Education requires innovation. During the pandemic, that innovation becomes more and more urgent. However, many of the innovations are not written in Wired. It doesn’t contain any technology. Rather, it involves educators doing one of the most difficult tasks in the world during surprisingly difficult times. They continue to teach using a quality curriculum, promote academic rigor, address learning losses from last spring and summer, and emotionally support students. Simply put, they are innovators.
Innovation is a science teacher who uses handwritten notes to prepare for virtual lessons and brings a whiteboard to the living room opposite the webcam for classes. With decades of experience, we bring the classroom to life through computer screens rather than technical bells and whistles. We truly know our students and employ well-established teaching techniques to maintain their interest and learning.
Innovation is the holding of drive-through graduation ceremonies and student-specific ceremonies when students and their families do not meet in person. Schools in New Orleans have found innovative ways to make graduates feel blessed last spring and summer. Individual graduation ceremonies were held for each student, allowing families to come while maintaining social distance and crowd size restrictions.
Innovation is finding online ways to address trauma and meet socio-emotional needs through family webins, zoom dance parties, or mental health hotlines. It supports children through ongoing and devastating racist violence in our country by empowering, building a loving environment and using traumatic restorative disciplinary practices.
Innovation is my homeroom teacher, and I realize that having a student plan to bake a cake for his grandfather can be an opportunity for class-wide ties. Teachers who knew that students would grow when they felt they were connected and cared for as part of the community would build that connection by narrating the behavior of fifth graders as they roam the kitchen with a zoom. Taking this as an opportunity, my classmates provided feedback.
Innovation is the principal who knows that the students of the last few years have come alive by singing the same song at meetings every morning. Since the rally is off limits this year, she decides to play it daily on speakers in a socially remote classroom. The song “Something Inside So Strong” reminds students that they are powerful and able to overcome obstacles.
The logistics that teachers and associate professionals are currently required to manage are amazing. Some people teach virtual and face-to-face classes at the same time. Others support student classrooms where they stay together all day but connect to different classes from their computer. Many teach from their own homes, and children go to school just a few feet away.
Beyond grades and environments, educators had to innovate to connect their students to a whole new set of protocols. How do teachers keep a group of 6 years old 6 feet apart in the hallway? Some schools have space markers that look like hearts or butterflies. How can kindergarten and kindergarten teachers find ways to maintain educational play during a pandemic? In the case of one school, by partnering with a children’s museum. How does high school ensure that students’ social emotional and academic needs are met? Use study hall time to support personal check-in and homework. These are questions that none of us thought we needed to ask, but our school is finding the answer.
The New Orleans New School, which I lead, has witnessed some of this innovation directly through relationships with schools and educators. We fund collaborative research in which teachers undergo professional development, with a particular focus on training for students with disabilities, English learners and science and technology. In these collaborations, teachers get together to learn from experts and each other. They understand how to incorporate best practices into their classrooms. That is also innovation.
There are countless such moments of innovation from educators that are noticed and unnoticed every day. Teachers are professionals and have been innovating in the classroom long before this crisis. We should look to our children as we continue to ask what to do about school education in this pandemic and the best ways to educate them.
Patrick Dobard is the CEO of New Orleans New School and a former superintendent of the Restoration School District.
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