The lasting impact of the pandemic has become clearer as students and educators returned to the classroom this year. The gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” has become wider and more acute. Teacher shortages and burnout have risen considerably. And educators, already stretched thin, have been challenged to not only meet all students where they are in their learning, but also support their emotional needs as they cope during a crisis.
This moment in education is demanding, and it is also historic. Regardless of your connection to the essential work of education, we have the opportunity to support educators on the frontlines by helping them address three major challenges.
1. Holding learning technologies accountable.
With increased federal support to fund technologies in the classroom, expand broadband access, and put devices in the hands of more students, education technology continues to play an important role in the lives of educators and students.
While state- and district-level leaders are investing in technology solutions to help their schools recover and meet students where they are, the problem is that not all edtech products are created equal. We must invest in teachers by funding technology solutions proven to meet their needs and improve student learning.
Teachers can only do so much with technology solutions that were rushed through development to market and lack the research demonstrating learning growth. Therefore, education leaders must hold technology solutions to the highest standards of efficacy. Teachers and students should not be test subjects for unproven products.
This means, as education technology providers, it is our obligation to put our solutions under the harshest scrutiny and come prepared with third-party evaluation proving our commitment to student learning growth. Now more than ever, we need to equip teachers with the best tools, and only solutions held to rigorous, independent review should earn the right to support educators and their students.
2. Supporting the learning needs of teachers and students today, not just preparing for the assessments of tomorrow.
The most effective learning tools and resources should complement classroom lessons and empower teachers to engage each student with personalized learning experiences. We need to move beyond tools that teach to a test and instead focus on solutions that equip educators with real-time student data and training that enables them to better connect with each of their students right now.
To do this, we need to first ensure classroom technologies do not create more work for teachers. Rather, edtech should encourage and challenge each student to deeply learn skills until proficiency by adapting to their individual learning.
While students are learning from mistakes and challenging themselves to develop a curiosity for learning, edtech is providing teachers real-time student learning data with actionable recommendations that go beyond test scores. When combined with their own student observations, these recommended next steps and lessons give teachers a more complete view of when and how to differentiate for students.
It’s also the responsibility of education technology partners and school districts to provide continuous, job-embedded professional development relevant to teachers’ learning needs.
This pandemic has placed immense pressure on teachers to quickly adapt. We must look at teachers as learners themselves to support them today as well as when the pandemic eases and teachers are ushered into a new world with new definitions of schooling, new expectations of learning technologies and new levels of partnership with home-based learning guardians. In partnership, we can ensure teachers are best supported to personalize instruction for individual students and small groups
3. Partnering with schools to adapt to the social and emotional needs of teachers and students.
When discussing the needs of teachers and students, we can’t ignore mental health. Teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate and are experiencing high levels of job-related stress and depression. Students are also being challenged by these difficult times and coping with increased stress and trauma, requiring more one-on-one attention from their teachers. Educators and their students cannot recover from the pandemic if we don’t support their social and emotional learning needs—first.
We have to go beyond acknowledging the crisis exists. Educators should be given strategies to create safe, connected learning environments. School and district leaders should implement professional development and staff retreats that put mental and physical well-being in focus. Additionally, social-emotional learning efforts must recognize the social injustices experienced by people of color in our communities and how the pandemic worsened these already inequitable conditions.
Education technologies and providers also play a role in this essential work. Not only can we build social-emotional learning tools into our services, but we can also understand our partners are prioritizing mental health and well-being.
There are big challenges ahead, but I am optimistic that the future of learning is bright because of the dedication from our educators and students. By continuously listening and adapting to their needs today, together we help tackle these immediate hurdles with solutions that pave a more equitable education path for all students moving forward.