This year has seen educators facing unprecedented challenges at school. The response to Coronavirus has so far closed 124,000 U.S. public and private schools and affected at least 55.1 million students.
And we still don’t know how long schools may be closed. Or what the long term effects of Coronavirus will be on our students.
As virtual classrooms become the norm, some are even questioning if this is a sign that someday online learning will replace classroom teaching altogether.
However, there is much call for hope in this crisis.
While school buildings may be closed, teachers have been going above and beyond to keep their classes going. And redefining the classroom in the process.
Whatever the future holds, the way that teachers across the country (and the globe) have reacted to these challenging circumstances has already brought about some significant changes in education.
Here are five key ways teachers have redefined their classrooms as a result of COVID-19:
- Showing schools aren’t just for learning
- Bringing parents into the classroom
- Addressing the digital divide
- Creating new learning goals
- Embracing virtual learning
Showing schools aren’t just for learning.
In the past few weeks, we’ve all heard about teachers going the extra mile to look after their students.
For example, some teachers have been hand-delivering school lunches. Others have been visiting student’s front porches to help with homework.
Of course, a teacher’s job is to teach. But this is only part of what schools do. For many kids, school is a safe, consistent, stable presence in their lives. And that’s because (global crisis or not) teachers show up and support their students every day.
Teachers know that education isn’t the sole focus of schools. Schools are communities that give students social and emotional skills that are key to living a fulfilling life. And the teacher’s role as a dependable, supportive presence is an essential part of that.
Teachers have always known they do much more for students than simply help them pass exams.
Now the rest of the world is catching on too.
Bringing families into the classroom.
In normal circumstances, teachers and their student’s families don’t cross paths too much. There are parents’ evenings, homework diaries, and maybe time for a quick hello at drop off and pick up.
And normally, the role each adult plays in any student’s life is clear. Teachers are educators and parents, or carers support the student’s learning.
But mass homeschooling is blurring the lines.
Parents are taking on educational responsibilities. And teachers are providing support for parents and students as they learn together.
In the process, teachers and families are finding new ways to support each other. There is more understanding than ever that families are under different pressures.
Not every student will have the same experience of studying through the pandemic. And teachers don’t have one set of expectations for their families either.
Many teachers have been outspoken in letting parents know they don’t have to strive for perfection in their homeschooling.
Meanwhile, many parents are gaining a deeper understanding of what daily life is like for teachers. And the consensus is that teachers are among the most vital, hardest-working, passionate and selfless members of the workforce.
Creating new learning goals.
Social distancing means that end of year exams have been canceled for many students as there is no safe, fair way for them to sit tests.
Many teachers and students are experiencing learning outside the context of exams for the first time. Of course, this is a temporary breather rather than a system overhaul.
This moment is a rare opportunity for teachers and students to build autonomy in the classroom.
With learning goals stripped back to the essentials, teachers are focused on their students’ needs. And they have the autonomy to prioritize academic or social and emotional learning, as they see fit.
And students are finding their learning process may be more self-directed than ever before. For many students, this means space to focus on enjoyment and develop an independent interest in learning.
Addressing the digital divide.
The physical buildings are closed, but schools have remained operational thanks to technology.
But what about kids that don’t have access to digital tools and devices to keep their learning going?
America’s digital divide existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic. But in these unprecedented circumstances, teachers, schools and organizations are making a considerable effort to address technological inequality.
From distributing laptops to parking school buses with WiFi in neighborhoods that don’t have broadband access, schools are going out of their way to keep students connected.
And, in doing so, they are opening new pathways for students who have previously been excluded from digital learning.
Many children miss out on classroom time throughout the school year through illness. Or their family finances mean they can’t access the same learning tools as their peers at home.
Access to digital resources could make a massive difference in helping these kids keep up with their classmates in the future.
And, from now on, all schools should have strategies in place to make digital learning possible.
Teaching in the virtual space.
For many teachers, digital learning has been challenging in many ways.
They’ve scrambled to master unfamiliar tools, materials and techniques. And they’ve had to quickly learn effective online teaching strategies and put them into practice without much direction.
But hiccups aside, technology has proven to be an excellent tool for learning.
The benefits of using technology in the classroom are well documented. They promote thinking skills like connecting, creating and collaborating. And online education boosts practical skills like making videos and building websites.
Now teachers and students are being pushed to integrate technology into their learning process more than ever before.
And the online teaching skills teachers are learning now will stay with them throughout their careers.
Which, hopefully, means more tech-forward classrooms when students do go back to school.
What’s next for teachers, schools and students?
Right now, we are all facing uncertainty. We don’t know how long schools will be closed. Or what the long-term effects of the Coronavirus pandemic will be for teachers, students and their families.
But one thing the past few weeks have made clear is that teachers are incredible.
Whatever comes, they will continue to adapt and support their students as best they can.
Whether a school is a traditional classroom or virtual learning space, teachers will keep it going.
And, if you’ve been inspired by teachers during the pandemic, now is the perfect time to support your community by becoming a certified teacher yourself.