Can you feel it? It’s an educational paradigm shift.
Every few years there is a shift in educational
philosophy and pedagogy that take the field of
education by storm. The COVID-19 pandemic may
very well have been the biggest shift to date. Going
as far back as The Enlightenment, to the Progressive
movement of Mann and Dewey, to Common Core, the
Pandemic of 2020 has launched the next shift, and it’s
here to stay: e-learning. The time has come to discard
the old model of teaching and learning for the new.
We are preparing students for a college or career that
doesn’t exist yet.
In the new model teachers can expect smaller
class sizes but potentially more work. As states unveil
their social distancing models for the coming school
year, many models have students at the secondary
level meeting face-to-face with teachers on a rotation
schedule. The students will have to continue to e-learn
when they are at home. We can expect to see increases
in public school enrollment as families who were
hit hard during the pandemic cannot afford private
school tuition. There will be a surge in homeschooling
ventures as well for some students who have had a
positive experience with online instruction.
Students in the Class of 2025 and beyond can
expect to see the traditional model of college all but
disappear, too. Our current middle school students
will likely see fewer opportunities to go “off to
college” as colleges will begin offering more online
programming, making college more
accessible to many. We are now in the
business of preparing students for this new
mode of learning that requires them to take
ownership of their education (in whole or in
part). COVID-19 is literally turning the whole of
education upside down. Here are some upsides
and downsides of this new reality:
Embrace the tech! E-learning will be a growing
part of instruction.
The upside: Technology is providing
students with the skills and assets needed to
communicate, collaborate, and exist in a 21st
century workplace. Teachers are preparing
students for a work world that does not yet exist.
The education community has been talking about
this for years, and now finally here we are.
The downside: The challenge is two-fold. First,
in addition to the prep teachers will need to do to
prepare for face-to-face instruction, teachers will
need to prep online modules to keep students engaged in learning when they are not in the
classroom. Second, accountability for students
will have a significant and long reaching impact
on their success overall. Sadly, many districts
ramped up e-learning then quickly traded out
grading accountability. The message received by
parents and adolescents? The work didn’t matter.
Switching mindsets in a new teaching model will
be challenging to overcome.
- How will we collaborate as teachers?
The upside: Use of digital collaboration spaces
means that teammates can engage in projects
remotely and build shareable educational
materials. Teachers are also honing the necessary
skills to be practitioners in a new learning world
that is going to be beneficial for new teachers
growing their pedagogy practices.
The downside: Collaboration is essential to student
growth and achievement. It is well documented
and practiced nationally. With a new model for
teaching rapidly coming, collaborating will take a
hit. In teacher schedules that are already pressed
for time, creating professional collaboration
communities to continue key topics such as
data-driven instruction, brainstorming, and
sharing of resources will be challenging. Software
giants will eventually respond with educational
collaborative workspaces, but until then there are
some collaborative technologies that work, such as
How will we foster relationships with students
The upside: We are now creating relationships that
were previously unavailable in traditional school
building settings. We can more actively reach
beyond classroom walls and into the community.
Community partnerships can be fostered via live
lessons with guest speakers from a variety of
places, and students can access adult mentors and
role models previously unconsidered. What greater
relationships are there than with people in the
community our schools serve?
The downside: Relationships are critical to
fostering resilience and connection. There is no
app that can replace human connection. In a new
educational model, how will we continue to grow
and build relationships with the colleagues and
students we interact with? Showing care is a
fundamental part of what teachers do every day and without human interaction, how will teachers
and leaders continue to demonstrate caring via
technology? Can we go back to the time-honored
tradition of handwritten letters and cards by
mail? A positive phone call home for students,
or a positive affirmation email for colleagues?
Sometimes, going “old school” is necessary to
maintain human connectedness in a technology-infused learning and work space.
- How do we support the disenfranchised?
The upside (if there is one): Finding creative ways
to provide meaningful, purposeful and equitable
instruction will be at a premium. Districts will be
forced into what teachers have been crying out
for for these students: support and equity. The
disenfranchised and their school advocates will not
be able to be ignored. In this new model, people
are watching what district leaders will be doing to
support this group.
The downside: Our most vulnerable students will
need the most support. The kids living in poverty,
the kids living in abuse or neglect, the special
education kids, the emerging bilingual students. In
the new models for social distancing, we are going
to further marginalize an already excluded group.
E-learning is going to become a significant and
growing part of the teaching and learning cycle.
For better or worse, we can expect growing pains
as we adapt to our new virtual classroom hybrids.
For reasons that are bound to policy and budgets,
the new models are also a means to keep class
sizes small and capital building projects down.
This will translate to more educational bang for the
buck. E-learning will require leadership to consider
professional development that makes sense and can
be differentiated to meet the needs of educators. We
need to prepare students for college and careers that
aren’t even dreamed of today, but are the future they
Michele Schuler is an eighth grade science teacher
at Meade Middle School, Fort Meade, Maryland.
Published in AMLE Magazine
, August 2020.