This new school year welcomes a much-needed paradigm shift in the education world. Not only are students equipped with skill sets very different from those they possessed pre-pandemic, but many teachers and staff have acquired new skills, revamped mindsets, and technological knowledge they may have at one time been hesitant to embrace.
While this school year feels much like the start of a new year, we are not naive to the challenges we still face in the brick-and-mortar walls of our building. The “school” is still wherever we are—in the classroom, on Zoom, Google Meet, in our homes—but all the implications of the pandemic remain. I have seen teachers who truly believe they are called to the profession, at first very timid and concerned for their health and those they love, put themselves on the front line because students need them to show up.
Selflessly, teachers have put their own personal fears on the back burner to meet the needs of our students. While we are indeed an academic institution, our priority is meeting our students’ basic needs first. Relationships, conversations, laughter, and noise have once again filled our hallways and classrooms. We are not focusing on gaps or deficits, but rather framing our work around unfinished instruction. We are not trying to catch students up; we are meeting them where they are and bringing them to where they need to be with the appropriate support and interventions necessary for each child. Here at Neelsville Middle School in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C., our Verizon Innovative Learning Schools (VILS) devices help provide the access.
Being a part of VILS was such a blessing for my school because we joined the program about five months before the March 2019 school closures. While many of the 200+ schools in our district were scrambling to provide students access outside of school and in their homes, our students and teachers were ahead of the game. The support and camaraderie have been a much-needed aspect of making this program work for us. Being able to connect with other VILS teachers and students across the nation has opened a new world of possibilities and connections. VILS has also been an asset to our Middle Years Programme (MYP), “a framework that encourages students to make practical connections between their studies and the real world.” Together, these two initiatives work hand-in-hand to meet the needs of our students and provide them the skills and tools to create and innovate.
Alas, all the wonderful lessons learned will remain relevant throughout this unique school year. As a coach, I have learned to have plans but remain flexible because anything can happen. Teachers and students will still need to remember what worked during remote learning in the event of isolation and quarantine events; not all aspects of remote learning need to be forgotten. This collective experience of the pandemic required us all—students and teachers alike—to think outside the box and reimagine and conquer what we previously understood to be limitations.