Preparations for the upcoming school year bring hope and a yearning for normalcy as meeting restrictions begin to be lifted around the U.S. and, hopefully, around the world. After a year of hybrid schedules, virtual learning, and stringent mitigation strategies, educators are optimistic about reopening plans for the start of the coming school year. We encourage educators to reflect on the myriad of ways the past school year will shape future educational experiences for students and how their classrooms may be impacted as we finish this year or move into the new school year.
How do we reacclimate to the in-person classroom?
As we plan for the return of students to classrooms under a more traditional school schedule, never before has the need to strengthen and cultivate classroom communities been as critical. Some students will be reentering classrooms for the first time after approximately a year and a half with minimal to no social interaction outside their homes and immediately family members. Teachers undoubtedly will feel the immediate pressure to address learning gaps and optimize learning opportunities, but we should be mindful of students’ social needs, as well, and the ways in which we can help them reintegrate into their community of learners. Teachers in elementary settings will need to reteach classroom rules and expectations that typically are taught in lower grades. Students across all levels will need to reacclimate to the expectations of group work and meaningful collaboration with peers. The time spent fostering strong relationships and a positive classroom climate will reenergize learners and teachers and set the stage for productive learning opportunities all year!
What technology lessons learned can we apply in the in-person classroom?
With more opportunities for face-to-face interaction, we also encourage teachers and administrators to evaluate the ways in which technology should be used in classrooms. Are there still opportunities to use video conferencing in the classroom? For instance, consider some of the following opportunities:
- Many schools and school districts significantly invested in instructional technology and internet access for learners, and we see more technology than ever in the hands of students.
- Think of the resources and people you can connect students with using video conferencing now that its usage is widespread.
- Consider the utility of flipping instructional models if it helps to foster higher levels of student engagement during their time in the classroom.
- Consider all the virtual resources that you identified and created to support students. These still may be useful for providing continuity of instruction for students who are absent or who miss instructional time.
The time teachers invested in redesigning classroom instruction and learning new technologies is not in vain; instead, consider them as value-added tools for learning in the year ahead.
What virtual practices can we carry forward?
Finally, educators should be reflective and practice patience as we return our learners to their traditional classroom experiences. Perhaps there were instructional changes during hybrid and/or virtual learning that should continue or those that should be revisited. For instance, consider the following examples as a start:
- Making modifications in assessment practices to assess higher levels of student thinking may be an enduring practice.
- Using a learning management system to organize course materials and resources for students is helpful, regardless of the instructional setting.
- Reinforcing student ownership of the learning process may directly enhance in-classroom experiences. For instance, there may be habits of mind that need to be modeled and retaught for students. We should expect to reteach study habits to ensure students meet deadlines, fully engage in the learning process, and feel responsible for their educational outcomes.
- Involving students in instructional planning and classroom learning can be a powerful tool to apply in the regular classroom. For instance, being transparent with students, asking for their input, and setting realistic goals that meet the needs of your learners can come from them as well as from us, the educators.
In summary, we hope you will find the instructional silver linings that will help move your school, classroom, and learners forward. Be realistic about what the school year may present, and be prepared to creatively address the needs of all learners.
Rachel Previs Ball, Ed.D., currently services as the director of the Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School for Marine and Environmental Science while also working on special projects for Stronge & Associates. She previously served as principal in a public school district in Virginia. She received her undergraduate, master’s, and doctorate degrees from The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Stronge and Associates Educational Consulting, LLC (S&A), specializes in researching, developing, and supporting the design and application of educator evaluation systems both in the United States and internationally. We work extensively on the related issues of teacher and leader effectiveness with our research-based hiring protocols, professional development workshops, and technical assistance to districts, states, and other U.S. and international educational organizations.
 A flipped classroom uses an instructional delivery model in which new content is introduced or reinforced at home through recordings, readings or other input, and in-person classroom time is reserved for students’ application or extension of skills or content.