Professional Learning

5 Actions to Achieve Learning Recovery and Lasting Success

4 Min Read
Hero Learning Loss Recovery

Given the research on the long-term consequences of the learning gap that existed prior to the COVID disruption to schooling, along with the real concern that academic disparities are only growing worse during the pandemic, it would be no surprise that educators might feel overwhelmed. But we could look at this moment as an opportunity to provide an education that works for every child. Let’s reengage in our face-to-face educational lives with intention and commitment to the vision we want to realize in our “new normal.”

In a recent interview on 60 Minutes about the impact of COVID-19 on students, Dr. Grant Rivera, superintendent of Marietta City Schools in Georgia, ended with a sobering final commentary: “We will have children who will carry trauma and learning loss, I believe, for their entire educational trajectory. And I think that's what's so important. How are we—amidst the exhaustion that our educators feel—going to proactively respond to that?"

I appreciate Dr. Rivera’s forthright language. While we never want to approach a student learning challenge with a deficit mindset, we’ve got to be real about the possible long-term effects. We’ve got to be honest about the weighty responsibility that education leaders and decision-makers continue to bear. As Dr. Rivera frankly stated, there will be lasting consequences for this group of students. Our actions will shape those consequences. Will we emerge with a cohort of more resilient, flexible, self-sufficient learners who lost a little in the way of academics but gained much in self-agency and self-advocacy? Will we emerge with a sense of defeat and “what might have been” for many? Or will we have the will and skill to make decisions and design systems that put our students firmly on a path to proficient and positive futures?

Learning Recovery Strategies

Much has been made of the “new normal” that we find ourselves facing. While we are all exhausted from overuse of the phrase, perhaps it might yet prove valuable to describe this time in history. For a moment, let’s consider what it might actually mean to look past the triteness of the language, and embrace the realness of the opportunity to imagine and move toward a purposeful new normal that sets students up for learning recovery and long-term success. I suggest educators take these actions.

Action 1: Use evidence to guide your practice.

Moving From . . .

To . . .

Low-impact, non-evidence-based instructional practices that may or may not yield dramatic and accelerated learning

Ambitious, evidence-based instructional practices to encourage learning recovery for all students, especially underserved populations

Action 2: Get creative with time and resources.

Moving From . . .

To . . .

The perspective that learning time and resources are only available at school or within predetermined time limits

Expanded access to learning opportunities before/during/after school, over summer, and during other school breaks

Action 3: Seek out high-quality curricula.

Moving From . . .

To . . .

Individually curated, potpourri learning experiences; disjointed materials alignment; and haphazard classroom activities

High-quality, well-designed instruction using strong curricula, aligned materials, and purposeful learning experiences

Action 4: Use assessment data purposefully.

Moving From . . .

To . . .

Assessment activities that highlight interesting trends but don't connect to actionable steps teachers can take to improve instruction for students

Assessment data that easily connect teachers to content, instructional resources, and activities that directly address students' learning needs

Action 5: Include supports for the whole child in academic content.

Moving From . . .

To . . .

Academics as a singular focus when deciding on and implementing curriculum

Whole child supports within all facets of the curriculum that build connection, relationships, resilience, and empathy, such as social and emotional learning or culturally responsive practices

The Directors of HMH Academic Planning and Data Analytics provide pro bono consultation with educational leaders across the country to operationalize goals and move districts closer to the shared vision of student success. As part of that work, we supply tools and resources such as the 30-60-90 Day Instructional Planning Guide (pp. 41–48) included in the Bridge and Growth Pathways Administrators Guide.

Learn more about our free resources or request time with someone from our Directors of Academic Planning and Data Analytics.


Watch a webinar recording featuring HMH's Dr. Bonnie Cochran and Noelle Morris to learn how to empower teachers to deliver effective interventions within the core classroom.

You can also explore our evidence-based solutions, which include opportunities for intervention, assessment, and differentiated instruction to close the COVID learning gap.