Written by Rebecca L. Watts, Ph.D., and Mark David Meliron, Ph.D.
Over the past two years, New York educators have been challenged by the logistical burdens caused by the pandemic, budget fluctuations and curtailments, dramatic teacher shortages, and divisive rhetoric. This is on top of the ongoing threat of COVID-19 and the uncertainty that comes with localized outbreaks.
Given the growing importance of education as a pathway to economic and social possibility, it is not enough just to yearn for a return to normal. As we head into the new year, here are five resolutions educators and policymakers should consider.
Improving the infrastructure for digital learning
In the urgent shift to distance learning during the pandemic, it has become painfully clear that we live in a technology landscape of “haves and have-nots”.
As New York increases access to low-cost broadband through the federal Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act, which includes $65 billion in grants for states to roll out broadband to address access in rural areas, it is imperative that educational institutions engage with associations and government agencies in removing barriers Technology and affordability for digital access for learners of all ages.
Imagine learning models
According to a report by the Christensen Institute, we have no shortage of options to reimagine education. New curricula, technologies, teaching methods, and programs have the potential to support college readiness for historically underrepresented students, including low-income populations, students of color, and those who will be the first to attend college in their families.
One paradigm worth exploring is Learning Mastery, which allows educators to build an education system in which students are rewarded for perseverance. The Copy Mastery Consortium of public school districts, private schools, and leading universities is developing this idea.
Encourage the teacher to self-care
A recent RAND survey found that while 40% of all working adults reported experiencing significant job-related stress during the pandemic, that number was nearly double that of K-12 teachers (78%). Many teaching issues in the era of the pandemic, such as confused and stressed students, technological challenges and new learning systems are associated with significant job-related stress, depression and burnout.
District leaders will do well to design and implement mental health and wellness initiatives for educators. Hiring behavioral health counselors can help not only for students but also for teachers and paraprofessionals, as well as listening sympathetically to teachers’ concerns about pay, time, and support needs.
Healthy Learning Champion
Today’s students report increased feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation. As we reimagine PK-12 education in the wake of the pandemic, we need healthy learning more than ever.
School leaders must develop methods and processes that emphasize a learning environment that provides comprehensive support for the student’s academic, physical, psychological, and social self. To prioritize healthy learning, schools, colleges and universities can combine research and practice with initiatives that address basic needs; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI); Social and Emotional Learning (SEL); Psychological health; and character education. This work must extend to governance and community participation, particularly in our current politically charged environment.
Embracing regional ecosystems for education
All parts of the regional education ecosystem—early learning, K-12, community colleges, colleges, and universities—are interconnected. Each of these interconnected entities has the potential to create effective partnership or painfully disrupt and disconnect learner journeys. The outstanding colleges and universities in New York continue to provide a life-changing education, making a positive difference to individuals, families, and communities.
As New York moves forward, and has been changed dramatically by COVID-19, it is critical for institutions of higher education to forge alliances with local school districts to support human resource goals and advance the profession of teaching. Such partnerships can include professional development for current or aspiring teachers and school districts that serve as clinical teaching sites for pre-service teachers, and the next generation of New York teachers.
Adoption and implementation of these five decisions depends on teachers and their communities working together. We need to put aside historical “better than” arguments and embrace a “better with” reality: we are all in this together. Education is a game-changing factor, opening the door, and leveling the playing field. As such, let’s stick to the substantive conversations and good work on each of these decisions.
Making progress together will underpin our shared journey toward new possibilities in 2022.
Rebecca L. Watts, Ph.D. (Twitter:WGUnortheast), serves as the regional vice president for Western Governors University, an accredited nonprofit university focused on competency-based learning that serves 3,000 students and 5,000 alumni in New York. Mark David Meliron, Ph.D. (Twitter:markmilliron), an award-winning educational leader, author, and speaker, is senior vice president of Western Governors University and executive dean of Teachers College, the nation’s largest college of education.