(This is the final post in a two-part series. You can see Part One here.)
The new question-of-the-week is:
How do you think the pandemic will affect our students in the future? What, if any, might be positive impacts? What might negative ones be, and how can we mitigate them?
In Part One, Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey , Michelle Shory, Amber Chandler, and Caitlin O’Connor shared their projections. Michelle, Amber, and Caitlin were also guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.
Today, Linda C. Mayes, Sam Williams, Melissa Davis, and Luiza Mureseanu, wrap up the series.
Dr. Linda C. Mayes is the Arnold Gesell Professor of Child Psychiatry, Pediatrics and Psychology, director of the Yale Child Study Center, and a steering-committee member for the Yale Child Study Center + Scholastic Collaborative for Child & Family Resilience. She is also special adviser to the dean in the Yale School of Medicine. Mayes is the author of The Yale Child Study Center Guide to Understanding Child Development: Supporting Healthy Academic and Emotional Growth, published by Scholastic this year:
As a country, we are coming through an incredible challenge that we’ve been able to meet together. Now, we have a renewed focus on doing best by our children so that they continue to build resilience. If we continue working together, we can do this.
At any point in time, 1 in 5 children under the age of 18 are in need of behavioral-health services, and 80 percent of those children do not have access to the care they need. These numbers are now higher. Since the end of March 2020, nationwide and around the world, behavioral-health visits to emergency rooms for issues including anxiety, depression, and suicidality among children have been climbing steadily.
While this time has been incredibly difficult for us all, the disruption is intensified for children. In addition to many academic resource needs, kids have been separated from their friends and social groups during a time when peer interaction is critical for social development.
Overall, sudden adjustments are challenging and especially hard when whole families are going through them at once. Families have had to juggle loss of work, grieving lost family members, and more. All the while, our educators have had to deal with the same challenges while supporting the children in their classrooms and families of their own. Tolerating the constant uncertainty of a global pandemic is a really hard state to be in.
Opportunities for Growth
There have been myriad challenges, but there have also been important, meaningful impacts. While the pandemic has amplified inequities within our society, such as lack of access to technology, many schools have worked to mitigate this issue. Overall, students have more information at their fingertips than ever before, presenting opportunities for classroom discussions to learn about discerning and processing information and news. In this virtual world, students are also discovering multiple ways to connect with others, learn, and build their technology skills. Telehealth has also improved access to mental-health services for children and families.
With all of this in mind, when I think about what the future may look like for our children, I think about walking in an open field that has just been through a treacherous storm. Surrounding trees have lost branches, and the earth beneath is hardened. But out of the corner of my eye, I spot a cluster of wild flowers. In this difficult place, these beautiful flowers have found a spot to grow and thrive. In the darkest moments, opportunities exist to find meaning, grow, and create beauty.
In the mental-health field, this concept is referred to as post-traumatic growth. Over time, many individuals take whatever the traumatic events were and find opportunities to see the world in a different way, bringing forth meaning. In even the smallest ways, we are going to see human beings do this.
As educators and clinicians, we can help the young people in our lives achieve growth from our collective experience. Curriculum that incorporates opportunities for children to write about and discuss what it was like to live through this time, acts of kindness they witnessed, new skills they learned, or what they are looking forward to doing most as a class in the future, can help children think about how the world is working together as one community to help people. We’re all witnesses to this historical event that people will write about for centuries. We can help our children interpret what it means to be part of history and become involved citizens.
In addition, creating community connections among educators and local health-care providers, including pediatricians and social workers, can open lines of communication for students and families to seek support that addresses mental-health needs. In our work together at the Yale Child Study Center + Scholastic Collaborative for Child & Family Resilience, I hope to be able to help teachers and clinicians have ways of talking with young people about what they’ve been through.
All of this does not mean we forget about the difficult experiences and the stresses. It’s important to acknowledge what’s been hard for us all, so we can take that, find meaning, and continue on. We all share a society, our lives are intertwined, and together, we can move forward.
‘A New Social Contract’
Sam Williams teaches mathematics and Theory of Knowledge at Curtis High School in Staten Island, N.Y. He is also completing his third Master Teacher Fellowship with Math for America:
I’ll answer first as an optimist. I have long felt that the U.S. educational system was heading for a necessary disruption, something that helped future historians draw a clear line between 20th-century and 21st-century modes of instruction.
Sure enough, we got a doozy.
The best thing I see going forward is that the American education system, for all its flaws, has proved itself astonishingly flexible when it comes to serving the needs of American children and their families. Watching my district, New York City, scrounge up free devices, donate free meals, and grant generous work-from-home allowances has me asking the question: Why weren’t we doing this before?
One reason, made painfully evident by the last year, is that the education business relies heavily on routine. “Learning loss,” a guaranteed argument-starter in any break room, belies a deeper fact: Even as teachers account for lost face time, we have some pretty painful evidence that, for many, the learning relationship evaporated entirely. When I think of mitigation strategies for those who boycotted pandemic instruction altogether, my mind veers toward ominous political phrases like “unconditional amnesty” and “truth and reconciliation.”
As for the relationships I managed to preserve, I see evidence via online journaling of deep emotional trauma that shapes instructional planning for the coming year. That I was able to use this journal conduit as a two-way communication channel, however, speaks to a level of flexibility that, again, makes me wonder why I didn’t commit to it sooner.
