student wellness

Here's What We Need to Keep, Start and Stop Doing When We Return to School in the Fall

Across the country, teachers, families, and students have all had to adjust to a new way of teaching and learning over the past year. At Boston Collegiate Charter School (BCCS) in Boston, Massachusetts, we have primarily been in a virtual setting since March 2020. As we mark one year since the official start of the pandemic, and as we continue to move forward with increasing the number of students coming in for in-person learning, we hope to take the lessons we have learned from the last year into our classrooms. Here are a few things we want to keep, stop, and start doing in school moving forward. 

Keep building and strengthening relationships with families

After shifting to the virtual setting, it became even more important to maintain regular contact with families. In fall 2020, we had introductory phone calls with each family in our advisory. Teachers and families not only introduced themselves to one another, but teachers also took the time to engage families in authentic conversations around their hopes and dreams for their children. These are vital conversations in any given year, but they proved essential at the start of the virtual school year.

Moving forward, we want to continue to implement practices that will enable us to build and strengthen relationships with families. Whether it involves sending a quick text or email after a particularly great class or organizing a short newsletter with your team to email out to families each week, the pandemic has taught us that there is more that we can and should do to communicate with our families.

Keep teaching children about self-care and relationship building

During remote learning, teachers needed to shift their focus with kids in many ways, but the most pivotal shift was in terms of relationship building. Lessons were no longer confined to the four walls of a school building; lessons were now a part of our students’ homes. This meant seeing the occasional pet on screen or noticing a student’s sibling listening in.

Given the high degree of uncertainty and stress, teachers actively encouraged students to ask for help, reach out through email or phone, and take time to focus on self-care. Advisory periods became longer, with kids learning about themselves and each other through lessons centered on what was happening in their communities, in our country and the world. Moving forward, it is essential that we continue to prioritize time each day to build community. 

Keep leveraging virtual platforms to increase participation and interconnectedness

Over the past year, we were all forced to adapt to meeting and connecting in virtual settings. While “Zoom fatigue” is real, it is also important to remember that prior to the pandemic, participation in meetings outside of regular school hours or collaboration with colleagues across the city could be either time-consuming in terms of commuting or slightly inefficient when it came to conference calls. Now, with the use of screen-sharing and breakout rooms on Zoom, joining a larger teacher, student, and/or family community or connecting with educators across the country enables better and more inclusive participation.

Stop using the same class materials with all students

In the remote landscape, it became even more important to make sure that students were getting what they needed in class. Very rarely could the same document or classwork be used without any changes for every student. Making simple accommodations or modifications on an assignment before posting to Google Classroom allowed students to get the level of scaffolding or support they needed on any given assignment.

After a lot of trial and error, many teachers have perfected the online tools that allow for all kids to have access to materials, and we should keep these online resources as a means for differentiation. Using laptops and technology allows kids to create, interact, and collaborate with each other and us in different ways. Even the simplest of supports such as adding visuals, colors, and larger texts is possible when things don’t necessarily need to be printed out. 

Stop teaching only “in” class

While there are many teachers who used a flipped classroom model prior to the pandemic, for many of us, this became something that we started experimenting with as a result of the pandemic. Not only does a flipped classroom allow for more time for authentic implementation of skills while in class, but it also helps students to develop the important skill of time management that they will need in higher education, when they are expected to prepare for classes independently.

Start planning ahead for possible interventions and remediation for next year

We’ve all been doing the best we can in the remote world, but students will need a lot of additional in-person support during the remainder of the year, as well as the start of the 2021-2022 year.

As such, we should start having conversations with current teachers in the grade below to get a sense of what students may be struggling and/or excelling in so that we can be prepared to support students in the fall. Since this work may require adapting unit or lesson sequences, it is best that we start planning early to provide the best support for students. 

Start teaching online etiquette explicitly

Alongside teachers, students had to make the abrupt transition to online learning without the professional development meetings or training on how to engage with others on online platforms. In today’s world, students need to have explicit instruction on the practicalities, logistics and appropriate behavior of online learning.

From maintaining an organized inbox and to-do list to practical tasks such as writing a formal email or using helpful shortcuts on Google or other online platforms, we should start teaching students these skills. Students will not only benefit from learning directly about best practices of working online for the purpose of current remote learning, but it will also support them as they transition to the world of higher education and future careers.

While the past year has been far from ideal, it has provided ample opportunities to try new things and learn from a lot of trial and error. As we prepare to re-enter our physical classrooms, we look forward to keeping what has worked, stopping antiquated practices, and starting new initiatives to improve learning next year and beyond.

Rhee-Soo Lee is a seventh grade math teacher at Boston Collegiate Charter School. She majored in religion and government at Wesleyan University and has a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. Prior to working at BCCS, she taught fourth and seventh grade math and science at Brooke Charter School for three years.

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