We are currently experiencing two crises: COVID-19 and a long overdue reckoning with the systemic racism that has existed in this country since its beginnings. Both are profoundly intertwined with our school systems.
As I have said many times since the start of the pandemic, in the words of Rahm Emanuel, how can we not let a “good crisis go to waste?” We are rethinking so many things right now: the office and working, gender roles in the home, dating, restaurants, police, transportation, the sharing economy, voting. Why are we not fundamentally rethinking schools? I am deeply worried that we will return to school and return to the status quo--to a system that is outdated, that does not work for most students, and that perpetuates inequalities for Black and Latinx children.
What if we used this time not just to scramble to start the year off properly, but to truly rethink how we do school?
In terms of instruction, how can we integrate best and innovative practices from remote learning? There are some schools and some students who have thrived during this time. We do know what works, as there are many schools who have been teaching this way for years. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. These practices are:
Advisory systems where students and families create deep relationships with one person at the school who serves as a point of contact, a resource, and often an advocate.
Project-based, real world, authentic assignments.
Personalized and blended learning techniques such as the flipped classroom, adaptive online instruction, small group instruction, choice boards, and differentiated paths and products.
Using whole class time for check-ins or community building, and not only as a time for teacher centered instruction.
Re-thinking the purpose of grades and student feedback on progress and using comments, portfolios and/or mastery (competency) based learning.
What can we learn from this? How can we make these practices more widespread? How can we “tap” innovative teachers, schools and organizations to share their knowledge?
In terms of creating anti-racist schools, how can we fundamentally change our systems, operations, curriculum and instructional practices so that they actually work and are positive, supportive, engaging and successful for students of color? Again, we do know what works here:
Including an explicit focus on equity as a part of all reentry plans for SY 20-21.
Ensuring that diversity, equity and inclusion work is ongoing, frequent, and considered part of “regular work.” This is a practice, it is an evolution, and is definitely not “one and done.
Reviewing and updating curriculum and instructional practices to ensure they are anti-racist and inclusive.
Reassessing school culture and climate and discipline policies and practices, to ensure it is inclusive, positive, and supportive for all students. Supporting students as they cope with trauma and toxic stress.
Understanding the experiences of special populations: Where, why and how are students being placed? What services are they receiving? Are BIPOC students disproportionately represented?
Reflecting upon and evolving family and community engagement practices.
Reassessing budgets and operational priorities: Where are resources being put? Is resource allocation in line with commitments to creating anti-racist, equitable schools?
Considering how information gets shared and decisions get made: Who are the decision makers, and who has a voice in the process of school reopening, and in running the schools in general?
Continually reflecting upon beliefs and expectations for ALL students, and how our practices and systems reflect these beliefs: As educators, if we are truly going to create anti-racist and inclusive schools, we must believe and show in our actions and policies that all students can learn at the highest levels when given the right supports.
As we return to school (in whatever format that may be), we will need to ensure that our students are not missing key standards, skills and knowledge from SY 2020. Additionally, we need to ensure that students continue to move forward and learn new grade level standards, knowledge, and skills. This will require us to be innovative. At the same time, we cannot ignore our responsibility to dismantle the racist systems that have oppressed our students of color for far too long. For leaders who are wondering what should be their priority, here's our call to action: What if chose to do both, combining innovative practices with anti-racist work? Examples of these are anti-racist project based learning, Liberatory Design Thinking projects, and Youth Participatory Action Research. What if we then went beyond our classrooms and invited families and staff on these projects. Let’s not “let a good crisis go to waste.”