As the COVID 19 crisis began to take hold in late March the disruption to our schools was unprecedented. While our field faced a crisis, we witnessed astounding stories of educators across the country responding with speed, compassion and care. As we listened closely to our partner districts, we at ConnectED realized that the core components of Linked Learning are more important than ever as we all work together to meet the basic, socio-emotional and academic needs of students.
To support our fellow educators, over the past few months ConnectED convened a series of webinars and virtual meetings. Our goal was simple: network educators from across the country, enabling them to share tools, resources and practices that are effectively meeting students’ needs, particularly students most impacted by both educational and economic hardships of COVID 19. Over 600 educators representing 29 states and 2 countries participated in our webinar series. A complete set of the resources and learning from the webinars can be found at www.ConnectEDNational.org/COVID-19. As a result, we learned a great deal from one another and wanted to take this opportunity to highlight a few key learnings:
- Relationships are foundational: Pathway teachers emphasized the importance of maintaining, building and cultivating relationships. Building in time for students to express their concerns, fears and needs within each virtual lesson allowed teachers and school administrators to support students basic needs, create engaging virtual learning experiences, and provide the socio-emotional support that adolescents need during this trying time. Small learning communities served as critical structures for enabling teacher and student relationship-building.
- We can prevent inequities from increasing: While the COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated many of the systemic inequities in public education, that does not have to be the case moving forward. We heard stories of numerous ways that school districts, school leaders, and classroom teachers were innovating with a clear equity lens – from repurposing existing resources to provide students’ access to technology, to designing lessons that emphasized student voice, choice and autonomy, to engaging parents and families as essential partners.
- Graduate Profile is the “North Star”: The types of skills often incorporated into district Graduate Profiles (Communications, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, etc) can be a primary focus for instruction during the crisis and provide coherence for educators.
- Integration helps Relevance: Even in a virtual learning environment Integrating core academics, Career and Technical Education, and Work-based Learning remains an effective strategy for engaging students and providing relevance in their learning. We heard examples of how teachers were reinforcing key concepts, providing opportunities to apply skills and knowledge, and connecting learning to a student’s lived experience through content integration.
- Engage the Community: Work-based learning can and should continue in a virtual learning environment. Business and Industry leaders want to be involved, and can be involved virtually, through activities like virtual job shadows, guest speakers,design challenges, and mentorship.
We offer this set of questions to school staff as plans are being devised that balance health, safety, academic learning, student engagement and student support:
- How might the pathways approach support closing the achievement gap as we extend the societal movement towards racial equality into our school systems?
- How can the pathways approach be leveraged to engage students in academic rigor while also paying attention to racial injustice and the real trauma students are experiencing?
- How can schools and districts leverage the pathways approach to keep students engaged in virtual learning?
- How might we center our students’ interests, current life experiences and resources in the design of virtual college and career pathways learning experiences?
- How might we integrate core content and Career and Technical Education in a virtual context to maximize opportunities for students to learn, apply and integrate academic knowledge and skills?
- How might this time be best used to shift from ‘seat time’ to competency-based outcomes for students, as well as grounding learning in student interest?
- How might we maintain business and community engagement and create even more meaningful experiences for students when it is likely most teaching will have to be done virtually? What are the best strategies to use, and how might we reimagine those relationships?
- How might we create partnerships with other institutions (e.g., churches, community centers, and recreation centers) in the community to support students? Can we use the remote teaching force to support students who need additional help?
In this moment, as districts across the country re-open this fall we have a choice: continue the status quo or re-envision new ways of learning and teaching. We choose the latter. We look forward to working with our partner districts to design learning and teaching experiences that center student voice, choice and autonomy, integrate core content, career technical education and work-based learning and wrap support, care and compassion around our students.