How school communities can embrace the new normal in the classroom

Preparing for the new normal in class.


As teachers across Colorado wrap up the first month of school, they're becoming familiar with new hallmarks of the in-person classroom, from helping students rebuild learning stamina during long school days to finding ways to address the needs of marginalized student communities.

Cristin Lasser, an assistant professor in education and development practice at Regis University, said that as educators discover the new normal, it's important to remember lessons learned during the past year.

"We hear a lot about learning loss and gaps, but I'm really encouraging us to kind of switch that narrative to be more asset-oriented around the resilience of our students and all of the things that they have accomplished — and teachers as well — in this time of pandemic," Lasser said. "If we don't, then there's so much loss in ourselves for the lessons that we've learned and the growth that we have."

As the school year gets underway, experts from the Regis Division of Education shared advice for educators.

Build strong communities to help address inequities.
"People of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic in many ways and have experienced greater hardships," Lasser said. "We also need to understand that what it looks like for students to engage in both school and family life varies considerably according to economic status and the needs of their immediate family."

During the worst points of the pandemic, Lasser said, some of the most successful tools in helping address inequities involved strong community support systems. In Jefferson County, for instance, members of the school community formed a group, TeamUp Jeffco, that provided in-person support to middle school students during virtual learning. Tools such as these can continue to play an important role for student success.

"The more that we can partner with, and know what's available for, our students outside of the classroom walls, the more we can help address some of the learning loss," Lasser said.

Schools must dedicate more time to help rebuild literacy achievement.
During virtual learning, some students did not receive the same level of reading engagement or targeted instruction that they would have during a typical year, said Jenny Nordman, an associate professor of reading and literacy at Regis. As in-person classes return, teachers are noticing larger achievement gaps, making evidence-based instruction and intervention even more vital.

"However, with more students than usual showing reading deficiencies, resources are being stretched thin," Nordman said. "To address these issues, some schools are looking at increasing instructional time dedicated to literacy. In addition, schools with available funds may be able to add reading specialist and interventionist positions to meet this challenge, which will likely persist over the next few school years."

Place an emphasis on social and emotional needs — for everyone in the school community.
Before it's possible to make strides in achievement, Lasser said, educators need to attend to students' well-being and safety.

"Spending the beginning of the year establishing a classroom culture that's warm, welcoming, inviting and safe really does go a long way in the end in making up for some of those 'identified learning losses' that we may see in test scores, or that may come up in the assessments that we use," she said.

Lasser's final piece of advice is simple: "Be okay with less than perfect because there is so much still that is uncertain that is out of our control," she said.

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