As We Return to Learn, We Must Create Choices for Families

As we consider opening back up the nation, let’s not forget to examine the lessons we have learned from COVID-19. Educators and school leaders faced with the task of creating “return to learn plans” must intentionally seek out various viewpoints in developing post-COVID learning opportunities.

We are educators, called to inspire life-long learning and to be life-long learners ourselves. We need to pause to lift the rocks up and look under them, to look around at the beauty and hardships in what we have found in this situation. 

Certainly, these have been “unprecedented times” and I recognize the hardships many have faced. I recognize the privilege of those with savings, jobs and resources. And I know lifting rocks is hard work; it is easier to go back to how it was before. But it’s time to ask ourselves questions and do some heavy lifting.

Where were we before things shut down? What pressures faced teachers and administrators? What challenges and joys do these circumstances bring and for who? Who is struggling and why? How can we support a variety of family and student needs as we create “return to learn” plans?

I’m not sure the desire to “return to normal” is felt by all. Certainly, what is “normal” must shift, at least in the short term, as we consider the ongoing presence of the virus. But the possibility for a bigger shift looms; the world as we knew it is gone and we can define this new world! There will be various models developed by districts around the nation for ramping up school. But let’s not make the mistake of assuming school should go back to how it was before.

For Some, Life Has Changed For the Better

Consider the perspective that, for some, parts of life during COVID times have actually improved. For some people, pressure for job performance went down and family time sky-rocketed. More universally, kids have experienced a new, slower pace in their lives that is refreshing for many. 

Families can explore their children’s interests and dig deep into important questions. The “mini-lecture series” has sprung up in homes around the nation as families teach their children social/emotional lessons based on their own kids’ emotional needs.

Kids are gardening, teaching dogs tricks, imagining with their siblings, crafting, learning musical instruments, visiting virtual museums, watching science videos, star gazing, going on walks, finding frogs, and much more. Kids are reading books, real books because they have time to actually sit and consume literature that they want to read. Some kids are thriving.

We must consider multiple perspectives about the influences of these times and moments, this slower pace. Let’s be creative, let’s do surveys and focus groups. Let’s leverage what we have learned to create new models for learning. A cross-section of the population is ready for something different because of what they have gained during COVID-19.

We must, of course, acknowledge that some kids are very well served in schools. Also, the economic realities of working parents for many families necessitate a school schedule that mirrors the five-day workweek. But that should not be the reason that all school must be rooted in a five-day model.

A cross-section of the population has retired grandparents who treasure moments with grandkids and possess other creative capacities to enrich the lives of their own children. Some businesses have realized that the economic shift of having employees at home is actually more sustainable than renting office space. Many parents are being shifted to more flexible working schedules.

So, we must create choices for families in our return to learn models. Certainly, for a time things will be unstable and we must plan for that. Some families won’t be able to return to school right away because family members may be sick and immune compromised individuals are restricted. But some might not want to return to school as we knew it. So we must give families some choices.  

In fact, providing choices may alleviate some of the challenges schools face in terms of already overpacked classrooms, transportation and lunch concerns. It may alleviate concerns related to social distancing as some would prefer to have reduced time in school buildings.

  • What would it look like to do blended schooling? To intentionally reduce the time some children are required to be in schools—with the goal of it remaining that way?
  • Would some parents opt into a model where they choose some curriculum and the school services other curriculum?
  • Could we make what some districts do with Home School Assistance Programs widely available?
  • What if there was a section of each grade that is fully online? 
  • Do we need to adopt a section of each grade that families can opt into where schooling is just ½ day 2 days a week? Or two full days?
  • In these models, what would families have more trouble supporting at home? Surely, reading and math are the foundations of time at school. But perhaps those subjects are actually easier to support at home versus the communal learning that enhances science, social studies and the arts.
  • How can we guide families in curriculum choices and support them to help their children?  

Regardless, we must consider the different needs of families. Certainly, education has never been one-size-fits-all, but these times are calling districts to shift.

The fabric of society has shifted. Undoubtedly, things will be different. We must spend the time to define this new way of life—and new way of learning— so that we honor what we have learned.

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