curriculum throughout the district, there is also a peer-to-peer support system that helps students and their families as well.
- Big-picture budgeting
Although the COVID relief funding being provided to public K-12 schools can be confusing, there are great resources for understanding how it can help your district move forward for years to come. The best advice from experts is to have a big-picture strategy to spread out spending on capital expenses, technology, teacher compensation, and other expenses that will help your students in the long run. This recent webinar with Michael Griffith, Senior Research and Policy Analyst at the Learning Policy Institute, does a great job of visually outlining how funding works, what you can allocate it for, and deadlines for spending it.
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
It’s never been more important to include all students, from all backgrounds, in our schools. Creating a welcoming atmosphere goes beyond a motto, mascot, or statement. A true commitment to DEI goes hand in hand with a strong SEL program that fosters open dialogue and curiosity about diverse cultures.
10. Using data in new ways
What if we could measure—and value—learning instead of rote knowledge using data? That is what many educators are proposing. Test scores are a key data point, but they don’t fully offer the growth of students who have experienced life-changing learning. Teachers who have the opportunity to assess the growth of their students’ understanding through incremental unit assessments can help them pinpoint gaps that standardized tests can’t. Flexible online tutorials can help students fill gaps and gain confidence in specific subjects, either with the guidance of a teacher or on their own.
This is an exciting time for education, and we’re here to help you as you implement new programs and strategies for the 2021-22 school year!