In August or September, hopefully, schools will be reopening across North America and perhaps earlier, in other parts of the world. Hallways and cafeterias will be filled with the sounds of children’s voices and “seeing” one another, teachers and students, will take on a great new meaning. Undoubtedly, there will be tears of happiness shed as classroom doors are open and students are welcomed back in to the arms of their teachers. (I suspect that there will be tears of happiness as parents say good bye to students that first morning as well!) Right now, however, teachers are still wondering what will be the new normal for this return? And, from my coaching calls this week, I would say that the question keeping most educators awake at night, right now is “How will students have faired, mentally, socially, physically and academically over this extended time away from school? ”
In its report this past week, the Northwest Evaluation Association’s (NWEA) Collaborative for Student Growth Research Center predicts that students will return to school with approximately only 70% of the learning retained from this school year and, unfortunately, for mathematics, the prediction is closer to only 50%. In some grades and with some students, the learning can be as much as a full year behind. (https://www.nwea.org/content/uploads/2020/04/KAP5122-Collaborative-Brief_Covid19-Slide-APR20_FW.pdf).
I am going to go out on a limb and say that planning for school re-opening needs careful attention to a few important areas. This shouldn’t be complicated but thoughtfully organized with a focus on a few important details:
- Gather information of what teachers currently know was learned this school year and what they can predict to be the skills/knowledge that students will be missing as they leave their grade. Working collaboratively, right now, as a grade level or content level team to have discussions about what they accomplished this year and can confidently tell the next grade will be a learning gap is a helpful first step. These vertical discussions are always a great practice and are more important, right now, then ever before. The information collected can help the teachers build a plan for the first four weeks of school that can include what the previous grade level teachers identified as possible learning gaps.
- Create a transition plan for the beginning of the school year that provides both physical transition and closure for this school year as an academic transition. For example, one school that I am working with is planning a first day back that allows for students to visit with their previous teacher and classmates prior to being ‘walked” to their next teacher. One school is considering a “cross the bridge” theme to provide a way to honor the end of the school year and start a fresh new one. There are delayed celebrations and graduations being planned and all of these efforts will be important to students. Academic transitions can include at least a four week plan to provide time for teaching and interventions as well as immediate diagnostic assessments (especially at the early grades) to determine foundational academic needs (especially in reading and math). On-going interventions are always necessary and the 2020-2021 year will require leaders to understand and implement effective interventions that are continuously monitored and adjusted. Timely and immediate response will be critically necessary and this should be planned now to ensure that no time is wasted once school reopens.
- Consider staffing for next year, especially for the first four to six weeks of school. Plan a hands- on – deck approach to put every available adult in front of students who will need intervention and support as they come back to school. Create a plan to put the most skilled and highly effective teachers in front of the students who need it most. Small group instruction with intentionally focused expectations on specific skills for specific students will never be more important then the opening of this school year. Master schedules need to be carefully thought out as well as who we hire and this is the time to do that thinking. Everything next year is about student learning and this plan should be ready to go when school opens without delay.
- Elementary schools will have a special challenge with kindergarten students heading off to first grade. So much of the reading and writing that is accomplished in kindergarten truly grows and springs to life in the last half of the school year. First grade teachers will face more non-readers and students who have been without structures and routines for several months. It will be very important for these students and teachers to be well supported and have a great transition plan for the first few months. What foundational skills and learning will need to be the focus?
I know that physical distancing, working from home, business closures and our ever-changing knowledge of COVID-19 has added stress and challenges, in different ways, for different people. I know that it might be hard to do planning now for months away, however, it seems like a good time to put our energy and resources towards the way we want school to be when we re-open.
Controlling what we can control is what this is about. As district and school leaders, and of course, classroom teachers, we can control what we plan and implement for when we finally see our students again. Educators around the world have been showing love to students in so many ways this past month; delivering meals with their lessons, staying in touch with them on a daily basis, sending them letters through the mail, holding car parades, supporting their parents, day and night, and most importantly, working to keep learners engaged through a very difficult time.
The next big challenge is how we start up again. The true test of our collaborative efforts will be how well prepared we are to meet the needs of our students. Doing something feels great… let’s not just talk about this… we can be well prepared for 2020-2021! Thanks for reading. Have a great week and stay safe and healthy.