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Column: Let’s transform Hawaii’s schools, post-COVID

Mark Hines
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Mark Hines

The past year has presented all kinds of novel situations for students, teachers and parents alike. As schools have adapted and risen to the challenge of what gets taught, how it is delivered, and the means by which it is assessed, learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed underlying educational structures that should be reconsidered as we return to school this fall.

As teachers changed contact time and delivery methods to work with students this school year, schools identified what core understandings and competencies were needed from students. This gave teachers an opportunity to think holistically about what their students needed to know and show. Thinking broader about curriculum allows for integration with other teachers and relevant outcomes.

Remote education forced technology to become an integrated part of the learning experience. Uneven teacher expertise and intermittent student access exposed a large gap in school readiness. The opportunity with educational technology is to create new kinds of learning opportunities. Remote field trips, shared online creative projects, 24/7 collaboration and support are all examples of innovation.

Schools have risen to the challenge by putting more technology into students’ hands at school and home. Teachers have sharpened their technology skills to support learning and building classroom communities virtually.

Stress, trauma, anxiety were just some of the emotions teachers and students experienced. There was a renewed emphasis on building a positive classroom culture and relationships to provide safe, nurturing environments. Student care became a starting point for teachers and students. Schools recognized the importance of being connected and found that technology could assist in building relationships and bringing groups together in new ways. When school is a safe, nurturing place, learning is more powerful.

When school campuses closed, students from different ZIP codes had very different experiences in support and access to resources and learning. Schools and organizations rallied to get technology and internet access to these communities and into the hands of students to connect them to teachers and peers.

Although we still haven’t reached equity in access to learning, there are many efforts that are shrinking the gap between the haves and have-nots. The Federal Communications Commission initiative to put $16 billion into schools to “leverage funding to best help students learning from home during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic” will go a long way in this effort (April 2021).

Gallup engagement surveys have shown repeatedly that a majority of students are not engaged in learning. This is a moment to find new and authentic ways to reach students, whether they are remote or face-to-face.

Inquiry/project/place-based learning teachers use deeper learning competencies to reach students through challenging, exciting work. The six competencies of Content Mastery, Effective Communication, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Self-Directed Learning and Academic Mindset should be leveraged as a framework when designing curriculum for fall learning.

Lucas Foundation research documented learning gains at all levels — elementary to AP classes — when deeper learning principles were central to student experience. Doing deeper learning work isn’t just engaging, it prepares students for colleges, careers and citizenship.

As we return to school campuses this fall, let’s take these vital lessons to heart.

The state Department of Education’s strategic plan focuses on Teacher Collaboration, School Design and Student Voice. We have the opportunity to support teachers so that we don’t go back to “normal,” but instead leverage the collective experience of what worked and amplify it.

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