How four innovative education leaders are re-thinking learning in a post-pandemic world

For Schools Jun 8, 2021

According to four district leaders, there is a lot to be learned from the Covid-19 pandemic. One loud and clear lesson is that the time for one-size-fits-all learning has passed and that virtual learning, in some form, is here to stay.

These were just two of many insights from the virtual roundtable discussion webinar “K-12 Education Post-Pandemic: What We Take With Us and What We Leave Behind.” hosted by Outschool’s Amy Yamner Jenkins and author Michael Horn.

Speakers at the event included:

  • Michael B. Horn, Author and Expert on the future of education.
  • Dr. Maria Armstrong, Executive Director of the Association for Latino Administrators and Superintendents
  • Scott Feder, Superintendent of South Brunswick School District in New Jersey
  • Dan Jennings, Technology and Assessment Coordinator for Hagerman School District in New Mexico
  • Monica Lang, Principal at West Preparatory school

Below are some of the major takeaways from the event. If you’d like to watch the recording of the webinar, you can find it here.

It’s time to leave behind a one-size-fits-all approach to learning and embrace a future that includes virtual learning.

Monica Lang observed that the pandemic allowed students and families to experience an array of learning experiences for the first time, including in-person, virtual and hybrid learning.

Lang acknowledged that there are many kids that undoubtedly need the face to face learning experience, though others may benefit from a hybrid or even a remote-only approach. Additionally, students have different levels of support at home, meaning that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t meet every student’s needs.

School districts learned they could rapidly change when needed.

“The best businesses survive because they’re agile,” Dan Jennings said. “What we pulled out of the pandemic was that we could change. In the past, it was very difficult to make this happen. But this time, we all did.”

Scott Feder shared a similar idea. When asked what he wanted to keep from the pandemic it was the energy that came from teachers and leaders working together to innovate.

Everyone stepped up and made changes, and while it was hard to do, it was also invigorating. “I don’t want to lose that,” he said.

Communities must consider all inputs when making decisions.

“Educators are not in the business of education alone,” Maria Armstrong said. “This experience helped connect the dots to others in the community.”

Armstrong acknowledged that a loss of central control of decision-making can be a chaotic experience. However, she noted that the experience of the pandemic gave schools leaders a framework for and the tools to  bring the community into decision-making.

In addition to community voices, Armstrong emphasized the importance of using quality data to drive the decisions made in schools.

It’s time to rethink outdated education policies.

Lang highlighted how the pandemic has made seat-time requirements feel obsolete for students and families. Allowing kids to reach competency at their own pace is another form of differentiation.

For her, an important next step is “unhinging state laws that keep us in our caveman approach to education.”

According to Lang, “educators are ready for competency based and passion based learning,” but it is outdated policies that are getting in the way of this change happening.

Educators are ready for competency based and passion based learning.

Jennings suggested that schools “get away from spending 180 hours in a math class, and now you’re ready to move on to Geometry.”

Often, students fall into one of two categories: either they achieve competency quickly, and spend the rest of their class time bored, or they never get to the level of competency required to move on.  If we think about what students have learned, rather than how much time they spent doing the learning, we can move them to new content when they are ready.

When it comes to driving innovation, sometimes you have to work with the system to work around it.

For example, New Jersey has issued a directive stating that schools can not offer virtual learning to their general populations for next year.

However, Feder observed that virtual learning was a positive game-changer for many kids. “Things that stress kids out and distract them were gone during remote learning,” Feder said.

For some learners, staying home is better than going to school. Now, his district and others need to find a way to capture the benefits of virtual learning for students, even if they are present in the building.

“Outschool is a potential player for how we can offer these opportunities to kids,” Feder said.

Leave behind assessments that are inefficient or ineffective.

Armstrong pointed out the importance of utilizing high quality assessment data saying, “that which gets assessed, gets addressed.”

As students move through the school system, high-quality assessments help schools to see that students are getting equitable learning experiences across schools and even across states.

At the same time, Jennings advocated for leaving behind testing environments that are too time consuming and draining on teachers and students. Instead, he suggests using targeted assessments that provide actionable data. He pointed out that data can be long as it is used, and made the case for formative assessments.

“I’m an advocate for intelligent assessment,” Jennings noted.

Leaders are once again planning for a back-to-school season unlike any other before. Communities have experienced a year and a half of rapid changes and frequent transitions.

With new practices to integrate and old ideas to leave behind, these four leaders show how a flexible, reflective mindset can pave the way for reimagining school for the betterment of everyone involved.

Watch the recording of the webinar here.

Gerard Dawson

Gerard Dawson is a teacher, parent and writer for Outschool.