Preparing for a post-pandemic school year will likely be just as challenging as the “in-the-pandemic” school year! Schools threw so many things into the laps of teachers that now, in preparing for a new school year, it is easy to become overwhelmed at what to use and not to use. Here we have outlined some simple ideas and thoughts to help you weed out what you will need and what you don’t.
No doubt coming back to school after such an immensely challenging year and a half will have its ups and downs. However, if you consider all of the following before diving into lesson plans or testing, shifting through all of these ideas first will help keep you grounded and sane! Plus, students will be thrilled to see you again and experience life and education in the best way possible, in person.
What Will a Post Covid-19 School Year Look Like?
Here is the deal, a post-Covid-19 school year will look different depending on the state you are in and how the government in your area is run. However, you can expect a few things from your students that will be the same across the board in every state.
- There will be gaps in social and emotional skills
- Plan for an immense amount of learning loss
- Students will have become entirely too dependant on technology
- There will be fear of the pandemic…even in the post-pandemic
- Expect possible mental health and (possibly long-term) physical health issues resulting from this pandemic.
Across the country, as summer break begins ending the 2020-2021 school year, teachers are already looking to the 2021-2022 school year and wondering what will be different? How will they tackle all of the challenges that Covid-19 has left? Just like when a tornado leaves debris and devastation in its wake, you put on your work clothes, dive into the mess, and build back what was destroyed.
Before we discuss ideas of how to prepare for the post-pandemic school year, let’s have a quick look at this TED talk video below. Nora Flanagan speaks about ways of how we should rethink education in the future.
Ideas and Thoughts to Prepare You for a Post Covid-19 School Year
1. Brush Up on Those Best Practices
Many of us (teachers) this last school year were in survival mode. Actually, from March 2020 through right now, many teachers have quite literally been in survival mode! Not only have we had to completely alter curriculum and practices to shift toward virtual learning violently, but we have also faced quarantine, the actual covid virus, as well as social distancing measures.
Educators across the country question whether or not substantial learning even took place in this last almost year and a half. With the potential on the horizon for this next school year to be “normal,” we need to look back on our own best practices and remember what worked well for our students. Look at what resources are available to you within your buildings and assess what you will need to make sure students get the most out of your class.
2. Online Learning Post-Pandemic vs. Pre-Pandemic
There is no doubt or question that technology and virtual learning were more the exceptions than the rule before the pandemic. Because of this pandemic, educators quickly shifted to virtual learning amidst a crisis and hope for their students’ best learning. Pre-Pandemic, students would not simply be counted as a present because they showed up for five minutes on a Zoom. However, post-pandemic, it won’t be easy to instill that they will have to be in class the whole time, doing work and going back to normal.
Students will have a difficult time shifting back to normal classroom procedures, structure, group assignments, and so on. Just be prepared for that pivot back into the norm of the classroom and all of the things that seem to have been forgotten so quickly.
3. Integrate Your Instruction
I realize that I just mentioned the technology aspect being a huge portion of going into the post-pandemic school year; however, that does not mean that technology is going away. In fact, many public schools have been given large amounts of money from the recent Covid-19 rescue acts to help bridge the technology gaps and inequities to students that were quickly realized. Interactive whiteboards, tablets, and headsets for additional online courses will be more common now.
Schools will not quit using these new online learning platforms simply because the classrooms may be back open. However, integrating your instruction with online platforms will allow you to take what we learned last year and serve your students higher capacity. Because students have been learning their best from these online platforms, it has become a set of resources that we can use positively rather than the ONLY way.
4. Don’t Pretend There Wasn’t a Crisis
When you see students and parents step into your classroom for the first time this fall, don’t jump into everything and pretend that there wasn’t a global crisis that just took place, and to a capacity, is still taking place. Many families are still concerned about their kids’ health and whether or not it is good to send them back to school.
You may have some students who insist they still wear a mask, that they work from home, or that they socially distance themselves. K-12 public schools all across the U.S. have different rules and procedures that kids have been used to. With that, as the teacher, it is important to ease back into the normal classroom with the knowledge that it will be difficult for your students.
5. Don’t Be Afraid of the Data
While online instruction is best used with constant attendance accompanied by in-person support, this did not happen, and students have suffered. There will be an IMMENSE amount of learning loss, particularly with students in traditional public schools who had never (before the pandemic) used an online learning platform before.
