- Tony Wold, Ed.D.
Public Schools Post-Pandemic Moving Toward A Restorative Restart (Strategies to Reengage Students)
Part 2: Digging Deeper Into Lost Learning
Previously, in Part 1 we discussed the pandemic's impacts on how our professional educators have been required to deliver instruction in ways they never prepared for. Veteran educators are critical to the success of a school program. They have had multiple classes to build up content and strategies that work to reach the students they serve. These educators often can be counted on to coach our newer teachers and provide them with direction and support to get into a rhythm. Because of the changing structure of “how” we have had to run the school the last three years 100% of our teachers are now back to being first-year teachers where every lesson and every section or day is the first time they have done it.
It is no wonder we kept hearing educators stating, “I don’t have any bandwidth to do anything new right now.” Now we have an opportunity to look at this differently. Knowing that our students are in many cases missing out on the foundational skills necessary for learning, we much reinvent our pathway to content. In 2007 I wrote about the need to change how we taught to address the “Googlization” of education. In that piece, I discussed the need to look at what we are asking our students to do as seen in these slides from the opening of the year presentation. Interesting that this presentation was done in 2007 right as we were about to enter the worst time in education funding in recent memory.
Back in 2006, the Gates Foundation published The Silent Epidemic Perspectives of High School Graduates. Since that time, we have had an entire generation of students move through our school system and our current high school seniors were only 1 year old when the study was printed. The study identified the root causes of why students choose to drop out and not surprisingly the dropouts expressed a disconnection with the material they were being taught and a pattern of absenteeism that made it impossible for them to catch up when they did return to school. What was written in that study is still very relevant today and has been part of my foundational lens for the past two decades and is what propelled me to work on this series as we look for ways to reconnect students to school and simultaneously address lost learning.
Focusing on Attendance is the gateway to improved student achievement and the first line of defense for addressing lost learning
Leaning on findings from the Silent Epidemic and best practices, educational leaders need to align with the work that we are asking our teachers to do. This means that we need to step back and re-invent what we are doing. That reinvention may only be to limit the scope in an area or deviate from past practice to try something new. In an NWEA Study the researchers determined that it is likely going to take approximately 3 years for elementary students to return to their pre-covid trajectory of achievement, and for secondary students, it may be even longer.
Even as many schools now see the need to deal with significantly higher chronic absenteeism, as students and staff become infected or have to quarantine after being exposed to the virus and its new variants. Rolling absences require more reteaching and reduce teachers’ ability to help classes recoup lost content. This creates stress on both the educators and students, and we say the results of this during the past school year. Rates of stress, trauma, and other mental health and behavioral problems were more widespread and ongoing during the pandemic than in natural disasters, creating a heavier load for both classroom management and student support.
Looking to the beginning of the 2022 – 2023 school year it is clear from the upsurge in covid cases this July that we will be opening school again with an eye toward safety. Just as clear, however, is that with a combination of masking, proper PPE, vaccinations, and utilization of effective treatments the time missed, even if an individual tests positive is significantly reduced. Schools can remain open, and we can return our focus to instruction. Aligning to best practices from the research we know that to effectively open schools this fall we will need to do three things:
Proactively communicate and reteach proper attendance habits to all students and parents on an ongoing basis.
In brand marketing, it is known that it takes between 6 to 20 impressions to create brand awareness and that this awareness fades quickly if not reinforced, at a minimum, monthly.
School Districts need to develop a comprehensive and continual communication program that helps to reinstate the understanding of the value of good attendance and the direct correlation of attendance being the gateway to academic achievement
2. Target our communication to differentiate the messaging by grade span
The approach we take to create initial habits is a different approach than would be needed to intervene and rehabilitate those who have slipped.