Blog Post on New Youth Initiative and Grant Opportunity

"...the opportunity to rethink education has never been greater."

Burton D. Morgan Foundation is embarking on a new partnership with the Korda Institute for Teaching to catalyze changemakers in K-12 schools across Northeast Ohio.  In this blog, Program Officer Emily Bean contemplates the challenges faced by students and teachers alike and provides context for this timely initiative.

Reflection on Pandemic Teaching

By Emily Bean

Every education professional is hearing the same messages. They ring in our ears when we fall asleep at night and weigh on us throughout the day. Students, particularly those of color and in urban and rural areas, are facing significant learning loss and widening opportunity gaps. The pandemic is exacerbating inequalities – causing the most disadvantaged to fall further behind. And without a clear end in sight, the extent of the damage could be severe and long-lasting.  

For those who want to see students thriving, the situation seems dire. But for those who have built relationships with the students most impacted, the heartbreak is real. As teachers grapple with new technology and practices, they are also experiencing secondhand trauma and serving as makeshift social workers. The profession they once loved suddenly feels unrecognizable and the strategies they once employed are no longer effective.

While it can be difficult to get distracted adults to contribute to meaningful online conversations, digitally wrangling children is a new level of agony. Now that pets, parents, siblings, and fear occupy students’ corners of the grid, keeping their attention can be a tedious endeavor. It’s no wonder teachers are reporting high levels of stress and fatigue. Like front-line healthcare workers, the burdens placed upon them are more than we, as a society, should tolerate. We should be seeking solutions that will help them feel empowered, energized, and excited to interact with their classrooms.

Luckily, many organizations have stepped up to support educators as they navigate our “new normal.” So many, that it can be time-consuming to tease out what is useful in meeting educational goals. Some offer virtual sessions to explore resources, while others provide methodology designed to change how students learn. Regardless of what is being offered, the opportunity to rethink education has never been greater.

Though there are many different ideas on how education should move forward, most people agree on one thing: we need a stronger focus on skill-building. Educational content will always be important, but it must be secondary to how students learn. Students need to be given the ability to seek information that aligns with their identity; develop a sense of agency in their educational experience; and contribute their talents to help solve problems that matter.

In order to do this, teachers need to be afforded the flexibility and security necessary to take risks in their classrooms; targeted coaching to help them meet their goals; and better tools to evaluate student progress. Rather than standardized tests that measure how well students regurgitate information, let’s give them assessment systems that fuel student progress and provide evidence of student achievement. Instead of creating policies designed to keep them in line, let’s create systems that allow them to draw the lines.