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Professional Learning

8 Education Trends to Watch in 2021

6 Min Read
Education Trends 2021

The coronavirus pandemic and America’s reckoning on race defined 2020, and their impact will be felt long after. How will these historic events shape the future of education?

We asked education leaders to share their predictions for education trends in 2021, in areas such as equity, social-emotional learning, EdTech, and more. Here’s what they had to say.

Education Trends for 2021

Dillon Trends 2

Dr. Robert Dillon, School Designer, