Three Lessons the Pandemic Taught Us

October 22, 2021

Pandemic learning has certainly been a memorable experience for schools across the country. Some made their first forays into digital learning while others leveraged over-communication to keep the ball rolling. While we can all agree that there is no replacement for face-to-face learning, the pandemic has provided an opportunity for educators to form good habits with their classroom technology. It also taught us a thing or two about hitting the pause button when we’re too in the weeds and the power of brain breaks.

As schools return to in-person instruction, here are three valuable lessons we learned from remote learning and suggestions on incorporating them into the physical classroom.

Meet Virtually When You Can

Who would have thought the pandemic could make meeting with others easier? While it might sound a bit counterintuitive, many districts - especially rural ones - were able to overcome geographic barriers thanks to tools like Zoom, Hangouts, and Teams. And while we agree that there’s no true substitution for face-to-face connections, technology provided a temporary solution that inspired a lot of great habits, like over-communication and frequent check-ins between admins, teachers, parents, and students.

When teachers could no longer meet with their students and departments, all parties needed to be explicitly clear on what actions, priorities, and planning needed to happen. Even districts who typically struggle to communicate effectively found themselves meeting several times per week just to ensure nothing was falling through the cracks. It also provided a much easier way for parents to be looped into conversations about their children. A parent is much more likely to hop on a quick, 15-minute Zoom with a teacher than take time off work for a face-to-face meeting.

From a logistics perspective, meeting virtually also had a significant impact on the way professional learning could be delivered. In-person training and coaching is extremely valuable. However, complementing in-person training with virtual sessions that allow flexibility for teachers’ busy schedules is also highly effective. 

As we head into the new year, think about when virtual meetings could continue to positively impact teachers, parents, and leadership:

  • Frequent, informal check-ins with your department
  • More flexibility for parent engagement
  • Easily meet for training, with district personnel, or with those at other sites to support distract-wide initiatives

Take Breaks When You Need Them

Whether it’s due to screen fatigue, bandwidth constraints, or even device scarcity, one thing we’ve all gotten accustomed to is being able to step away from the screens and decompress for a few minutes when our brains need a break. All schools value hard work and determination, and being able to hit the pause button and stretch your legs can have a profound effect on both student and teacher productivity. The World Health Organization agrees that something as simple as snacking while working can improve productivity by 20%, while stretching between lessons improves circulation and memory function. 

To accommodate students, many districts allowed for flexibility when submitting digital assignments or completing lessons via learning management systems. Now, this doesn’t mean that teachers should accept 6-month old work from a student without question. Instead of fixed deadlines - like having homework due at the beginning of class the next day - give students a fixed window or grace period to turn in the assignment. For example, “homework should be submitted no more than 48 hours past the due date.” Or, if you have a tool like Classworks that automatically grades for you, “all this week’s homework is due by Friday.” This helps lighten the load for students and supports development of SEL competencies including Self-Management and Self-Awareness, while also setting a realistic expectation to have work completed in a timely manner. 

When returning to physical classrooms, be cognizant that it’s going to take some adjusting for students to not be able to grab a snack or use the restroom whenever they like. And, while it doesn’t have to be free-rein, there are ways to let students continue to enjoy some of the freedoms they have gotten used to -- just in a more structured way!

Here are some suggestions

  • Build in time for brain breaks, or fun activities to decompress and get re-energized
  • Start each lesson with a quick stretch to relieve any tension and shake out any stress
  • Consider building a 10-minute buffer time between each subject change to use the restroom, visit a vending machine, or take a walk down the hall
  • Allow students to eat approved snacks in class during work time
  • Let due-dates on smaller assignments be flexible; allow a 24-48 hour window before something is considered ‘late’

Don’t Underestimate Technology

Even the least tech-savvy of us have learned a new skill or two when it comes to classroom technology. While there was a definite learning curve at first, the payoff of using technology to streamline day-to-day activities is absolutely worth it. Meeting the individual needs of every student is challenging enough on its own and when face-to-face learning is not a viable option, it is nearly impossible to ensure students are receiving the support they need. Unless, that is, you leverage the technology resources available to you and your students.

In many ways, pandemic learning was a chance for everyone to confront their relationship with classroom technology and brush up on skills that will only become more commonplace in the digital age: like attaching PDFs, hosting virtual lessons, and linking activities through their learning management systems. For many teachers, remote learning was the first opportunity to roll up their sleeves and dig into tools their districts already had at their disposal, including Google Classroom or Schoology. Many teachers were happy to learn that students could not only submit assignments through these platforms, but that they could also be used to house important resources all year long. 

Lesson plans, study guides, and practice activities could easily be uploaded and used for students to continuously reference throughout the year. Electronically submitting homework also relieves the heavy burden of hand grading. Tools, like Classworks, that automatically individualize lessons based on student assessment data can allow teachers to focus more on teaching grade-level standards with the peace of mind that COVID learning loss is being mitigated.

Why not continue some of these practices this year, or try some of these:

  • Record a video of yourself explaining or working through a tough problem or concept for students to reference outside of class
  • Upload lesson plans and study guides for students to look back on as they are introduced to more complex topics
  • Use Google Classroom to assign homework or practice problems for students
  • Pull in assignments from other products, like Classworks, and have students operate from one uniform platform

Good Habits Yield Great Results

There were many lessons the pandemic taught us about adaptability, technology, and perseverance. 

Instead of postponing or canceling a meeting, remember that meeting virtually is always a better option than canceling. Take advantage of all the channels you have to communicate with parents, students, and colleagues and set expectations for effective communication.

Recognize that students and teachers won’t just snap back to classroom life like nothing happened. It will take some adjusting before everyone truly settles back into their routines. Be aware of student and teacher stress levels and be open to accommodating needs.

Finally, if there were tools introduced during the pandemic that made your life easier - like linking Classworks activities through Google Classroom - remember, that you don’t have to stop just because school is back in session! These tools weren’t solely developed for remote learning, and were built for students learning in any environment. 

No one can know for sure what challenges and triumphs the next school year will bring, but one thing is for certain. The lessons we’ve learned throughout the pandemic should guide our future practices in the classroom and make success more attainable for everyone -- no matter what the new year looks like. 

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