Updated: Feb 15
By Dr. Michael M. Piccirillo, CASDA Executive Director
One of my favorite leadership quotes is attributed to Charles Swindoll, “We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.” Clearly, the continuing pandemic could be characterized as an impossible situation. However, as schools are open again, I hope we do not miss an opportunity to truly reimagine the educational experience for our students.
In the Spring of 2020, through my work as Executive Director of CASDA, adjunct professor for Plattsburgh State University and as a clinical supervisor for student teachers, I had the opportunity to converse with people in the field. I regularly heard educators speaking about how the pandemic had presented an opportunity for reimagining education. There seemed to be an embracing of the idea that no matter how difficult the transition to a virtual environment was, there were positives. I heard we learned students could be engaged in a virtual environment given the effective and research-based use of technology. In fact, I saw this first-hand through the lens of a clinical supervisor as student teachers paved the way for successful virtual and hybrid teaching. There seemed to be an acknowledgement that creating more engaging, student-centered, inquiry-based learning environments was possible and even desired. Outreach to families was incredible, as educators went above and beyond to develop relationships with students and families. Grace, yes, we gave students, their families and ourselves some much needed grace!
The fall of 2020 brought with it the reopening of schools and the many complications caused by social distancing regulations. There seemed to be a lack of preparedness at the school and classroom level, understandably so, as policy-makers dragged their feet through political quicksand and guidance for reopening came unacceptably late. A year of full virtual, or hybrid learning seemed to douse the hopefulness of the previous Spring. The phrase “Reimagining Education” was replaced by “learning loss.” These phrases create a juxtaposition regarding how we view crises. One, learning loss, is deficit-based. The other, reimagining education, is assets-based. Phrased as questions, a deficit-based view might be articulated as “How can we find time to reimagine education when so many students are behind in their learning?” On the contrary, an assets-based view might be phrased, “How can we pass up this opportunity to fundamentally change our education system to be more equitable and trauma-informed for students, families and educators?”
Unfortunately, as students once again enter the classroom, there seems to be little conversation about reimagining education. So, what happens now to the students whose past experience of the “normal school routine” was anything but safe, engaging or understanding? Some schools plan to use ESSER funds to purchase SEL programs, provide professional development for staff in trauma-informed classrooms and/or hire social workers or equity coordinators. However, the fundamental system that causes and has caused inequities and trauma for more than 100 years will persist. As Alex Shevrin Venet (2021) asks in her book, “Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education,” “Why is trauma-informed education an appealing topic for professional development, but ending the things that cause trauma is not” (p.xvii)?
I have many questions as the school year begins: Will we give the same grace to students in the new school year that we gave in the past year when they don’t turn in their homework on time? Will formative assessment and feedback revert back to summative grading? Will codes of conduct be tightened up now that we have to manage students in the in-person environment? Similarly, how will we handle chronic absence, with a home visit and conversation with the family, or a disciplinary consequence?
I realize that the last 18 months looked like an impossible situation, but the reality is, if we as a profession shift our energy to changing the current system rather than maintaining it, just think about the progress we could make toward a more equitable, healing educational system, country and world. Let’s not miss this opportunity!