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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. 

Responding to the Pandemic Blog Series

In March, teachers, administrators, and school support staff rushed to accommodate the new COVID pandemic realities by shifting to distance learning–all while parenting and caring for loved ones at home. The transition was swift, bumpy, and full of ingenuity. At each turn, we saw generosity, kindness, and flexibility take a front seat. 

Now, with the school year over, day-to-day operations seem like all we can do. But we’re also faced with the uncomfortable possibility that schools may not be able to operate fully in-person during the fall. 

Fortunately, the fall planning runway is longer than the emergency planning of Oklahoma’s first dip into distance learning.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring blogs that tackle the planning process for returning to school in the fall. Look for topics ranging from reflecting on what we’ve already learned, to tackling distant learning challenges, and re-evaluating shifting roles. 

For now, check out a few of the insightful planning resources already on the internet.

  1. Bellwether Education’s free COVID toolkit breaks the school planning process into 4 stages with distinct steps, downloadable protocols, and guiding questions. They also include customizable notetaking guides for each stage so you can quickly share the documents during a Zoom meeting.  
  2. In addition to a focus on expanding internet access to Oklahoma students, the Oklahoma State Department of Education offers a trove of grade-level and content-specific guidance including aligned-activities with minimal supplies. 
  3. TNTP offers helpful guides for everything from supporting English language development to recruiting and hiring teachers virtually
  4. For virtual teacher training options, check out Teach For America’s extensive list of ways to build capacity from a distance. 
  5. For Oklahoma district learning plans and parent Covid-19 resources, visit the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration’s (CCOSA) helpful resource round-up.

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