We are officially one year into this madness. It's hard to believe.
Summarizing (the Southern Ontario education story) in short. I recognize that in different areas of the country and in other countries, things may have gone differently (for better, or for worse).
- Last March, we went home for March Break and never went back
- Parents and teachers worked hard to attempt to pull together a virtual program so students could learn from home (some more successful than others), the kids rallied
- Teachers pivoted with fairly little support (although admin really loved to say that they prioritized supporting the teachers both with virtual learning and from a mental health perspective... honestly I could write a whole other post just on this alone)
- Some parents chose to fully home school and others used the government provided online learning platforms in conjunction with the public school board offerings, regardless of how they learned, the kids rallied.
- Masks became mandatory - the kids rallied.
- We had a COVID summer, without camp or programs; the kids rallied
- We hesitantly returned to school buildings in September
- Kids were thrilled and thriving - distancing, hand-washing, masks, plexi-glass and all
- Cases went back up and schools went back to virtual learning after Winter Break and still the kids rallied
- Finally, in February, kids could go back to schools in-person, the kids continue to rally.
The biggest takeaway for me, is that the kids are resilient. They will always rally when we need them to. They continue to come back time and time again and rise above the challenges. Don't get me wrong...they are not without their scars from this experience - none of us are. However, they are stronger than we give them credit for.
The truth about all of this is that there will be significant gaps in learning for a majority of kids for a pretty long time after this is all "over". Why?
Learning from home has a ton of barriers for kids.
For the kids who have been fortunate to access to internet, printers, tablets/computers and other resources necessary for connecting to school virtually:
- learning from home has it's unavoidable distractions - siblings, parents, toys, pets etc.
- parents have a difficult time distinguishing themselves between role of parent/teacher
- asynchronous learning puts tons of kids in the driver's seat of their education and for many, they aren't ready for that kind of independent learning yet
- less time learning directly from the teacher
- less time learning from and alongside peers
- more screen time = more headaches, less physical activity, increased exhaustion
- lack of social time = heightened anxiety, feelings of isolation and sadness
- kids with IEPs are receiving less support
For the kids who are in lower socio-economic families, they have all of the barriers listed above plus:
- parents are at work, since they are likely considered front-line or essential workers in their jobs so they are not at home to help assist with the virtual learning
- many families rely on in-school meal programs; being at home means these programs are on pause
- lack of access to stable internet, digital devices, printers, notebooks/pencils, textbooks, etc. means gaps are growing as they are receiving less or no instruction and guidance from teachers/peers
- families are at a higher risk since "staying at home" is less of an option in many cases
Access or not - the kids have faced barriers and challenges that no one could have ever imagined. While they have stepped up to the and taken each new phase as it comes, there is no denying that the level and quality of education they have received is beneath the standard that they are used to.
Let me be crystal clear - this is to absolutely NO FAULT of their teachers or their parents. This is solely the circumstance of the COVID-19 environment. This is everyone doing the best they can to get through this moment in time and resume learning to the best of their capabilities, understanding that it is not ideal but it will do, for now.
No matter how well the kids have rallied, it's no surprise that they will have an Everest-sized mountain to climb in terms of filling in the gaps in their learning, and healing the emotional trauma of this past year.
So how do we help them?
The question everyone wants to know the answer to.
1. First, we need to help the kids manage their emotional and mental well-being. After this is over, we can expect a ton of anxiety about things "going back to normal". I imagine there will likely be a ton of concerns and fears, that are quite rational, about being in close proximity to others again, hugging, removing masks, etc. We need to keep the kids talking about how they are feeling and guiding them through whatever emotions, reflections and fears they exhibit as they arise. Children will need deep, emotional connection more than ever before.
2. Next, we need to teach the kids as they are and meet them where they are at. The Government sets forth curriculum and as teachers, it's our job to assess and evaluate based on those expectations. However, those expectations are set based on a typical learning environment in a typical year, neither of which were present this year. So either we evaluate the majority of kids below grade level and deplete the remainders of their self-esteem or we implement something like a bell curve style system to adjust for the unique times. Now is the time for leniency in those expectations.
3. Furthermore, we need to understand that this will have lasting impacts for years to come. These learning gaps will not just disappear on their own. There will be gaps that follow these kids for arguably the next 3-5 years. They will require tons of support to make up the difference. This means that looking forward, there should be a higher budget for special education PD, special education and resource teachers, teaching assistants, reading recovery programs, etc.
4. The kids will need the "extras" back in their life. Extra-curriculars, extra support, extra snuggles. They will be desperate to get back into their hobbies and "me-time" doing the things they love - whether that be the use of public libraries and swimming pools, sports, theater, art, music, etc. They will need these hobbies back as soon as possible. They will potentially require extra academic support, perhaps in the form of study groups, homework clubs, before/after school support, professional or peer tutoring, etc. This will help them make up some of the lost time in their learning. Lastly, they will definitely need extra special time with their parents, guardians, siblings, etc. Make sure to carve out some special quality time with your kids each week or each day, to ensure they feel seen and loved as they work double time to bounce back.
5. Take what we've learned from this year and bring it forward beyond COVID. This is the perfect time to re-evaluate the way kids learn. While it is hard for school to be entirely online, many students have benefited from the flexible learning styles. Schools have been designed and run to operate with the industrial revolution mindset - paper and pencil, task-oriented and old-school thinking. Slowly, and I mean very slowly, schools have been shifting the way they teach children. This catapulted the adaptation of school systems to a digital world. It is important that when things transition back to "normal", we remember the positive things that came out of COVID-19. For example, G-Suite for Education tools have changed the way kids can engage with each other and their learning. I hope that schools can recognize the benefits these tools can bring to the classroom setting and continue to apply them moving forward. Schools should be exploring how to flip their classrooms, use project-based learning, cross-curricular teaching and incorporate tech tools wherever possible. I will be diving into these ideas in blog posts to come!
If you need resources, support or guidance - please feel free to reach out.
As always, you can schedule your free 15 minute, no obligation consultation with me at any time! You can do that here.