Planning for Dynamic Instruction Amid Recovery

Many schools have returned to in-person classes this spring, while some will continue online and hybrid formats until next fall. The need to mix-and-match approaches is the best we can do in a hopeful, albeit trauma-triggering time.

Educators are tireless, reaching and serving students through it all. Whether used over the next few months or next school year, we’re sharing a few ideas, practices, and strategies for dynamic instruction during recovery.

Let’s continue the conversation and share knowledge across the field.

Many Traditional Norms in the Student Experience Disappeared
COVID-19’s disruptions in student learning and experience present significant hurdles for the coming school year. Many students entering first-grade next fall will have lost pivotal parts of the kindergarten experience, including some never setting foot inside a school. The same is true for seventh graders and most high school sophomores, whose transitional freshman year shifted dramatically.

Millions of underserved students haven’t been experiencing school at all. Systemic access and equity issues marginalized many students, putting them on shortened, inadequate learning tracks.

The student experience, beyond gaps and resets, is confronting new barriers to learning. For instance, wearing masks has had a profound impact on teaching and understanding phonics; this classroom safety measure will prove to be especially difficult for English language learners, students who are deaf, or students with autism, all who’s learning benefits from facial expressions. The fact is “normal” isn’t something we can put a fine point on. No matter the school setting — remote, hybrid, or in-person — our responses need to be different. Educators need support to navigate changes in what learning looks like and plan for the unknowns ahead.

Dynamic Instruction Starts with Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)
While all students have been impacted by the pandemic, students of color are experiencing harm at higher rates. The combined trauma of the pandemic and the nation’s racial reckoning is systemically impacting students of color; and these traumas are surfacing unmet mental health needs in the Black community. We know that when students are experiencing grief, fear, anxiousness, and isolation, learning is harder, if not impossible. COVID-19 has made this a reality for many students. Educators need strategies and resources to address stress and anxiety before it becomes toxic to students’ classroom experience and a barrier to their learning.

Designing warm, welcoming environments that give students a space to share their voices and feelings will enable trust. It’s a critical step for validation, connection, and a sense of safety. Students build confidence and feel valued, conditions essential for learning.

In an SEL mindset, the focus is not moving on or catching up. It’s moving forward, together. The effects of trauma can be long-lasting and can impact cognitive functioning. Unsupported students may face emotional concerns and difficulties. All students need classroom time to develop and work on social-emotional skills to learn and build resilience.

Of course, this doesn’t mean addressing students’ holistic needs in a vacuum. Successful schools will continue to engage communities, families, and students in developing strategies to serve them and enable environments for dynamic instruction.

Ground Everything in Students, Be Flexible Everywhere Else
Classroom practice should be grounded in students in order to build an on-ramp for SEL. Earlier, we shared key questions to get to know your students. Who are your students? What are their families saying? What do they need right now? Interrupted learning is real, but so are the devastating effects of taking a deficit-based approach. Consider what asset each community and school has to offer. Ask yourself: What’s different? What’s possible?

Schools should consider embracing strategic development, staffing, and scheduling for the remainder of this school year and into 2021-2022. For example, next year’s first-grade approach may need to be different.

Some students may not have the foundational reading skills needed for first grade. First-grade teachers may benefit from additional professional learning on building basic foundational reading skills. Or, consider bringing a kindergarten teacher up to the first-grade team for the year to provide support for students in classrooms or block sessions. Design a system that puts students’ needs first and gives them access to the best on-site support.

Revisit our (R)evolution and Big Leap Webinars
COVID-19 forced adaptation, innovation, and resetting expectations. We have an opportunity to dismantle long-standing inequities that continue to plague education. Finally, it feels as though we’re spending a lot more time focusing on individual students and their learning needs and journeys. And we’re opening up what educator support can look and feel like to transform the experience for all stakeholders: students, teachers, leaders, families, and communities.

Check out our webinars and podcasts for deep reflections and conversations to drive new thinking. Together, we can recover and redefine responsive schools with dynamic instruction.

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