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Class of 2033: Let’s Reset This Coming School Year

Jeff Parker

Editor’s Note: The children who began kindergarten in 2020 will graduate high school in 2033. This blog series will extend over the same period of time, tracking along with this class. The various contributors will offer ideas, commentary, and prognostications related to this class’s educational journey and the world they will need to be prepared to step into after graduation.

 

As the Class of 2033 return to school this fall for the start of first grade, for most of them it will represent an opportunity to, for the first time, experience and celebrate a “pre-COVID-19 normal.” But we would do these students a disservice if we didn’t also seize this point in time to reevaluate and reset a whole host of educational matters beyond those directly related to the pandemic and its disruptions.

The previous year has proven that educators and students alike are plenty capable of adapting to and embracing new approaches and priorities. If the Class of 2033 is to reach its fullest potential, this fall should be about more than just returning to in-school instruction. Here are five areas that educators and parents should consider resetting this fall.

 

Make the most of asynchronous learning

No matter how schools try to enforce specific, standardized schedules for learning, the truth of the matter is that every student has his or her own internal learning clock. This dictates when students are most motivated to learn in general and when they’re most likely to fully engage with a particular subject matter, especially one they find challenging. So let’s continue to create more fluid and flexible schedules that will let the Class of 2033 learn when they’re most likely to actually do so. This will, of course, require that teachers and schools provide the necessary course materials in a manner that allows students to access them on-demand.

 

Double down on empathy

Virtually every reputable list of “must-have skills for the future” includes empathy. Those with the ability to sense — and appropriately respond to — the needs and feelings of others will be far more likely to succeed. That’s because in the world that the Class of 2033 will call their own, robots will be doing just about anything that can be repeated and automated…  leaving tasks that require empathy and other soft skills to us humans.

Teaching empathy isn’t about offering a course on the subject. Rather, it’s about moving schools away from the tendency to be compliance organizations — a reflection of the industrial model upon which public schools were founded and still echoes in most schools today. Making schools less about formulaic rules and approaches and more about the unique individuality of each and every child will go a long way toward fostering empathy.

So, too, will group projects specifically designed to help students better understand others’ situations and points of view, whether those belong to other classmates, people in the community or citizens of other countries on the opposite side of the world. Not only will the promotion of empathetic sensibilities help the Class of 2033’s personal success, but it will also help them create a society that is more just, equitable and fair.

 

Foster more social and emotional learning

As critical as empathy is to the Class of 2033, it’s but one of several important soft skills that they need to develop. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to offer students more opportunities to work together in order to learn teamwork, conflict management skills, how to collaborate and compromise, etc. But this requires more than the occasional, often-dreaded group project. Rather, it should include multiple projects of various scales and time commitments, including some anchored in topics that they are passionate about and that pique their curiosity. This is where the deeper engagement is found and where the social-emotional learning is more impactful and longer-lasting.

 

Help teachers teach one another

The more teachers are encouraged — and provided the opportunities — to teach and mentor each other, the more that the Class of 2033 will benefit. Schools and school districts need to make it easy and efficient to identify a particular teacher’s expertise and to make it available to his or her colleagues who could benefit from that know-how. Whereas the past year or so was all about asking “How do we teach virtually?,” moving forward the question should be, “How might we teach better?” For instance, the Winton Woods City School District in southwestern Ohio has identified lead teachers to serve as resources and coaches to help those educators who need assistance with adjusting to the district’s Project Based Learning approach.

 

Continue to scrutinize testing

There has been some talk of relaxing testing expectations this year, due to the impact of COVID on learning. Rather than just thinking about testing in the context of what may have been lost during the pandemic, this new school year offers the opportunity to rethink testing writ large. After all, what, exactly, are the benefits of standardized testing in a world that is becoming increasingly more personalized and customized every single day? Let’s not forget that there is no such thing as a standard student. How might we change our testing approaches to better recognize the unique talents and possibilities of every learner?

Yes, it’s a wonderful thing that so many students will be returning to a so-called “normal” school experience this fall. But some of what is normal, shouldn’t be. For the benefit of the Class of 2033 and every other student, let’s not just step back into the same approaches and ways of thinking. Rather, let’s use this fall to experiment and reinvent how we approach teaching and learning. This could turn out to be a truly wonderful, world-changing legacy to come out of the tragedy and heartbreak of COVID-19. What a gift that would be to the Class of 2033.

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