Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

We Get to Choose What the Pandemic Means to Education

In the past year and a half, hope and heartbreak have lived side-by-side
By Tim O. Mains — August 11, 2021 3 min read
A group of school children emerge from a dark tunnel.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The pandemic has been a cacophony of often contradictory forces and events. There have been heroic and inspirational moments and others that have been painful and heartbreaking. There have been teenagers who refuse to turn on their cameras in their virtual classrooms and a 5-year-old proudly playing meteorologist from her backyard. Most teachers were knocking themselves out, giving considerably more time, effort, and energy to make a seemingly impossible situation work, while some students scammed the increased reliance on technology to decrease their personal accountability.

Last spring, Pine Bush was the first district in these parts to call a COVID-19-related districtwide shutdown. Teachers taught from their homes, connecting to their students via Google Classroom, with their own children and pets providing periodic distractions. We loaned Chromebooks and gave away lots of food. There were no traditional school events. The state regents exams were canceled. The class of 2020 got a virtual graduation program, a parade, and personal graduation photo ops.

Last summer, we tripled our bandwidth to support the enormous burden that video streaming placed on our network. Teachers could return to school where materials were more readily available and the network more reliable. We also made sure every student had a device, distributing 1,800 more Chromebooks and wireless hot spots to families who needed them. We all quickly improved our technology skills exponentially.

About This Series

Over the past few weeks, we have been rolling out 17 lessons from experienced district leaders who spent the last year leading through the pandemic. Learn more and see the full collection of lessons.

In the fall, we began all virtual, but by October, special education students were coming in daily, and elementary students could choose to remain fully virtual or hybrid where they attended in person two days each week and worked asynchronously the other three. Students in grades 7-12 remained all virtual until mid-January, when they could also choose hybrid.

By spring, we had expanded the in-person option to five days, with all-virtual students attending synchronous instruction five days a week. Everyone was excited to have more time with one another at school. A 4th grader emailed me, thrilled she was finally getting to meet her teacher “in 3D.”

While this past school year has improved immeasurably over the previous spring semester, our staff was still stressed and fatigued. I visited every one of our seven schools each week and made my robo-calls more frequent to help give folks a sense of stability.

Despite all the pain and negativity, there was success. One middle school posted student-produced video announcements. Every Pine Bush school constructed clever video messages to encourage students and welcome them to each new iteration in our instructional-delivery model. Our girls swim and volleyball teams claimed sectional championships. Our instructional coaches created videos to help parents, students, and staff learn how to navigate new technologies. Staff members began using advanced features in Google Classroom to manage online instruction. They learned how to blend synchronous and asynchronous teaching, even though more than half had never used Google Classroom before.

Charles Dickens began his 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities, with these words: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness … it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” How apt this passage feels today!

Our schools are faced with great challenge and great opportunity. We can capitalize on all the new insights and skills we have gained during our circuitous journey through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to create an even better, more student-centered system, or we could go “the other way.” The choice is ours.

Complete Collection

Superintendents discuss ideas at a roundtable.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty Images

Coverage of leadership, summer learning, social and emotional learning, arts learning, and afterschool is supported in part by a grant from The Wallace Foundation, at www.wallacefoundation.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean
Curriculum Webinar Computer Science Education Movement Gathers Momentum. How Should Schools React?
Discover how schools can expand opportunities for students to study computer science education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management How District Leaders Can Make Sure Teachers Don't Miss the Loan-Forgiveness Deadline
Many teachers and other public employees may not know they qualify for a student loan-forgiveness waiver that has an Oct. 31 deadline.
4 min read
Young adult woman cutting the ball and chain labeled "Debt" which is attached as the tassel hanging from a graduate's mortarboard
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management Download A Visual Guide to Nonverbal Communication (Download)
Understanding nonverbal communication can help you improve interactions and get your message across.
1 min read
v42 8SR Nonverbal Communication Share Image
Gina Tomko/Education Week and Getty
School & District Management Ensure Your Staff Gets the Message: 3 Tips for School Leaders
School staff are inundated with information. Here's a few ways to ensure they will actually hear you.
3 min read
Image showing a female and male in business attire connecting speech bubble puzzle pieces.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management Keep School Staff Motivated All Year Long: Advice From Principals
Here are some of the things—big and small—that school leaders do and say to keep teachers excited about the job.
13 min read
Teachers and faculty play a game of Kahoot! to get to know one another better during a Welcome Back training at CICS Bucktown on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022 in Chicago, Ill.
Teachers and faculty play a game to get to know one another better during a Welcome Back training at Chicago's CICS Bucktown in August.
Taylor Glascock for Education Week