Teacher Reflections

Make These Shifts Permanent: 5 Lessons from Teaching During a Global Pandemic

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Teaching during a global pandemic has been the most challenging experience of our professional lives. As we pass the first anniversary of schools shifting to hybrid or remote instruction, it’s worth appreciating what we have accomplished through many rounds of trials and tribulations. The silver lining of this tumultuous year—yes, even a tragic global pandemic can have bright spots—are the shifts we made to help our students continue learning at high levels.

The pandemic pushed us to be more aware of students’ needs, re-examine long-held beliefs on grading and assessment, and provide more time for interventions and teacher collaboration.

Here are five shifts we made the past year that we should consider making a regular part of our teaching toolbox to create more equitable and truly student-centered schools.

  1. Emphasize social-emotional learning.

The summer of racial reckoning, a global pandemic, and a tumultuous presidential election brought our students’ social & emotional needs to the forefront. Although the crises will fade our attentiveness to students’ lived experiences should not. We can continue to use consistent check-ins, informal surveys, and transformative SEL practices. My favorite question to ask on every unit feedback Google Form: What’s one significant life event from the past 1-2 months that has affected you or your family?

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2. Grade equitably

The pandemic made us keenly aware of our students’ wide-ranging academic and family backgrounds. While some students attended classes from quiet lofts, other students struggled to participate in class discussions while also caring for younger siblings. These inequities highlighted the importance of prioritizing feedback over high-stakes grades, categorizing learning goals students must, should, and aspire to master, and providing multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency.

3. Create more authentic assessments

Teachers quickly recognized that traditional multiple-choice assessments wouldn’t fairly or accurately measure learning with many students at home. We can continue to use more creative alternate assessments to give students multi-faceted opportunities to demonstrate mastery: Flipgrid explanations of math problems, RAFT writing assignments, students recording cooking & sewing demos, etc.

4. Schedule collaboration & intervention

Collaboration soared as teachers sought to modify years of carefully cultivated curriculum on the fly. Whether teachers turned to their colleagues or virtual PLNs, asking for help was normalized. Many schools used asynchronous Wednesdays or Fridays to bolster teacher collaboration and student intervention. Educators can replicate the strategies they used this year during a traditional schedule by using group rotations for in-class intervention time, creating micro-PD leveraging abundant expertise within your school , and seeking & sharing resources with virtual PLNs.

5. Design More Flexible Learning

With some students at home and some in school with schedules changing at a moment’s notice, flexibility was every educators’ “word of the year.” We can continue to employ the pedagogical approaches we utilized this past year to make learning more student-centered: organize our digital classroom so students can initiate their own learning, make greater use of video to free us up for providing one-on-one and small group support, and creating asynchronous activities that are genuinely engaging.

By taking a moment to reflect on how much our pedagogy has evolved in the past year due to the pandemic, we can celebrate our collective resilience and apply the lessons we learned to better serve our students for years to come.

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