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Janet Hale

As a curriculum consultant who travels to schools and districts throughout the school year, my in-person work came to an abrupt halt due to brick-and-mortar school closures in early March.

Since then I have been meeting with many of the teachers and administrators (a.k.a. heroes) I have the honor of working alongside. I admire them, as well as educators around the world, who have managed to construct virtual schools quickly, care about the emotional needs of their learners, and continue to create engaging remote learning environments.

In professional conversations, as well as in the social media sphere, I am hearing more and more (with some angst in voices and tone in texts) about the uncertainties of learning in the upcoming school year:

  • What will we be teaching next [school] year when we return to our [physical] classrooms?
  • What will my [new] students come knowing–and not knowing?
  • How will we ever get our students caught up?

 If these questions are not yet at the forefront of your school’s curriculum conversations, especially regarding the core areas of Mathematics and English/Language Arts, they will be.

I had a virtual meeting recently where these questions were weighing heavy on the mind of a K-8 charter school principal, Ms. Stacey. During our conversation I shared what I have been pondering regarding a possible solution to the lack-of-learning realities happening around the globe:

“Given the teachers who are currently teaching their students remotely are the ones who truly know what their students are learning versus not learning, they should be the ones who teach what has been missed in the new school year, rather than asking the next grade level teacher to take on this added expectation. I believe it will reduce the overall anxiety for both teachers and students. My idea is ‘going back’ to get to ‘the future’.” 

To explain my back to the future concept as applied to Ms. Stacey’s school, you need a little background: students do not go to school on Mondays to provide extended time for teachers to collaborate about student learning, participate in professional learning, and have personal planning time. Tuesday through Friday students arrive at 8am and stay until 5pm. The last two hours of these four days are devoted to club time where students attend based on interest. Teachers are savvy regarding the needs of the students in their clubs and interweave application of learning with passion projects and activities.

I continued to share with Ms. Stacey:

“For the first quarter–and longer, if needed–have your students in Grades 1-8 literally walk back to their previous year’s teacher’s classroom for the first hour of the club time each day, or better yet, use the full two hours every other day. This way the teacher teaching the missed learning is the teacher who not only knows what has not been learned–and to what depth per student–but has the expertise, experience, and necessary resources for instruction. I  believe students will realize that going back to last year’s teacher, or teachers, ensures they are explicitly receiving the missing learning needed to be ready to face the future–the current year’s learning. Of course, it will take strategic planning and ongoing conversations during your teachers’ Monday meetings to ensure that the current year’s learning can be taught while the club time with the previous year’s teachers focuses on the prioritized skills still needed.”

I literally saw this principal’s face light up when I shared my idea. My hope is that going back to move forward lights up your face, too.

Regardless of the size of your school or district, there will need to be collegial conversations and decision making concerning how to make a “back to the future” construct happen. For example, here are several questions Ms. Stacey and I began contemplating concerning her school’s configuration:

  • What do we do with the Kindergarteners during back to the future time, given there are no prior-year teachers to go back to on campus?
    • Possible Solution: Use specialists to work with the Kindergarteners and focus on a variety of social and academic skills. For example:
      • Art – learning colors, shapes, sizes using a variety of media while practicing the fine-motor skills necessary to use writing/drawing tools and cutting with scissors
      • Music – learning to engage the five senses to explore sounds and songs, individually and collaboratively play hand-made or purchased simple instruments
      • Physical Education – learning gross-motor movements while engaging in collaborative play, and using songs learned during music for dance activities
      • Library – learning about the differing characteristics of stories versus informational texts, participate in show-and-tell times, and engage in personal-interest reading opportunities

The specialists may also choose to plan activities collaboratively based on cultural themes or overarching learning topics to create connections among the specials.

  • What do we do for the Grade 8 students who will not be on our campus during back to the future time, given they will be on a high school campus?
    • Possible Solution: If choosing to use the every other day two-hour club time, on these days have the now 9th-grade students bussed to her school at the end of their school day (since her school is unique timewise and goes later than the normal release time) to participate during club time and go home from her school location.
  • How will we know what the missing learning focuses need to be?
    • Possible Solution: This one was the easiest to solve given the systemic work I have facilitated with her faculty the past two years regarding prioritizing the Mathematics and English/Language Arts standards across all grade levels. Given school closed in mid-March and state testing would normally have been in late April, a large amount of the critical learning had taken place; therefore, the first round of conversations among teacher mini-teams (Grades K-1, 1-2, 2-3, 3-4, 4-5, 5-6, 6-7, and 7-8) will be focused on what was learned versus what was not regarding the prioritized critical learning. This will make it quick and easy to identify the skills students still need to experience to be prepared for the current school year.

While we did not solve all the concerns about making back to the future a reality in her think out of the boxschool during our meeting time, it was a wonderful start that Ms. Stacey is excited about pondering and pursuing with her faculty and staff.

So, how might you start thinking out of the box with your colleagues and create a back to the future structure that works for your learning environment–whether elementary, middle, or high school?

I would love to hear your ideas! And, I would enjoy brainstorming with you, if you’d like to set up a time to meet virtually! Contact me to share your school/district configuration and back to the future how-to contemplations.

Your future hasn’t been written yet. No ones have.

Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one.

– Doc Brown, “Back to the Future”


2 thoughts on “Back To The Future

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