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Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and independent consultant, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com.

Education Opinion

Too Much, Too Quick? The New Educational World of COVID-19

By Peter DeWitt — March 30, 2020 4 min read

Today’s guest blog is written By Sean Slade, senior director of Global Outreach at ASCD leading their whole-child approach to education

There is that scene in the 2005 movie “The Hurt Locker” where the protagonist, soon back from Iraq, enters a supermarket. He’s there scanning the multitude of cereal boxes, each one offering something different, but in the same reflective moment, all eerily similar. The array of choice becomes, in itself, overwhelming. Too overwhelming to decide or to make a good decision.

We can likely all relate—confounded by variety, and perhaps paralyzed by choice. I would imagine given the influx of resources, suggestions, and materials offered over social media during this Covid-19 crisis that we are also being overwhelmed by choice right now. We have entered a new educational world—one which is online, one which is full of great recommendations and suggestions, and one which is also overwhelming.

Now this is a better position to be in than the opposite of no or too few choices, but the sheer amount of resources can quickly become a blur or unfortunately render us to make no decision at all.

Most of us who are reading this article are likely educators or at least have a strong interest in education. We have been trained in pedagogy, professionally raised through classes of students who need to be engaged (and engaged now, not in the near future), and skilled at selecting coursework or activities that suit the learner, the situation, and the moment.

But this is a moment that we’ve not been trained for. This is a moment that we have found ourselves in. And this is a moment that our students, our families, and our communities have found themselves in. No preparation, no planning, little guidance. All we have too much of right now, however, is choice.

And if we feel overwhelmed and underprepared for this moment, imagine how our families feel. The parent who is suddenly in charge of child care and still trying to keep their 6-year-old learning and occupied. The eldest daughter who is caring for her siblings and her cousins who are all at varying levels of schooling. The father of the junior or senior who is trying to make sure that his son keeps his education on track. We at least have some educational experience to fall back on.

So what to do? Here is some advice which—as we’ve all never been in this situation before including myself—you should read with a small grain of salt.

  • Allow yourself to not be perfect. It is time we moved our profession on from sage on the stage to guide on the side, and this can be the right moment to do so. You are likely not an experienced online- or distance-learning educator and, therefore, you should not expect yourself to be. Give yourself some leeway—you are learning, too.

  • Own your mistakes and show your vulnerability. Allow yourself to make mistakes and allow your students to see and discuss this as a part of learning. It makes you more relatable and it can bring the class—as a community—together.

  • Turn your classes into learning centers. Let your students know that we are all learning this together. Use your students to help teach, improve, lead the learning. What can you learn from them? What can they help teach or guide the class?

  • Assume agency from your learners. Provide more opportunities for students to take up their own learning. Allow and assume that this will happen, and if it doesn’t, discuss as a class how we can help everyone own and control more of their own learning.

  • Take a break from tests and take ownership. Many states have canceled standardized testing, and in doing so, the typical restrictions on learning have shifted somewhat. So, if given the chance, what would you teach your students? This may be the right time for a more in-depth discussion about the last book read, a certain character, a plot line. It may just be a discussion on why this book was chosen, why that scientific theory or timeline of history is taught. It may be opening up the class to hear what questions the students have.

And circling back to how we started this article—the plethora of resources, recommendations, and suggestions—my final suggestion is this.

  • Narrow your choice. Choose one or two sources that you like and trust—and stick with them. Ideally, they may be sources that you have used previously and that you can navigate around. The information there will likely correspond to your teaching and learning style, and as such, make more of an impact to your teaching than spending any excess energy and time you may still have searching.

There was a study about jams in 2000 by a pair of psychologists from Columbia and Stanford universities. When presented by more choice (in this case of jam varieties), they found that customers actually bought less. What appeared to be greater offerings actually resulted in fewer jars sold and, therefore, sandwiches made and ultimately eaten. What could be seen as more, quickly becomes less.

Reduce your offerings and improve your gains.

Sean Slade is senior director of Global Outreach at ASCD leading their whole-child approach to education sslade@ascd.org. Connect with Sean on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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