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Schools are Essential

One of the lessons we are learning from the pandemic is how much they are essential to our society here in America. Sending children home from school to protect them from the pandemic was a very good response to a threat we knew very little about. But in leaving the structure of school, we plunged into a world that wasn’t about learning and that is a step backward.

Now We Return

So now we return our children to school and they are different. Many suffer from anxiety that is a combination of loss of school and a reordering of society. People quit jobs that did not make them happy and employers had trouble re-hiring for jobs that didn’t pay well or didn’t treat the workers well. Teachers left or retired and some students are still home. But there is a hope that is taking place, growing like a new fire, and warming like a fire we all need to be warm. And that hope is for an improved quality in educational environments and outcomes.

Improved Environments and Outcomes

Improved environments and outcomes depends on more trust, more freedom and more confidence in the process of K-12 education. This may be most evident, for example, in new ideas such as the science of reading, the attention to social emotional support, and the whole child policies that are now finding their way into many schools. In the science of reading, many teachers are learning that their previous approach which was called balanced literacy, allowed them too much discretion and the new approach is much more logical and developmentally appropriate.

Teachers Are Learning

Teachers are also learning that social emotional support opens previously shut gates for learning, as when students feel that they belong in a school they are very much more likely to participate and learn. Whole child policies are beginning to help teachers look at students in a more holistic way as when they integrate the arts into math by introducing histograms and buildings that need coloring. When students are told that the buildings they colored have a table that governs the height of the buildings, students become totally engaged in the how and why of math because it is a many colored and beautiful thing.

Quality, Access, Creativity

The improvements in environments and outcomes depends on policy makers agreeing to make quality schools available for every student and become much more creative in how we conduct teaching and learning engagement. We, policymakers, state education leaders, principals, and teachers need to make the experience of going to school something every student wants to do. We also need to make the outcomes of going to school that we produce students who are confident, skilled, flexible, sustainable, and competent. For example, the role of standardized tests needs to be less restrictive, students should love their chance to be assessed, and they should always be ready to demonstrate what they know and can do.

It’s a new era and we need to embrace it, change it, and love it.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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