On behalf of everyone at Insight ADVANCE, we wish you a Happy New Year. It’s a new year, but our work in the ’20-’21 school year is far from complete. Whether your district or university has been fully remote, in a hybrid model, or back in-person, there have been many challenges to overcome–and even though vaccines have become available, distribution hasn’t been efficient, which is likely to introduce more uncertainty going forward.
Let’s face reality–educators are worn out. Administrators, school leaders, instructional coaches, and especially teachers have been put through the wringer the past 10 months. They’re stressed, exhausted, and dealing with the pandemic in their own personal lives. Despite their best intentions and efforts, some have been vilified for not doing enough or being too lazy. And with President-elect Biden’s plan to reopen the majority of schools in his administration’s first 100 days in office, education leaders and their teams will be forced to make more adjustments.
At a time when teacher shortages had often been in the headlines, the pandemic couldn’t have had worse timing. These past months I haven’t heard many young adults say, “This seems like a great time to become a teacher.” Have you? Last August, the National Education Association found that 28% of educators said the pandemic made them more likely to leave teaching. If we don’t take care of our teachers, it’s also certain to have a negative impact on staffing, the quality of instruction and, ultimately, our students.
So, what now? I talked with some education leaders to get their opinions about supporting teachers as we close out the second half of the ’20-’21 school year and plan for ’21-’22. Here’s what they shared.
Whitney Oakley, chief academic officer in Guilford County Schools (NC)
“During this pandemic we have been focused on serving the largest number of students possible for the greatest amount of time while keeping students and staff healthy and safe for the reopening of schools. We have incredibly dedicated and skilled teachers in Guilford County and I couldn’t be more honored to serve them.
“The past months of this crisis, our talented teachers have been able to produce high quality, video-taped lessons to ensure our students are getting the very best possible instruction while we focus on reopening as quickly and safely as possible. This is just one example of the creativity and resilience our educators have demonstrated over the last year. We have always found that teachers are the most skilled at finding ways to support each other and their students. At the district level, we put the conditions in place for that type of collaboration to happen safely, even during one of the most challenging times in the history of education.”
William Jeffery, assistant principal in Columbia-Brazoria ISD (TX)
“The pandemic blindsided teachers as they were forced into emergency remote teaching environments. However, the pandemic also is forcing them to deliver instruction online to varied groups of students who learn and understand differently. This was already a challenge in face-to-face environments. I believe differentiating instruction becomes easier online, but teachers need opportunities to practice skills and to be mentored in risk-free environments.
“School leaders and coaches will have new responsibilities due to gaps in skills as we all transition to this new normal. Leadership, in my opinion, is a key component in guiding teachers through the weeds of the pandemic. Coaching teachers and supporting skilled professional development that is targeted to the needs of students will enhance student achievement. As a school leader, I am encouraged by the fact that collaboration, creativity, and communication have enhanced the way we go to school. These factors are at the forefront of education today and they will definitely empower the leaders of tomorrow.”
Jim Knight, senior partner at Instructional Coaching Group
“First off, and most importantly, I think people need to just get through this time. We need to extend grace to others–and that includes ourselves. Many people are worried about their health,
their finances, their loved ones, and we need to recognize these are not normal times. So the first thing is Grace.
“The second thing, is that these times demand incredible learning. And learning is what instructional coaches do. It would be really hard to learn all we need to learn without the help of an expert coach, who can help us figure out the best way to reach more students in this new virtual or hybrid world. In my opinion, instructional coaches have never been more important than now.”
These words of wisdom from Whitney Oakley, William Jeffery, and Jim Knight give me hope that better days are ahead of us. I’m thankful for their counsel and leadership. If you’re not already following their Twitter accounts I suggest that’s a change you could make early in the new year.
Here’s the good news: vaccine distribution will likely improve in spring and summer. Hopefully, this means the return to school for the ’21-’22 academic year will resemble something close to what we’ve known for the majority of our lives and careers in education.
District and school leaders: Let’s focus on supporting and coaching teachers throughout 2021. Think about what you would have needed back when you were a teacher. Let’s focus on what we need to do better and what we should continue doing. Let’s provide teachers with examples of effective instruction–remote, hybrid and in-person–and give them opportunities to be more self-reflective and collaborative. Let’s take the lessons learned that past 10 months and emerge smarter, more empathetic, and craftier from this crisis.
In 2021, Insight ADVANCE pledges to bring you strategies and tips from school and district leaders, instructional coaches, teachers and more. Our next blog post will feature a new piece from instructional coach, Rachel Caulder, of Marion County Schools in South Carolina, who shared practical ideas as her district grappled with the pandemic last year. I also recommend reading this post from Jason Stricker that recommends 8 steps a district or school can take for effective instruction in our new normal.
We have to help each other get through this. If ever there was a time for #GrowthVsGotcha, it’s now. Let’s get started.
Happy New Year.