Students in elementary school have a lot of time to bounce back from all of the learning challenges this experience brought. However, high school students have only a short amount of instruction time to bridge the gap. Many parents stepped up to the plate to do their best to teach their elementary and high school-age kids, though many parents were trying to keep their heads above water.
More than ever before, whether you agree or disagree with standardized testing, you will have to find some standard way of figuring out where your kids are at! There are some great (and FREE) programs, like ReadTheory, that give you solid data for where your students are at. As teachers, we want to provide our students with the best education possible, so, therefore, there must be a starting point.
6. Reach Out for Support!
Educators, you will absolutely need to reach out for support from parents, the teaching community, school leaders, and maybe even health professionals. Every student and teacher has experienced the challenges of Covid-19. As a teacher, you will constantly support your students this upcoming year more than ever. This is exactly why you don’t just empty yourself and have no plan for filling back up.
Many school leaders have seen teachers burn out this school year. This year, I have seen my community recognize, lift, and support their teachers more than I ever have before. On those days when I felt hope was minimal, that support got many of the other teachers in the surrounding schools/buildings and me through the school year. Don’t allow this pandemic to be a long-term problem in your career.
Build yourself a support system by making yourself aware of the different ways your community, classrooms, families, and leaders can help you this next year!
7. Create Comfortable Classrooms
Teachers, we thought LAST school year was the epitome of personalized learning. I think this upcoming school year will render itself to be paramount in providing personalized learning to kids! Here are some ideas of how to create a more comfortable post-pandemic learning environment:
- Create a “social distancing” section within the class if you can. Because so many schools have instituted and upheld social distancing over the last year, if your school is getting rid of that rule, you will find some students who are not comfortable with being close. Set up some desk dividers if possible.
- Establish that it is OK to wear a mask. I had already seen this argument in the last few days of school when teachers and students all knew that masks would no longer be mandatory in the fall. Establish that it is ok to wear a mask in your class if that makes kids feel more comfortable and learn better.
- Keep a cleaner classroom! Remember the days BEFORE Covid where the teacher has to beg for sanitation supplies and classroom tissues? I feel like those days are coming back. Reach out to families and your school leaders to disinfecting wipes to keep your classroom as clean as possible. Keep your classroom decoration simple and choose items that you can easily clean.
- Make your classroom colorful! Color is not just for elementary classes! Education happens when kids feel comfortable in their learning environment. Walking into a colorful class envokes a sense of feeling excited for whatever will come that day.
- For your high school-age kids, consider adding a charging station to your class! Many schools have acknowledged the need for students to charge their phones and classroom tablets at some point during the school day. Having a charging station in your class lets your students know you are thinking of their needs and what is important. Plus, it is a great classroom management tool!
8. Plan for Less Internet Use
K 12 education in public (and private) schools has relied so heavily on computer technology that the focus of the future is skewed. The pandemic did do light up a giant sign saying “online-only education does not work”! Every single student needs that social interaction! While not using a computer is not really an option, you CAN plan for many educational activities in the future school year that involve kids working together with tangible projects.
Try to find projects that involve families and groups of students. Essentially, try to find a happy balance between using the computer in your class and not.
9. Include Fun Activities for Social-Emotional Learning
One great way to focus on what has happened to your students in the last year and a half is to include social-emotional activities in your lessons. By doing this, you will promote mental health, hope, and positivity in your class by allowing your students to focus on the things that have impacted them. There are much great journaling, drawing, and discussion activities that can promote this learning in your room. Some kids may struggle to stay focused all day. Make a box of quiet fidget toys available to those who need it.
10. Focus on the Positive!
There is no doubt that K 12 education has changed permanently. It is effortless to get caught up in all the negatives about what education is now and what it will potentially become. However, in the midst of all of the chaos, we have learned that there are positives.
- We have learned how to teach on a much more broad spectrum.
- Education now has a ton of free online tools for teachers to use.
- Many schools have FINALLY received the funding they needed to bring some equity.
- Students know how to use various learning platforms.
- In the wake of another pandemic (or another catastrophe), the education world is more prepared to pivot to online models of instruction.
At the end of the day, after conquering a Covid-19 school year, it is important to focus on the positive. It is important to know that we can overcome anything and to take a hard look at all the difficult evidence of learning loss and turn it around. This next year will be tough, but education will get better with the right mindset and preparation than ever before.