A Reflection: Many Best Practices Transcend School Walls

student studying

Across the globe, the last several weeks have dealt us all a set of conditions that have challenged us emotionally, intellectually, socially, psychologically, physically, and temporally: Boundaries between our personal and professional spaces have collapsed. We have lost the rituals and events that help us mark and celebrate the passage of time. Interactions within homes have intensified with the constant proximity to immediate family. The locus of schooling has shifted to the home. We have been separated from our extended support systems. And all while many families have faced financial strains from the pandemic and its impacts.

As we reflect on this time, we realize that while so much of our world has changed, many best practices in education transcend the migration of the physical classroom to the virtual environment. We have developed an even greater respect for both educators and families. We have been impressed by some new modalities for communication and learning. And relationships continue to be at the core of effective teaching and learning.

Family engagement is powerful. For years, research and experts have agreed that strong family engagement is beneficial for all students. But, oftentimes, barriers of time, place, and family circumstance have prevented educators and families from forging a productive, open, and balanced partnership. Now that families and educators are virtually in each other’s homes on a weekly or daily basis, there is a growing comfort with more direct and ongoing communication. Additionally, the increased role of families in managing and overseeing a student’s education has created a sense of mutual respect between families and teachers. Many parents and caregivers have a newfound understanding and appreciation for all that educators do for students. And through this forced shift, teachers have relied on parents as a fundamental piece of the learning equation, realizing the value of this teaching and learning support team.

Tools and content should be flexible and accessible. With new learning systems and structures in place, students and families have greater flexibility and access to materials, instructional content, and ways to connect with teachers. This flexibility of time and order of work completion empower students with some choice in their learning. Expanded access to instructional videos and content increase the capability for additional practice on challenging material, and the ability to deepen learning on topics of interest. Though these platforms and options for learning and communicating have existed for some time, this push to distance learning has shifted them from being optional to essential. The anytime, anywhere access to materials also fortifies family engagement channels as parents are able to participate more fully and directly in the learning.

Relationships are fundamental. In any classroom, it is the connections between teachers and students that facilitate productive learning. Solid relationships are a prerequisite for the development of a strong classroom community, social-emotional health and growth, and a teacher’s ability to personalize learning. As we have watched our own children interact with teachers and classmates, it is evident that the quality and strength of the relationships between teachers and their students are vital to academic learning. And modalities that strengthen those relationships, such as video conferencing or family engagement communication apps–where students are able to connect in a meaningful way with their teachers–are core to this virtual learning.

Looking Forward

During the past several weeks, we have been in awe of our educators and fellow parents as this context has forced us all to stretch our skills and capacity like never before. Parents are sharing new work-at-home environments with a cohort of high-energy, creative, and nearly always hungry “co-workers.” Teachers are partnering with parents as managers of school schedules and requirements while also trying to keep kids excited about learning and introducing them to brand-new modalities, tools, and behaviors for doing so (e.g., appropriately using the videoconference mute button). And in what seems like a constant replay of Groundhog Day, teachers and parents alike are trying to make each day feel special and unique.

As we look into the future beyond this unique season of learning, we are hopeful we will emerge from our social distances with wisdom and insights that forever improve teaching and learning. We hope that the channels connecting families and teachers remain open and that we sustain a collective, mutual respect between parents and teachers. We hope that learning tools and resources can be made available to families in ways that work to meet their unique sets of needs. And we hope that strong relationships remain at the core of teaching and learning.

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Erin Gohl

Erin Gohl is a Getting Smart columnist, and an independent writer focusing on issues of equity, engagement, and technology in educational policy and practice

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