How we’re responding to unprecedented times

Welcome to the 2020-2021 school year at Colorado Academy, one that will undoubtedly live on in our memories long after the dust has settled. So many adjectives continue to define the time: unpredictable, transformative, tumultuous, unprecedented. I saw an amusing post on Twitter recently that asked, “When are we ever getting back to precedented times?” I am sure we are all weary of the toll the pandemic has taken, whether we have personally and directly encountered COVID-19, or whether it continues to wreak havoc on our lives in any number of unpredictable ways.

A pandemic teaches us that humans only have so much control over their environment, and nature has a way of taking its own course. So how do we respond? From an educational standpoint, and specifically for all of us at CA and the Upper School, we continue to try to focus on the positive and on what we actually have control of.

Silver lining

One of the silver linings in the pandemic and its impact on education is that it’s a national phenomenon—everyone is going through it together. As a result, the innovation and fresh ideas being generated all over the country have come rapid fire. This past spring and all summer long, I have been inundated with news articles, blog posts, tweets, and listserv suggestions, many of them brilliant. If you put a bunch of educators in a room together (in this case the room is the whole country), there will be no shortage of good ideas. And I firmly believe that some of what has been and will be implemented will change education in a good way forever.

The downside is that these ideas are coming at us in real time, just as the pandemic has forced constant shifting and pivoting. As a result, new ideas may be coming out and implemented relatively untested. Educators may be throwing things at a wall to see what sticks, to borrow an apt metaphor. At CA, we are trying to be as thoughtful as we can about best strategies while also implementing some of them quickly. We don’t have the luxury of long processes that might tease out the subtleties of a given plan, nor do we want to stand back and let others test out ideas that we can put into action ourselves. The time to act is now.

Remote learning

Thankfully, there is increasing consensus around what works in remote learning and what is less effective. Keeping students attentive and on task is more challenging when they are not in the room with us, but already there are dozens of good strategies for helping mitigate this distance.

Our teachers learned quite a few techniques last spring and will be employing even more this year. Similarly, going into a hybrid mode (what we are calling CA Flex) presents new challenges and new opportunities. Best practices there are still being developed, and will vary by subject matter, but already I have seen and heard teachers coming up with very clever and innovative strategies for providing a quality educational experience in this mode.

Equity in education

Over the last six months, there has also been much necessary (and probably overdue) discussion on the topic of equity in education. Just as the pandemic has disproportionately impacted poorer communities and communities of color in our country, the downhill effect on our public schools has both spotlighted and exacerbated educational inequality.

Let this be a wake-up call to the country that access to decent health care and public education are good for all of us, including those of us who choose to be in the independent school world. We want to be one part of a strong and equitable educational system in the United States, not simply a place to which people flee when all their other options crumble.

How education will change

All of the developments I am describing at the elementary and secondary level have also played out in higher education, as colleges and universities scramble to cope with the new reality. For example, the need for standardized testing in college admissions has been called further into question, building on an already-established movement to move past these outdated and often unfair gatekeepers. This year, a large number of institutions are test-optional, and some have committed to being so, even beyond the 2020-2021 admission season. The pandemic proved to be the extra nudge many colleges needed to eliminate that component of their process. Obviously, it remains to be seen what the long-term impact of that will be, and whether some new and equally problematic standardized measure will take the place of the ACTs and SATs.

In all, the forced changes in education will reassure us of the many things we value about schools, while also calling into question some of the practices that ought to be left in the past. Yes, these are unprecedented times, but at CA we have the capacity to be alert and nimble as we encounter the many challenges we face. We will emerge a stronger institution.