Reimagining School after COVID

Last Updated: May 21, 2021

Since the coronavirus pandemic began over a year ago, students have had to navigate upheavals in their education and new ways of learning. Many of these changes have been challenging, as students and teachers have struggled with isolation, rapid changes in educational technology, and shifting regulations on physical distancing. However, the disruption to education has also created opportunities for lasting positive change in schools. Toward the beginning of the pandemic, Professor Bettina Love pointed out many of the positive changes happening in education:

My social-media timeline is filled with stories from teachers around the country finding innovative ways to reach their students . . . Communities are rallying together to support families in need. Schools are relying on different indicators of achievement other than standardized testing to measure improvement, such as parent engagement, teacher-outreach levels, and interactive lessons. Teachers are making the social-emotional learning of their students their top priority. Students are having more time for physical activity and art. And they are researching and learning about things they feel passionate about but never had time to explore before.1

We now have an opportunity to rethink schools for the better, and students should have a voice in shaping changes in education, since they are the ones who know best what helps them learn and grow. 

As the school year draws to a close, ask your students to reflect on how the changes in education during the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted them and what proposals they have for how schools should change when the pandemic is over.

Note: What follows are teacher-facing instructions for the activities. Find student-facing instructions in the Google Slides for this Teaching Idea.

  1. Opening Reflections

    Set the stage for a conversation about reimagining school using one of the options below: 

    • Many educators have instituted a regular journaling practice with their students this year. If your students have been keeping journals, invite them to spend ten minutes reviewing their previous entries. Ask them to consider these questions: 
      • Are there themes or patterns that stand out in your journal? 
      • What did you write about your experience of school this year? 
      • Did your feelings about school change over the course of your journal entries? 
    • What is school for? Invite students to think about the multiple roles that schools play in their lives and in the life of the community by creating a concept map for “school” as a class. Ask them to think about a typical day or week at school, pre-pandemic. What are all of the different activities, experiences, and interactions that happen at school? After students brainstorm a list, use a wraparound to elicit their ideas and add them to the concept map.  

    Remote Learning Note: The first option for an opening reflection will work remotely as long as students have their journals available. For the second option, use the remote learning version of wraparound to hear students’ ideas about what school is for. 

  2. Explore How School Changed during the Pandemic

    Ask your students to reflect on the following prompt in their journals:

    • How has school changed for you over the last year or since the pandemic began? What has been challenging about the changes? What have been the benefits? Were there any surprises? 
    • Have you discovered anything about yourself as a learner? Have you discovered anything about your school community?

    Then, create five sections on the board or a wall in your classroom and label them “challenges,” “benefits,” “surprises,” “what I discovered about myself,” and “what I discovered about my community.”

    Ask students to write aspects of their reflection that they wish to share on sticky notes and then place the notes under the relevant heading. 

    Once students have finished, read over the notes as a class, and reflect together on what you notice.

    Remote Learning Note: Create a Padlet with five columns labeled “challenges,” “benefits,” “surprises,” “what I discovered about myself,” and “what I discovered about my community.” Ask students to post aspects of their reflection that they wish to share in the relevant column.

  3. Imagine What School Could Look Like

    Place your students into small groups and ask them to brainstorm one change that they would like to see in schools after the pandemic. (Note: If it is not possible for your students to work together in groups due to social distancing requirements, they can work individually and then share their ideas with the full class.)

    Students can use their reflections from the first activity to help them generate ideas, and they can use the following questions to guide their discussion:

    • What change do you propose?
    • What would the benefits of this change be for students and the school community?
    • What are the potential challenges of making this change? Do you have any ideas to help overcome these challenges?

    Once they have finished, ask each group to present their idea to the class.

    Remote Learning Note: Place your students into small groups in virtual breakout rooms to brainstorm ideas for changes. Then, bring your students back as a full class and ask one volunteer from each group to present their group’s proposal. 

Extension: Present a Proposal to Your School Administrators

Ask your students to select their favorite proposals from activity 3 and write them in a report to submit to your school administrators. The report should include their answers to the questions:

  • What change do you propose?
  • What would the benefits of this change be for students?
  • What are the potential challenges of making this change? Do you have any ideas to help overcome these challenges?

Ask your school administration to take these ideas into consideration when they are planning for the next school year.

Citations

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