I’m not alone. At a recent math teacher professional development, teachers lamented the challenge of getting mathematics students to respond in writing. Each teacher described a tidal wave of text following the shift to remote instruction, driven primarily by the facility of Zoom chat but also flexible apps such as Desmos and JamBoard, and was eager to sustain the momentum. Like contestants in Alan Turing’s famous “Imitation Game,” getting students to deliver their responses in writing was often the only solid way to guarantee that a living, thinking human was on the other end of the line.
In short, a new social contract is emerging. As with any contract, it pays to monitor the stipulations: Assessment that privileges writing is assessment that privileges a student raised to speak, read, and think in the dominant culture and mainstream dialect. It’s the same privilege that makes it not so coincidental that the students who thrived during pandemic instruction tended to be the students with the best technology access and the least resistance to personal-data monitoring. Inside the new flexibility, in other words, hides a fresh set of rigidities that, over the short term, students should feel free to question and challenge.
Melissa Davis is a 4th grade special education paraprofessional for the Denver public schools. She is also a content contributor and member of the production team for Building the Bridge, a podcast series hosted by Wendy Oliver, which connects educators and parents in one productive conversation around online and blended learning.
The pandemic will impact students in many ways, with two big ones being how they handle fear and adversity. When the entire country shut down in March of 2020, it was a scary time for everyone.
Imagine being a child and the adults in your life are not able to provide you with answers. It can make one question just about everything that you know to be true. Now that we are coming out on the other side of the pandemic, we can explain to children that even though there wasn’t a playbook on how to handle things, we relied on experts for their wisdom and we learned things that we needed to do to create safety. This holds true for many situations. When we don’t know the answer, we need to learn about it and be educated. It’s OK to be scared, but knowledge is power, and learning will help you get through this.
It’s amazing how resilient children are ... When things don’t go their way, they can learn to adapt and find a loophole, so to speak. When our elementary school returned to in-person learning in January, kids were so happy to see their peers and be able to play together. At our school, there are four classrooms for each grade level, approximately 600 total students. Each classroom belonged to their own cohort, and the students were not permitted to mingle with other cohorts while on school grounds including during lunch and recess.
What I observed after the first two weeks was kids wanted to play with their friends in other cohorts at recess. Some best friends were split up into different cohorts, and despite their begging and pleading, they were not permitted to cross into another cohort. Once they realized their negotiating skills were not going to get them very far, they made new friends.
Additionally, the rules dictated that there were only certain places each cohort could occupy at recess on the school grounds. There was a rotating schedule, and the students were limited to where they could physically be during recess on any given day. For example, our cohort had the basketball court on Mondays; a quadrant of the soccer field on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays; and the playground on Fridays. If we wanted the four-square playground or a spot for tetherball, we had to negotiate a trade with another classroom. Many of the kids in our cohort did not want to play soccer on days we had the field, but they quickly adapted by drawing four boxes on the ground with a stick. They created their own four-square court in the grass and used the ball from our equipment bag.
The overall idea is that kids will adapt to their environment. Sometimes when they feel stifled, they will tap into their creativity and find a way to do the things they want to do. No four-square court? We’ll make our own! I can’t play with my friends from another cohort? I’ll make new friends!
I feel as though kids of this generation will find ways to make things happen for themselves because there was a period of time in their lives that they were told they could not do many simple, everyday things for their own health and safety. As they grow up, students will draw on their experiences of fear and adversity and remember the time they had to dig deep within themselves to get the desired result. Hopefully they will also remember that it’s OK to be scared of the unknown. We made it through this. Let’s learn from it!
Luiza Mureseanu is a secondary school teacher currently working as an instructional-resource teacher, K-12, for ESL/ELD programs, in Peel DSB, Ontario:
Students must receive a lot of credit for the way they handled learning during the global pandemic. As data about negative and positive impacts continues to be collected, some learning behaviors indicate that most learners worked diligently to adapt and achieve success in the new model.
This pandemic prepared students for a level of readiness for future challenges, and it helped them build some necessary resilience. It is positive that most students continued their learning and succeeded regardless of this global crisis. Recent qualitative data coming from a group of teachers of international students studying high schools in Ontario indicated stronger academic results compared with prior years. Teachers testified that for some learners, the online platform worked very well.
However, the pandemic did not impact the entire student community the same way. Various groups of students, beginner ELLs (English-language learners) for example, experienced additional difficulties with credit accumulation in secondary, use of technology, or following online instruction.
Also, for many students, stress and anxiety reached an all-time high. The absence of school life and social interaction increased the disengagement and absenteeism to levels unknown before the pandemic. Student athletes and all kids loving sports got a deep negative impact during the pandemic. Schools implemented various methods to mitigate the negative learning and emotional impacts, but, simply put, some students were affected by the pandemic regardless. Many schools/boards hired additional staff support for the climate of learning such as inclusion coaches or SEL (socio-emotional learning) resource teachers.
Only data will inform correctly on the mitigation impact they had. Graduation data to be collected in the next couple of years will also be able to depict a better understanding of the pandemic impacts and how the inequity got deeper with some marginalized groups. One obsessive mantra of the global pandemic was “we are all in this together.” Ironically, this togetherness does not mean all got affected the same.
Thanks to Linda, Sam, Melissa, and Luiza for contributing their thoughts.
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