Schools did not have the luxury of time to plan changes forced by the pandemic. They had to innovate quickly. Now the question is might some of those innovations stick?
As part of our series Learning Curve, we talked with Ohio Department of Education chief strategy officer Shaun Yoder, as well as Marcy Raymond and Annalies Corbin from the PAST Foundation in Columbus, which has been conducting listening sessions for the education department to hear from families about their experiences this past year.
While remote learning brought some frustrations, Corbin says the more they talked with parents, teachers and students, the more they found a benefit in how students had ownership of their remote experience. A portion of the conversation is shared here.
ANNALIES CORBIN: They (students) became their best advocates for things that weren’t working and to get them changed. They became the advocate for themselves. They needed a resource they didn’t have: ‘I can’t do my homework because I can’t get online. I’m, you know, I’m taking care of my siblings because my parents have a job that they can’t work remotely.’ They developed a sense of self-reliance that I suspect and hope we will not see go away, and it will have a profound impact on the way we think about the wholeness, right, of what education is. They now have a set of skills they are ready to deploy, and if we step back too far and don’t allow them to activate them, I think it’s going to be detrimental to the progress we made during the pandemic.
SARAH TAYLOR: So how do you keep that going and keep students interested with the relevancy you’ve talked about as being so important?
MARCY RAYMMOND: We have to be able to help students to be able to navigate a world in which we don’t know what the jobs will be, and the only way we can do that is by giving them experiences that engage and teach creativity, critical thinking, communication, their ability to work together in teams.
Those high priority attributes of what the employer wants are the exact same things that we want as a community in all of our adults.
So how do we help the students to be able to have that? We can’t do it if we’re just teaching math, and we’re just teaching science. And we’re just teaching social studies. And we’re only doing it in person, and we’re not really relating to the community at large. And we’re not taking real rich problems and letting students wrestle with it and sometimes fail, but fail quickly so that they can figure out a new path or a new scaffold to be able to move forward. That’s what we should be doing and the pandemic said you need to do this.
Annalies Corbin, left, is president and CEO of the PAST Foundation in Columbus. PAST stands for Partnering Anthropology with Science and Technology and the organization’s goal is to connect real world scientific research with classrooms and the public. Marcy Raymond, top right, is PAST’s strategy officer and Shaun Yoder is chief of strategy for the Ohio Department of Education. [Sarah Taylor]
SARAH TAYLOR: The education department has another partner, the Management Council, and one of my colleagues interviewed Geoffrey Andrews, the CEO, for a story she did about broadband deserts. He had an interesting comment about what could potentially occur after the pandemic: “It would be great if a student who happens to be in a remote area and wants to take higher level international baccalaureate physics or something like that that isn’t offered in their school does have the option to sit in a classroom at their school and take a class from 10, or 50 or 200 miles away.”
Do you see more of that happening, Shaun? Is that going to be an innovation that comes out of the pandemic?
SHAUN YODER: Absolutely. If a school has the the broadband capability, and they’ve got a partner teaching a course that is, you know, 100 miles away in Columbus, right? But reaching southeastern Ohio, that is access for students and this is where I let my PAST Foundation friends expand on that.
ANNALIES CORBIN: If the end goal is to ensure that every individual student gets the most spectacular education possible, then this idea of closed district boundaries is one that we have to let go of, right? So it’s not just enough to say that if my school doesn’t teach, I’m going to use one that we know we need a lot of—computer science. Unfortunately, not every district has a highly qualified computer science teacher at the highest level, right? But students are interested in that. We want them in that, right? So they should be able to take that course wherever it’s offered in the state through these high quality, well trained teachers.
The flipside of this idea of making sure that we have this open sort of access opportunity education is to recognize that … I may have a district that has a great computer science teacher, but I as the kid can’t relate to that teacher at all for a variety of reasons, right? And so then I should no longer be constrained to just that one teacher in that one classroom in that one district. But instead that I have a statewide opportunity to find people to help me be inspired and to engage. And that’s a very different mindset.
SARAH TAYLOR: You heard sometimes during the pandemic of teachers who said, ‘You know, I’m done. I don’t think I can continue on.’ But it sounds like for all of you there’s a kind of new excitement and energy about the possibilities that lie ahead.
MARCY RAYMOND: The excitement that we’re hearing through the conversations that have been happening all across Ohio in the listening tour … educators are recognizing that the world has changed. Even if they were reluctant to enter into the digital world, they’re recognizing that this is a viable tool that can help them reach students better than they had reached them before. That can help students to be more efficient and effective with their learning and the time on learning, and that the opportunity space for reinvention is wide and vast.
ANNALIES CORBIN: Post-pandemic is a renaissance. Look through all human history, that’s true. And it’s true for a reason, because those that were traveling that journey in that moment chose to move forward, not to step back.
Yoder says the pandemic elevated Department of Education efforts to make sure districts could share knowledge through a platform they’ve created called RemotEDx.