What Did We Learn this Year that We Can Carry Forward?

Phew!  This was a school year for the memory books!

We may want to wash our hands (pun intended) of this year and say, “Good riddance!” to the sanitizer, the Zoom or Teams calls, and our vast collections of fashionable masks. And yet, in the chaos, curve balls, and continual transitions, there were some rock-solid gems of learning.  What were those for you?  What exciting, unexpected revelations rose from this wild year?  What parts of the “old normal” do we want to let go of and what do we want to carry with us in this profound moment of opportunity to rebuild a NEW normal?

But first, enjoy your summer!  Give yourself some time to kick back and let that day-to-day teaching stress settle.  Heading into the summer offers our brains a valuable moment of rest. Recent research tells us that it is in our empty spacious times, in our daydreaming, time-on-our-hands time that the Default Mode Network (DMN) of our brains synthesize our processing. DMN is what makes sense of what we have learned; as our prefrontal cortex rests, our DMN integrates our experiences.  According to Scientific American, a diverse number of new studies tout Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime.

And when you feel rested, your brain may spontaneously bubble up with some important learning that you would like to bring forward into your classrooms next year.  Here are some ideas from us to add to your list:

  • Connecting with families. Many teachers report that they have never felt closer or been in better communication with the parents and caregivers of their students. Bridges built between school and home have extraordinary benefits for students and teachers.  How do we consciously foster authentic family relationships next year?  Plan ahead for how you will keep these connections strong.
  • Connecting with the community. This past year students became involved in community outreach, helping neighbors, and volunteering at foodbanks. They marched in the streets to advocate for social justice causes such as the just and equitable treatment of Black folks or urgent action towards countering climate change. Student leadership flourished in many places.  Educators want to continue to foster the development of engaged, caring human beings.  What can we do in our classrooms to learn problem solving, organization, communication and leadership skills while encouraging students to sustain and develop interest in community engagement and activismHow can you expand the walls of the classroom to include the community?
  • Prioritizing the Social Emotional Well Being of your Students. We know kids cannot learn when they are stressed, afraid or anxious. For the first time, many schools put mental health above academics in the priority lineup, and may have been surprised to see that increased focus on social emotional learning resulted in improved academic learning.  Part of social emotional learning is building a solid classroom community of caring where every student feels safe, feels as though they belong, and has a sense that they (and their contributions) make a difference.
  • Be intentional about creating inclusive learning communities. Although online learning was challenging for many, there are also many examples of students who were able to thrive while learning at home because being online removed the stress of racism from their school days. As we return to the classroom and re-establish what it means to be in school, reflect on traditional discipline practices and systems that marginalize or exclude black and brown students from learning and community. Look for opportunities for students to claim their identity and have their voice be heard and valued in your classroom.
  • Allowing for Brain Breaks. Just as the summer offers teachers an important time for reflection, kids brains need more downtime too!  Include these routinely and often in your classroom schedule. Whole class self-regulation activities, movement, and mindfulness moments actually help kids brains to learn more effectively.

After you’ve let go of (some of) the stress from this past year and truly given your brain a break, we encourage you to write some notes about what you’ve learned from this crazy school year, and what you might want to carry forward into 2021-2022!


For our thoughts on “learning loss” read our Executive Director’s interview with community leader Regina Elmi in our June blog.