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Responding to Covid: 4 Ideas To Reimagine Education

Guest Post By Telannia Norfar

When I entered education 15 years ago, my goals were simple: Make sure students could count back change and get people to stop saying they were bad at math. Now, my goals are far loftier–even during the Covid19 pandemic. 

Like many teachers in Oklahoma, my mind raced when I learned that schools were moving to distance learning. But unlike many others, I wasn’t panicked about what to do or concerned about getting back to “normal”. Instead, my mind fluttered with big ideas and exciting possibilities. 
My response to Covid19’s changes to schooling reminded me of an episode of The View in which Whoopi Goldberg interviews Rahm Emmanuel, former Chicago Mayor and Chief of Staff for the Obama Administration. Goldberg reminds Emmanuel of a famous statement he made during the financial crisis and asked how it applies today. He said, “Never allow a good crisis to go to waste. It is the opportunity to do big things you never thought possible.”

I feel like Emmanuel’s words apply perfectly to the emergency state of our schools and our plan for learning this fall. This is our time to go big, Oklahoma. Here are a few of my suggestions for where to start. 

Go Big Idea 1

The Covid19 crisis has quickly demonstrated  how internet is a basic tool for learning. Let’s start our re-imagination by expanding free, high-speed internet to all families. Yes, I said no cost. The United States is home to a wealthy, billionaire class, so surely we have the money to provide no-cost internet to all K-12 students. 

In Oklahoma, experts suggest that many parts of the state have limited or no internet access. A recent task force estimates that nearly a third of Tulsa families do not have reliable home broadband. If we are going to be a democracy where we educate the public, then all children should have internet access no matter where they live.

Go Big Idea 2

With state testing suspended and colleges forgoing traditional entrance exams, it’s time to re-imagine how students best demonstrate learning. As schools return to some form of learning in the fall, I suggest a major shift towards learning portfolios. What about trading standardized testing for a portfolio defense at transitional grades such as 3rd, 5th, 8th and 12th? Digital portfolios can easily span the distance learning divide and online defenses can be recorded for teachers, parents, or communities in the defense.

Go Big Idea 3

The hurried shift to distance learning illuminated what many educators already knew: We don’t just educate children; we educate and support families. So why not include family services under the school roof? After all,  almost everyone knows where the nearest school is located. 

Let’s use this crisis as a time to reimagine family supports in our school buildings. Districts should consider adding clinics for both mental and physical health, employment services, and other human health services. Many schools are already working towards much-needed wraparound services. Schools can not fix all that our society needs but we can be a bigger part of the solution. 

Go Big Idea 4

Splitting subject areas is inefficient and ineffective–especially in the short amount of time students have online during distance learning. It’s time to move past factory model education and make subject integration the norm. It’s time for project-based learning to be a norm. Let’s move away from subject-area silos and towards work grounded in context and multiple content areas. Plus, project-based learning has the potential to transition seamlessly between in-person and distance-learning.  

About the author: Telannia Norfar is a math teacher at Northwest Classen High School where she has taught everything from Pre-Algebra to AP Calculus. She is a 2017 Teacher of the Year and Oklahoma Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She is co-author of Project-Based Learning in the Math Classroom. She desires to be known by how much she loved everyone around her. 


Top 6 Teacher Gifts for the Holiday Season

The Teaching & Leading Initiative (TLI) staff have compiled our favorite educator-centered gifts to make your holiday gift buying a little easier this year. Whether you need a gift for the teacher next door, the school principal, or your educator bestie, this list has you covered.

