Each fall for thirty years, I’ve welcomed educators, students, and families back to school and there has never been a back to school like this one. Worry and uncertainty abound as the new school year approaches. Educators grapple with issues of safety, budgets, staffing, class size, and more, turning the once familiar ritual of returning to school after summer vacation into an unfamiliar landscape. Districts are analyzing their local circumstances, studying guidance, and choosing among three options for reopening: in-person instruction, distance learning, or a hybrid of the two. According to a July survey from TpT, only 18% of teachers are preparing for in-person instruction this fall, while 12% are planning for fully remote instruction and 37% are preparing for hybrid instruction. And nearly a third (33%) of respondents didn’t yet know what their districts’ reopening plans were.
Regardless of whether they’re heading back to the classroom or teaching from home, more than 50% of educators we recently surveyed said they felt “worried” about how they’ll be instructing students in the fall. In the midst of all this uncertainty, there’s one thing about which educators, families, lawmakers, economists, and medical professionals agree. Education is vital to the health and prosperity of children and communities. So, in the face of extraordinary challenges, educators need a supportive community to share resources and ideas. Teachers are creating tomorrow, and TpT is here to help.
At TpT, we know that educators are changemakers. In the face of tremendous upheaval, we’ve seen our community of more than 6 million educators adapt, innovate, and deliver for their students and each other. We’ve had a front row seat into what worked, what needs to improve, and the lasting impact teachers’ innovations can have on education. As we look ahead to the 2020-2021 school year, there are five areas where we anticipate breakthroughs to occur, setting this year apart from all others:
1. Hybrid Learning Environments
Educators are inventing a hybrid learning environment that will likely endure beyond the pandemic. Hybrid learning has the potential to facilitate seamless, year-round education that reduces learning gaps while giving students greater voice, choice, and agency in their learning. To support hybrid learning, we have launched, TpT Digital Activities, to transform PDFs into digital activities that teachers can distribute through Google Classroom and allow students to complete on devices.
In a hybrid model, educators will be able to personalize learning based on power standards and assessments, then provide resources that can be accessed in class or at a distance. In order for this ambitious shift to occur, lawmakers and educators will need to bridge the digital divide and provide universal access to the internet and devices as Miami Dade Public Schools did, connecting all students within two weeks of school closures. Tisha, a tech integration specialist in Oregon, sees this difficult time also as an opportunity to reimagine what learning could look like. “It’s giving us a chance to think about what we could be doing.”
2. Social Emotional Learning
In addition to addressing academic needs, welcoming students back from the summer will require special attention to social-emotional supports. The pandemic is a mass trauma event that has affected the well-being of students and adults in myriad ways from isolation to grief, loss, and abuse. Knowing students well and implementing trauma-informed practices is essential for students to thrive and learn. This may include community circles, journaling routines, and restorative practices. Andrea M., a third grade teacher in Florida, created community and strengthened connections this way. “Every Friday, I have a Zoom party. We had a pajama party, a scavenger hunt, and a ‘bring a stuffed animal’ party.” Providing moments of joy, comfort, and safety to students will be even more vital this school year.
While caring for the whole child, schools must support the social, emotional, and mental health needs of educators as well. In weekly TpT polls in May and June, 74%-80% of teachers indicated neutral to low morale. These are challenging times that require educators to care for themselves and each other in order to care for students. Leaning on the TpT community is a source of resilience for educators like Jen, an elementary Special Education teacher from New Jersey who says, “I don’t know what I’d do without TpT.” As we look ahead to the 2020 school year, we will be hosting more online events and creating more moments to connect and find support from our fellow educators.
3. Equity and Racial Justice
Communities of color have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and the digital divide reducing access to education. Distance learning has revealed many inequities based on race, poverty, ability, and primary language. With national outcries for racial justice, educators are examining their practices and systems of oppression in schools. We have heard from many educators eager to create more welcoming and inclusive classrooms this fall where discussions can occur about identity, diversity, justice, and action.
TpT has made a long-term commitment to help educators make systemic change regarding equity and racial justice. We are partnering with experts in the field to support the creation of anti-racist resources and educate for social justice. Already, we’ve seen 87% of participants in our Teach for Justice speaker series commit to taking specific anti-racist actions such as:
- Teaching history and literature with more diverse representation,
- Building stronger relationships with BIPOC students and families,
- And addressing systems of oppression from curriculum to discipline in schools.
We are inspired by the way Teacher-Authors are sharing wisdom, such as Belinda from BVG SLP who shared her personal story and several recommendations on meaningful actions teachers can take to become anti-racist educators. She recommends keeping the conversation going, using white privilege to be an advocate for change, and speaking up and speaking out when you see racism. We believe that teachers will show up for students in the fall with a renewed energy to create more equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist schools.
4. Home-to-School Connections
Speak to any caregiver or family member who is supporting their student’s online learning and you’ll probably hear the same thing: How do teachers do all that they do? Teacher responsibilities that too often go overlooked, are now in the spotlight, and families and educators are collaborating in ways they haven’t before to support the whole student. While academics are one area caregivers felt they needed more support, a TpT survey of families found they struggled the most with supporting their child’s emotional needs (46%). And teachers are extending themselves to fill that gap. For example, Brice and Maria, elementary dual language teachers in Wisconsin who worked together to communicate with English and Spanish-speaking families through text, email, social media, LMS, and more, responded to a wide range of questions from academics to parenting to tech support.
5. Student Engagement
Connecting with families also helps students engage with learning. We have heard from teachers around the world that maintaining student engagement, during school closures, has required a new toolkit. Jennifer, a teacher librarian in Ontario shared her enthusiasm for one engagement strategy with me, “Your experts can be anywhere in the world.” Teachers have invited guest speakers for read alouds and discussions and have taken virtual field trips to museums and zoos previously inaccessible to them. While forced to leave the four walls of a classroom, educators have an opportunity to expand students’ horizons virtually.
While educators long for schools to reopen to provide a robust, pre-pandemic, in-person teaching and learning experience, that may not be possible for a while. Even in the midst of adversity, innovations are occurring in every aspect of education and one thing remains the same, in this back to school season, teachers are creating tomorrow, and TpT is here to help.
Confidently navigate the 2020-21 school year with expert Teacher-Author and educator advice in TpT’s Back to School 2020 Guide: For Teachers Creating Tomorrow.
Michelle Cummings is the VP of Content at Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT), where she oversees the Education Content and Insights (ECI) team and brings the PreK-12 perspective to inform TpT’s day-to-day operations and strategic directions. Michelle has had an extensive career of over 30 years in education, serving as a middle and high school English and social studies teacher, an elementary and high school principal, and a Chief Academic Officer.