By Guest Contributor Lisa Wolfe
Back-to-school 2020-2021 is like nothing any of us has ever experienced before. Everyday there seems to be new developments as school calendars are evolving, instructional models are changing, and new concerns for student, teacher and staff safety arise. And all the while, educators are striving to ensure educational equity for all of their students.
Recently, I had the privilege of moderating an MDR webinar, “Ensuring Educational Equity for the 2020-21 School Year and Beyond.” With three expert panelists from the education community–representing diverse viewpoints–we explored the challenges that educators are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest in our country, new strategies they are implementing to ensure educational equity, the resources they need to support those strategies, and, most importantly, the long-term positive changes they believe will result from this time of change. As panelist, Lacey Robinson, CEO and president of UnboundEd, said, “The door of inequity was cracked open and we could no longer ignore what we were battling prior to the COVID crisis.”
Panelist David Huber, principal at South Side Elementary School, in Bristol, Connecticut, kicked off the webinar by talking about how his district made the switch to remote learning last spring.
He said, “Our district has an instructional framework called ‘Excellence though Equity’ and so we strove to give families what they needed to be successful–everything from devices to childcare. We pivoted and became a 1:1 district and, for back-to-school, we are adding an additional four days of professional development for teachers so that they can use these new devices for learning whether they are teaching at school or remotely.”
Recognizing the importance of school-to-home communications during this crisis, David’s district is also taking an innovative step and is planning to provide families with virtual professional development so that they can best support their students when learning from home.
Participating in the panel, Hannah Hudson, editorial director, MDR’s WeAreTeachers, one of the largest and fastest growing web destinations for teachers, shared insights from the thousands of teachers in that community. Above all, she said teachers want to be a part of the conversation, particularly around decisions, such as school schedules and issues that impact the return to school.
Lacey also saw the voice and role of the teacher as critical to navigating this crisis and ensuring educational equity. “Disparities start with the societal view of what it means to be an educator. Teachers are perceived as a magical, be-all do-all people who often aren’t given all of the resources to do what they are being asked to do. They are innovators, thinkers, artists. Lots of times, we, as a society don’t honor them.”
Continuing she said, “Of course, teachers rose to the occasion for distance learning. But when we do that, we need our communities to provide us with support and resources to make things happen.”
The panel also reflected on the ways that federal CARES Act funding is being used to ensure educational equity. In David’s district, the money was spent for devices, access, professional development, device cases, insurance plans and other resources to support 1:1. Other districts are investing in plexiglass dividers for small group instruction and aligned curriculum for in-classroom and remote learning.
This webinar also included insights about how companies can support schools as they navigate these uncertain times. Professional learning resources to support remote learning and help teachers use new digital learning tools are high priorities for teachers, principals and other school leaders as is aligned curriculum that provides a roadmap for learning, allowing teachers to easily navigate as things change throughout the school year. In addition, teachers are looking for digital resources to support instruction (particularly when teaching remotely), information to provide to families to with tips for helping their kids learn, and easy tools for accessing the digital products that they are now using with their students.
Participant Brooke Fawcett, manager of demand marketing at edmentum, shared, “I loved it when the moderator asked, ‘How can we help?’ We’re all out here just trying to help support education leaders and teachers during these crazy transitions. This question was so on point and your panelists’ feedback was just want I needed to hear. This helps us layout/pivot our back-to-school plans to ensure we’re hitting on and aligning to the top needs of educators.”
All three panelists saw back to school and the 2020-2021 school year as the opportunity to make long-term, positive change. Lacey said, “This has forced us to consider ourselves as a collective community. I’m really hoping in this moment we face it and ask some really hard and important questions.”
David concurred, “We know better now, so we need to do better. We see the gaps in equity, and we need to address them.”
As moderator, I recognized the common thread among what was shared by all three of our panelists is that teachers are at the center of successful learning. For students to have access to equitable learning opportunities, we must provide teachers with the support, tools, resources and respect that they want and need—wherever learning happens. In addition, communicating with families and strengthening the home-school connection is more critical now than ever before.
I hope you watch the complete webinar and garner insights that will allow your company to “pivot” to provide educators with what they need to ensure that all students have access to an equitable education now and in the future.
You can also learn more on this topic from our panelists in their blog posts:
Lisa Wolfe is the President of L. Wolfe Communications
Founded in April 2000, L. Wolfe Communications offers its clients a network of senior, experienced public relations executives with a variety of complementary experience and expertise in public relations and communications for the education and library markets.