Supports Needed to Help Educators and Students Succeed Post-Pandemic
A new teacher reflects on the urgent need for getting students and school staff back to school safety and what resources they need for more effective teaching and learning
How do educators address the challenges inherent in teaching during a pandemic? This is a question I repeatedly asked myself as I began my student teaching experience in the fall of 2020. After careful reflection, I came to the conclusion that the following factors, from the policy level, would support teachers during the pandemic: those teaching remotely, utilizing the hybrid instruction, or in-person teaching. Many of these are very much issues of appropriate funding for and prioritization of our K-12 public schools at the federal level, ones that regularly emerges as issues of great urgency.
1) Hiring adequate numbers of specialists and support staff: On the best days, school staff are responsible for many different roles within the school building. However, the toll taken on learning, and the emotional and physical health of students cannot be understated during the pandemic. In order for all staff to have the time to perform their roles to the best of their abilities and for students to have access to the best learning environment possible, districts must hire additional counselors, teacher aides, special education specialists, bilingual/ESOL specialists, among others, in pursuit of appropriate student-teacher and counselor-student ratios.
2) Strengthened home-to-school bridge: The pandemic has created challenges to providing services to students and families, as the school building once served as a hub for information and resources. Now these must be communicated and provided remotely with a strong chain of professionals. In order for students and families to remain full members of the school community and be aware of how they can remain involved and what resources are available to them, increased numbers of family coordinators, administrative staff, and community liaisons would do a great service.
3) Regularly scheduled opportunities for learning recovery that become part of the school day: These could be in the form of small group, tutoring, and remediation. Currently, many teachers are responsible for tutoring, learning recovery, and instruction, but it is hard to maintain and institute effective learning recovery during the school day without the requisite support.
4) Resources/infrastructure for student needs: Due to reliance on technology for instruction during the pandemic and its importance in student learning throughout their educational career, the capacity for access to technology and support in its use needs to be increased. There are many students and families who continue to lack access to devices and a means (internet access, in particular) to join online learning. It is essential that the services of technology, internet, trouble shooting, internet literacy, and supplies be expanded and regularly monitored.
5) Research-developed and teacher-centered professional development: There continues to be need of professional development that meets the needs of teachers. It would be prudent to include topics selected by teachers themselves that best meet the current realities of their school and classroom communities and then assess these sessions for their effectiveness.
6) Assessment of where students are and need to go, and data-driven decision making: The switch from in-person to online instruction has provided challenges to student learning, especially to special populations such as ESOL and special education. There is a push from the federal level for schools to rely on summative assessments to determine student progress and difficulties. Many students have not been in the classroom since March 2020 and others have been unable to access online instruction. In order to provide appropriate instruction for students and plan for the rest of the school year and the next year, we must gauge where students actually are in their learning. Collecting and prioritizing of formative data on students would be an integral element of this process and should be used to make decisions at the classroom and school level moving forward.
7) Safety and public health protocols for returning to the classroom, including vaccination: With students, teachers, and school staff returning to the classroom, it is essential that they are protected in the best possible manner from contracting COVID-19. Currently, we are unsure when all teachers and staff will be fully vaccinated across the country, as we are only in phase 1B in Virginia. In the best interest of public, community, and family health (of students and families), school systems and departments of education must work with departments of health to ensure the implementation and continued use of safe practices.
8) Strengthened supports for students and families outside of school would be beneficial as the pandemic has exacerbated chronic challenges that many face outside of the school environment. Continued and increased supports in the forms of nutrition, health, literacy, and other community resources would assist in student health and overall school readiness.
9) Research-driven learning support technology: Currently, many schools are providing both synchronous and asynchronous instruction to students. In this way, students receive the benefit of learning with and from the teacher and opportunities to practice what they have learned on their own and with others to cement learning. However, asynchronous time is also a time where learning apps are used frequently. There seem to be an inordinate number of learning apps used, often for similar purposes, which are meant to supplement instruction or provide practice. The research and continued assessment of apps must be there in order to determine which apps are useful for student use, what skills and subject matter they specialize in, and how well they work for students within specific contexts and populations.
10) Seat at the table for policy decision making at school, county, and state level. Issues that have been and are currently confronting teachers have been brought to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in order for these issues to adequately be addressed and surmounted, stakeholders must be given the opportunity to voice their challenges and ideas as a part of a team. Stakeholders in the school environment have expertise in their chosen field and form the pieces of the larger puzzle of student learning, health, and wellbeing.
It is possible to address all of these factors through the appropriate funding of and support of our nation’s public schools. Teachers across the country have been doing incredible work for their students and communities every day. We must offer full support for them, in the best interests of preserving the vital role our public schools play in our society, teachers’ ability to effectively instruct and positive student outcomes.
Julianne Nava is the association support specialist for the Learning First Alliance and a graduate student in Curriculum and Instruction, specializing in ESOL, at George Mason University.
Views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.