  1. If you’re looking for a practical gift to use in the classroom, we love this high-quality, magnetic red timer for student practice activities or transitions. It’s big enough for students to see the countdown from anywhere in the room, and the robust magnet will keep the timer in place without sliding. Or, if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, Executive Director Jo Lein swears by these quirky little cube timers.
  2. During the chilly winter season, a self-warming coffee mug can add a touch of comfort (and caffeine) to long days in the classroom. Chief of Staff Marissa King also suggests an electric water kettle for teachers who need to brew a quick cup of tea between classes.
  3. If you want to inject a bit of flair into your otherwise practical educator gifts, Director of Leader Programs Nina Fitzerman-Blue has a couple suggestions: Nab a pack of Gelly Roll pens for the teacher with a case of middle school nostalgia, or enliven classroom charts with multicolor bullet-tip Sharpies. The teacher on your holiday shopping list would probably get a kick out of these personalized pencils, too.
  4. Summer Professional Development Intern and PhD student Jennifer Burris loves public schools and local businesses. This easy-to-gift sweatshirt supports both! It also comes in multiple sizes so the whole family can display their school pride together.
  5. Manager of Teacher Development, Angie Cline, recommends Bath & Body Works Stress Relief Eucalyptus lotion because it’s so calming, even during the grueling months of indoor recess. This German-made lotion is another winter luxury that easily slips into a tote or desk drawer.
  6. The TLI office thrives on Google Calendar, but pen and paper are still so satisfying. We’re fans of the Moleskine notebook (easily customizable) or more intricate planner options from Minted. A good notebook demands a good writing tool. Le Pens offers a sleek fine-tip pen that won’t break the bank, but if you like to edit and erase on the fly, don’t discount these cult-favorite pencils from Blackwings.

Whatever you decide to give, remember the most important element: a heartfelt message to remind educators how important their work is to you and your communities. 

Did we miss one of your go-to educator gifts? Drop us a comment below or send us a message. We’d love to hear from you!

Planning for the Seven Elements of Change Management

Change is inevitable. Schools are constantly changing in response to student needs, new data, leader vision, district initiatives, and state mandates. While change itself may not be a choice, we choose how to manage it.

Successfully managing change isn’t about putting on a smile and adjusting your attitude– although that may not hurt either. Effective change management requires a thoughtful plan.

This change management graphic adapted from Knoster (2000) and Lippitt (1987) depicts the seven elements of change management for which leaders must plan. Effective change requires vision, buy-in, skills, incentives, resources, an action plan, and assessment.

Change may be possible without each of the seven elements, but it’s a lot harder. Consider a district initiative for new math curriculum. Without teacher buy-in, one element of change management, a school leader can purchase new resources and plan professional development. But missing teacher investment will likely result in a poor implementation, angry staff, and hours of extra time. A lack of teacher buy-in might point to larger issues too: Are teachers frustrated with a lack of planning time required for new curriculum? Do they need time or support to build new skills? Missing one change element may mean the change isn’t successful long-term or it may have high costs for teacher satisfaction and retention. A more successful option is to plan for each of the seven elements of change management so change can be rolled out with strategy and people in mind. 

We like to use the change management to pre-plan for change and to assess an in-progress or past change. 

Planning For Change

We suggest school leaders make a full, detailed plan for managing any major, adaptive change. Think through each element of change with a detailed timeline for getting things done. Watch out for these common errors: 

  • Forgetting Time: Even if few physical or monetary resources are required, some changes demands significant time from teachers or families. Use your plan for stakeholder buy-in to get more information and double-check your ideas to make sure you account for everyone’s time. 
  • Assuming Skill: Change requires more than a quick glance towards skill building. Consider a school that’s implementing a close reading strategy. Even teachers who already know how to guide students through analysis of text structure, word choice, grammar, and sentence-level meaning may not know what to cut or replace in their curriculum. The entire change could stall out if the reading strategy feels like just another thing instead of replacing a less-impactful strategy. 
  • Forgetting Process Assessment: Excellent change management assessments include both outcomes and processes. Process assessments like observation checklists, walkthrough data, and interim student achievement data help you celebrate small wins and evaluate effectiveness before you get to the big end-of-semester outcome data. 
  • Starting Too Big: Often, leaders want to quickly roll out a school-wide change when piloting the change in one grade or subject might be wiser. Narrow pilots allow school leaders to work out the kinks and get essential staff feedback to adapt the plan. 

Assessing Change 

The change management graphic is also a helpful reflection tool for analyzing in-process initiatives or past change. If a change never moved past the pilot stage or stalled out due to sheer frustration, analyze which of the seven elements are missing. 

Complex, school-wide change is hard but careful change management planning can increase effectiveness and reduce friction. We may not always get to choose when to change, but we can plan for managing it.

*This is the last of a 6-part series on school-based change management. Catch the series introduction here. Send us an email or leave a comment with thoughts!

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