Written by: Dr. Darren E. Draper
At the heart of coaching lies positive change, but sometimes change doesn’t come easy. After nearly twelve months attempting to thrive (or survive) within alternative and often artificially-crafted learning environments, students, teachers, and other educators worldwide have begun to look forward to restoring some semblance of “normal” as they return to post-COVID schooling. Consequently, many researchers and reformers have emerged in recent months, turning their sights toward school conditions with hopes of shaping the narrative around how schools will and won’t embrace change. While some envision pandemic-caused conditions as an ideal catalyst for lasting change, others claim the opposite.
In his recently published paper, The Right Drivers for Whole System Success, Michael Fullan argues that “the pandemic phenomenon itself may serve to accelerate… solutions as we find silver linings and golden pockets, precisely because of ever-growing dissatisfaction with the status quo” (p. 4). Conversely, upon considering the emotional and fatigue-driven challenges many schools may encounter while exiting the pandemic, Scott McLeod writes:
…any school leader who is trying to sell the need for a post-pandemic systemic transformation to their educators, families, and school board members is trying to sell a SECOND enormous disruption to the community (“Now let’s change school as we know it!”) at a time when everyone is completely exhausted from – and ready to be done with – the FIRST enormous disruption to the community (the pandemic), and that is AFTER trying to minimize the disruption and ‘restore order’ during the past 12 to 18 months.
The tension between reform and respite is real.
How One School District is Learning, Adapting, and Innovating
With this tension and the needs of our students in mind, we’ve worked hard in the Alpine School District to understand how we might disrupt forward, iterating toward the new and improved version of schooling, rather than stagnate back to the “normal” life in schools we once knew. To this end, we’ve been asking an important question, ad nauseum, in many of our meetings and throughout our school communities: What practices have teachers implemented or improved during the pandemic that students need them to continue?
All told, responses to this compelling question have been surprising. While some responses demonstrate that our teachers and students are still in survival mode (e.g., “May hand sanitizer forever flow into classrooms districtwide!”), others reflect the kinds of behaviors we were hoping to guarantee in recent years leading up to the pandemic. Some of these now “tried and true” behaviors include the following:
- Remain aware and in tune with the mental health of students and self.
- Improve clarity by maintaining a laser-like focus on essential standards, while streamlining Tier 1 instruction.
- Provide more, faster, and higher-quality feedback on student work, behavior, and learning trends.
- Facilitate more and better opportunities for anytime/anywhere learning, realizing that learning can and should take place outside of synchronous class times and physical class spaces.
- Improve student-centered, learning-focused collaboration among teacher teams.
Two lists we’ve begun to draft are included below, comprising the effective elementary and secondary practices that we’ve found students most need teachers to continue. Interestingly enough, while there is some overlap between both the elementary and secondary lists, nuanced contrasts in focus and concern demanded we explore both levels independently. Hence, these two separate lists accompany the question, “Now what?”
How We’ll Get There
For us, what follows will entail a narrowing of priorities. Rather than focusing as a district on all twenty top practices, our coaches and teacher leader teams will use Student-Centered Coaching principles to begin helping teachers to tackle those one or two practices near the top. By the end of this school year, we hope to be well on our way toward the “new normal” that so many have promised; one that will likely consist of many of the great things we were doing prior to the pandemic, mingled with a more lucid understanding of several ways that our schools, teachers and teams might improve.
Fullan, M. (2021). The right drivers for whole system success [White paper]. New Pedagogies for Deep Learning: A Global Partnership. https://michaelfullan.ca/3460-2/
McLeod, S. (2021, January 31). Why most schools won’t ‘reinvent’ themselves after the pandemic [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://dangerouslyirrelevant.org/2021/01/why-most-schools-wont-reinvent-themselves-after-the-pandemic.html
Scott-Webber, L. (2021). Row-by-column, plexiglass & zoom, oh my! A K-12 COVID-19 storm / A pilot. Journal of Education and Learning 10(2), 9-27. https://doi.org/10.5539/jel.v10n2p9
A fierce and faithful proponent of instructional coaching and high-quality teacher learning, Dr. Darren E. Draper currently serves as the Director of Innovative Learning in the Alpine School District. As the largest school district in the state of Utah, Alpine District educates over 81,000 students.