5 strategies from educators finding their way in a brave new world

My daughter recently started playing rec sports. I tend to arrive early for pick-up, hoping to catch a glimpse of her in her element, trying something different and having fun with new friends. It’s a long-awaited sight after years of pandemic living. It’s borderline magical, the level of unadulterated joy found in our children. I marvel as I watch them play, hoping to share the moment with some of my fellow parents and caregivers, only to find them face down in their phones, scrolling away.

I should be used to it by now, really. My son is just starting high school. Bike rides and nerf battles have been replaced with constant texting and what’s got to be a sore neck from staring at his phone all the time.

These are not the rants of a luddite, unwilling to accept a shift in our technological landscape. Just a missive from a parent doing his best with a rulebook that looks nothing like the ones he grew up with—and thanks to COVID, nothing like it did even a few years ago. The things my parents did or didn’t teach around social norms and communication don’t work anymore. The things I leaned on in the Before Times no longer align with the new world our kids inhabit. I find myself wondering, where do I go from here? And so far, the answer has been, “Jump in and figure it out.”

It’s a brave new world

In schools across the country, educators are asked to operate in much the same way. Classroom teachers are expected to do more and be more to their students without guidance for navigating a completely unprecedented landscape. Add the burdens of limited time, few financial resources, and frequent scrutiny from those who’ve never led a school or classroom and it’s easy to see why burnout and resignations are commonplace.

Driven by a desire for clear, research- and experience-based solutions, my colleagues and I developed season three of The Continuing Educator podcast as an operator’s manual of sorts for educators trying to make sense of a rapidly changing profession. I’m not so naïve to think a podcast is the answer to one of our generation’s toughest challenges, but I’d like to think it’s a place to start.

Over the course of eight episodes, I connected with educators and researchers along with experts in math, ELA, and unfinished learning to examine the bold, creative action we are all taking to help students get back on track academically, socially, and emotionally. In hours of conversation, five themes emerged that may be helpful as you lead your classroom, school, or district.

1. Embrace family and community support

We simply cannot do what we do as educators alone. We need the support of parents and families as well as neighbors and community members. This extends beyond parent volunteers or fundraising to family involvement in content areas like math and literacy.

Programs that give caregivers a chance to engage their students at home is one way to share the load when it comes to addressing unfinished learning. Not sure where to start? Send families our Best of Teach. Learn. Grow. eBooks designed for supporting reading and writing at home.

2. Follow the evidence

It’s easy to see dips or declines in assessment results, assume the worst, and throw every possible solution at the problem. But your time is valuable. Don’t spend it chasing and trying every new resource, instructional framework, curriculum, or program. Preserve it by leveraging evidence-based interventions and resources. Lean on organizations, experts, and providers you trust, and plan, monitor, and evaluate new strategies with their recommendations in mind.

For help using supplemental curriculum in your classroom in particular, I encourage you to read “So many to choose from! 3 tips for selecting high-quality, supplemental digital resources” and “Maximum impact: 3 ways to make the most of supplemental content,” both by my colleague Mary Resanovich.

3. Look fear in the face

Taking bold, creative, action can be overwhelming, but remember, our students are worth it. Don’t try to tackle every issue at once. In the wise words of assessment expert, and my former colleague and mentor, Jan Chappuis, “Start somewhere. Go slow. Don’t stop.”

4. Take care

You can’t pour from an empty cup. Do what you need to do to protect your peace and practice forgiveness, starting with yourself.

Remember, though, that while self-care is important, it’s not enough. We need care, support, and compassion from school and district leadership and from our communities and networks, too. If you’re an education leader, what can you do in the short and long term to make sure your team gets the rest and resources they need to tackle the challenges ahead? Which is a natural segue to…

5. Lean on your colleagues and peers

I find myself inspired anew by educators we’ve worked with this season. There is so much talent and know-how in our classrooms, schools, and districts. This podcast is proof we can continue to learn from one another.

With that in mind, as you listen this season, don’t skip the episodes that might seem like they wouldn’t apply to your professional practice. There are gems of insight in each episode for every type of educator. Perhaps they’re in a different role but a similarly sized district or region of the country. What can they bring to the table you haven’t considered?

If you’re a school administrator, I also encourage you to think about forming your own professional learning community. My colleague Candi Fowler makes a compelling argument for doing so in her post “Why administrators need professional learning communities, too.”

It’s a new era

In parenting and in our profession, we’ve entered a new, challenging, and often overwhelming era. But with it comes an opportunity. We have a chance to rewrite the rule book and fill it with bold, creative, evidence-based guidance to improve our practice and help our students flourish. Let’s be brave, jump in and figure it out—together.

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