Lacking Leadership, Try Creative Choice

There is a sense in this country that our leadership is lacking and without getting any more political than to mention this perception, our schools need good leadership as well. The number one problem for schools is delivering high-quality teaching to every child. Where we fall short of this goal is in poor neighborhoods but also in good schools where there simply are not enough qualified teachers. COVID-19 has pushed this priority into the spotlight, especially from the school planning point of view. Where leadership really is lacking is offering creative choice in planning to teachers and students in order to increase engagement and learning.

Boca Raton parent Michael Ross is still seething over the lack of planning that he believes could’ve better matched remote students with teachers who wanted to work from home, freeing the teachers on campus to give students there a more typical school experience. 


Instructional Leadership

What has happened during the pandemic is that more teachers retired than normal, more teachers are out sick from the pandemic, and more teachers are looking for safer planning by school districts.

“Instead, his seventh-grade son attends social studies class from the gym via computer while the teacher works from home. An adult in the room keeps kids from misbehaving, but “there’s nobody supervising him academically.” 


Environment that promotes or supports learning is critical to an educated society. Our cinder-block school construction has always been cited as a reason why the environment should be improved, but, during COVID-19, even the students are longing for the continuity it represents.

Even Good Students Struggle

Of course the pandemic is hard on everyone as the number of cases, the number of infections, and the number of deaths continue to rise at record pace. This past week that pace was about 4,000 deaths per day. But the effect on schools is that teachers are having a great deal of trouble leading children in this new era to do their best learning. Anecdotally, students who normally do well continue to learn, while struggling students are falling further behind, but even good students are at a loss to stay engaged.

And the kid’s grades are tanking because of it, Ross said. Ross said his son, a 13-year-old honors student and “jock,” is suffering without a typical school experience and with local sports leagues lost, too. 


Flaming Out?

Remote learning, or learning on site without their teacher being present is a real challenge for keeping our students engaged and learning. Additionally, the mental state of students is also suffering from what they hear on television, what their parents are talking about, and how isolated they feel during this school year.

“Right before Christmas, he just completely shut down, was just not doing work,” Ross said. “He was depressed.”   


We are about to write off this entire academic year, or put an asterisk by it, to let all of us know how out of our educational control this has been. Leadership here is lacking partially because no one who is alive has experienced anything like this.

Solutions? Creative Choice

So what can be done? Leadership needs to get a grip fast, and I mean that from the point of view of the new normal. Children and teachers have to better leverage technology to help us all learn better. This is not going away. Even when the pandemic is over, some part of learning through technology will remain, and we need to enhance that part for all teachers and learners.

Assignments become even more important. It is no longer acceptable to simply assign a set of problems, an essay, a science experiment, or a social studies map to a group of students. The relevance of the assignment and the personalization of assigning to each child needs to be re-thought, re-written for engagement, and re-supervised for success. Online learning requires more personalization.

Most importantly, creativity, should be everywhere. Teachers should be given much more freedom to design and make sense of curriculum, students should be given much more creative choice in how to respond to curriculum, and testing should turn into performance assessment where the students demonstrate what they know and can do.

Leadership should make this happen today.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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