The Past 3 Months: A Goldmine of  Education

Across the entire country, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has turned school systems on their heads. That which was once considered unimaginable has become the new norm. Beyond dealing with the current dilemmas, educational leaders across the spectrum are beginning to shift some of their focus from surviving in the short-term to thriving in the long-term.


And they are seeking answers to some very fundamental questions such as:


  • How can teachers keep students engaged in learning remotely over time?
  • In what ways can already-vulnerable students continue to be supported?
  • When do they begin planning for an uncertain future?


Several educational leaders in Washington State recently shared some of their insights and perspectives on some of these questions and other critical issues confronting education leaders in Washington State and beyond. This is what they had to say.

1. Building a More Authentic Sense of Community

According to Sarah Pritchett, Executive Director of Schools for Seattle Public Schools had this to say, “One of the most critical challenges that has emerged during the COVID-19 crisis has been the realization of the false sense of community that many teachers, staff and schools touted.”


She elaborated by saying, “We are challenged to build a new understanding of what community within our schools means. Since the shutdown of our physical buildings, we have been focused on what it looks like to keep our students connected and close to us.”


“We have before us a great opportunity to both challenge and redefine our thinking regarding relationships and a true connection with our students and families.”


Pritchett concluded by asking, “How do we build something more powerful, relevant, and meaningful than what we have grown accustomed to? Daily conversations with school leaders center on strategizing how we capitalize on this opportunity to change practice, including how we teach, how we lead, and how we connect with students and families.”


2. Practical Solutions for Undocumented Families

Haydeé Lavariega, Community Impact Manager for United Way of King County, had a different focus. She lamented that “Undocumented families and students are one of the groups being hit the hardest by COVID-19. We need to open up more space for families to share their experiences and guide our educational solutions as they are closest to their pain and closest to the answers but too often furthest from the power.”


“Many undocumented families working in restaurants, gardening, house cleaning, and the informal economy have lost their jobs with no employer or much government support. Families with at least one undocumented person didn’t receive a stimulus check. For many families, health, food and shelter, Maslow’s most basic needs, have become the most urgent priority as security in their lives has evaporated.”


Lavariega emphasized, “As leaders, we have a tremendous responsibility to listen to families and their needs in their language and in the technology they prefer, often phone or text. Their knowledge, wisdom, and experience of their communities, together with our expertise in navigating systems, will allow us to learn and create change together.”


3. Keeping Equity Front and Center

According to Omar Escalera, principal of Frost Elementary in Pasco, “The existing systemic inequities in education are now much more acute and glaring. We are struggling to meet the needs of our most vulnerable students and communities because they have not been at the center of what we do.”


Escalera thinks: “This challenge can help us create a post-text of inclusion and equity in education. This is an opportunity for us as system leaders to advocate for our vulnerable students and our communities. We see disparities in how we respond to this crisis within our districts based on the socio-economic status of our families.”


4. Focusing on Social and Emotional Needs

Mike McCarthy, Director for Mathematics in the Everett Public Schools STEM Department, came from a slightly different angle when he observed: “Through this crisis, we have been forced to see Maslow’s hierarchy taking precedence over Bloom’s Taxonomy. With this knowledge, we are working hard to reduce the time teachers need to be planning for essential content so that they can focus on reaching out to every student to determine needs.”


“Our curriculum departments have assembled coaches and teacher leaders to identify common priority standards and aligned instructional activities, so teachers are freed up to focus on social and emotional aspects of their care for students. While curriculum leaders identify and create content, building leaders across our system are learning about social-emotional learning to transfer immediately to practice and inform processes and focus for when students return.”


“In a recent training, we focused on the idea that SEL isn’t more being added to the plate, it is the plate — the foundation — that all learning must stand on if we are honoring each of our students. This awareness is already leading to our district’s action for the current year and the years to come.”