A Courageous Conversation about COVID

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We had a fantastic Game Changer conversation in the What School Could Be Community that inspired us and challenged us. Dr. Amber Strong Makaiau University of Hawaii and Hanahauoli School), Dr. Andrew Ho (Harvard Graduate School of Education), and Mari Jones (High Tech High Graduate School), engaged with audience questions and dug deep into surviving, and potentially thriving, through this COVID pandemic.

Beginning with the premise from recently completed research with teachers and students (Article and Study) that: (1) “learning loss” is not and should not be the dominant narrative of the pandemic, and (2) we shouldn’t go back to a normal that clearly was not working well, the panelists shared research and practice to support a shift in the purpose of school, address equity disparities, and provide concrete small steps we can do now.

Here are the highlights of the conversation and the insights into what’s working, what we’re learning, and how to forge ahead with joy and purpose:

Shifting our Thinking about the Purpose of School

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to confront a truth: that the current purpose of school lies somewhere between unclear or outdated. The panelists asked us to focus on the humanity of our learners and teachers. They also asserted that school does not just prepare students to be part of society, but that our schools are part of our communities now, and that human development is a goal of schooling.

Now more than ever students need us to focus on social, emotional learning [through activities including] welcoming routines that allow students to express how they're feeling…

COVID and (in)Equity

The COVID pandemic has lifted the veil and exposed many pre-existing inequities in education. It has further exacerbated others. Access to whole-child, student-centered education is more important than ever, and those approaches are oftentimes out of reach in many communities. Access to adequate resources for even traditional learning models are inequitably distributed in the United States. The panelists encouraged us to use what has come to light during the past 18 months to inspire action towards equity in education. They highlighted the positive changes that have emerged in the past two years and implored us to use assets-based frames, and to make sure we hold democracy at our core, to best serve all of our learners.

…throw money out there strategically to those who need it most because the big findings from COVID are not just about declines, they're about increases in inequality…

Small Steps and Big Joy

The happiest takeaway from the hour-long conversation was a focus on joy. All three panelists encouraged us to create joy where we could. From focusing on what is core to our teaching and asking ourselves “is adding this going to add or detract from joy?”, to creating mandala art projects in faculty meetings, all three panelists shared small steps to big payoffs.

And for 45 minutes of the faculty meeting, we were making art together… [T]he mood in the room from when folks walked in there to when they left, they were so much more settled and connected and in a way that they wouldn't have [been], if we were just talking about things and problem solving, and what do we want to take with us from the pandemic.

Resources mentioned in this conversation are linked below as well as a video recap of entire conversation. Share your thoughts and favorite takeaways in the comments!

Resource Links

Watch the Full Conversation

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