May 06, 2020

Three Questions for a Brighter Post Pandemic Future of Education

Kate Rancourt
Associate Creative Director

With the challenge from coronavirus and Shelter in Place, schools throughout the Bay Area made the decision to shut down for the remainder of the academic year, quickly adapting to a full-time distance learning program (assuming the district was privileged enough to tackle the opportunity).

As we look back over the past ten weeks, COVID 19 has exposed unexpected challenges and new inequities across education. As many education articles have exposed, the lack of access to education is both a tragedy and systemic problem that has negatively impacted our young learners and their families. While it’s easy to let these messages overwhelm and exhaust our email and social feeds, I recommend that instead of letting their content discourage us (as there is arguably not enough data available yet), we slow down to reflect and awaken curiosity. In my case, this was far more productive.

During these COVID 19 times a One Workplace leader presented an exercise framework I successfully applied to the current education environment. The framework is simple:

Thinking about these questions after reading more opinion articles than I’m willing to admit, and then using this framework to consider the future of education seemed (to channel Glennon Doyle) the most true and beautiful way to contemplate what’s next.

Education: What I’m Grateful For…

One way to frame empathy for others is to “step into their shoes and walk around a while.” While we never fully understand the entirety of another’s life experience, many parents have recently stepped into an educator’s shoes. One result from this forced empathetic perspective is that teacher appreciation is no longer a one-day holiday – it’s a way of life.

“In the first few weeks of the COVID pandemic teachers reinvented their entire industry. They found new tools, re-wrote curriculum, and overcame countless new constraints. They did all of this while remaining one of the most steady and supportive factors in the lives of children...” – Chris Good

Not only do we now understand the immensity of the daily task teachers undertake on behalf of our children and their students, we see the vital influence they have in their lives. The result is more than a newfound appreciation for what teachers do today – but the humanity they instill for our children’s futures.

Now parents are applying this empathy at home. While many schools have closed their physical doors, daily class schedules still vary regularly, and parents realize the importance of movement, play, and creativity for their child’s wellbeing. Art projects, outdoor breaks, and game time have been a saving grace for many families.

“Understanding that kids learn through play is just as important as any lesson learned in a classroom. Instead of focusing so much on homeschooling, I think it’s equally important to nurture their creative and physical desires. My 4-year-old has created her own “office” next to mine and sometimes we move that office outside. We spend time working on her journal full of stickers, stories, writing and anything collected in nature. We have our own version of physical education one hour a day whether that’s a bike ride, a walk or simply playing tag outside. It’s important to remember that our kids not only lost their teachers, but also play time with their friends and that is where the “magic” happens.” – Olivia Carson

Learning how students and learners do their best is beneficial to our collective future. Understanding the need for movement, exercise and play, helps to unlock and activate our ability to focus and learn – as well as be creative. I’m grateful to understand more deeply what helps students thrive, and how these active and dynamic behaviors must continue to be a daily part of all our lives, especially during the school day.

Education: What I’m Looking Forward to…

Getting back to school is in the forefront of every teacher, administrator, parent, and community member’s mind. Students long to be with friends, teachers yearn to connect with students, and some miss the relief of school as shelter, food, and security. From this perspective, we can better understand how much the physical act of attending school matters. What we once took for granted, we now realize is a powerful tool to enhance learning and social connection. From thinking about friendships, sports leagues, and teachers, to reminiscing on awkward prom photos, we realize how inherently social school life is. And without the physical space that promotes these social interactions, they wouldn't exist. We can learn academics virtually or in person, but we need physical space to be able to gather with social meaning.

COVID 19 behaviors like physical distancing, that might continue in the short term, may require the use of larger spaces or the outdoors, and will encourage teachers to get creative in planning student gatherings. Encouraging the use of outdoor spaces and time with nature have proven to boost student’s learning. Educators, teachers, students and learners are all humans with psychological, physiological, and emotional needs – and I look forward to a future where the school system on a federal level, promotes the whole student – mind, body, and spirit. And I’m also looking forward to the return of physical campus space where we gather and come together for various activities.

Education: What I’m Hopeful For…

Despite hardship and unthinkable loss for some, the hopefulness that can come from disparity and tragedy still shines. Perhaps brighter than ever. Hope for an educational future where student success is defined wholly with all the support they need. Hope for a future that rights the wrongs of inequity to allow for the basic hierarchy of needs of all students. Hope for a future where teachers have more autonomy to decide what works best for each student, and with a salary sufficient to achieve that independence. And hope for that teacher autonomy to cascade into student success through personalized learning and flexible systems that ebb and flow where needed.

This future of education will require a cohesive and national review of our institutional systems. My hope is that we promote and listen to leaders in education, and scientific data to enhance our nation’s future through an elevated learning experience for today’s learners. Lastly, I’m hopeful for a bright future with smart and well-educated students who will design an even better future than I could ever have imagined.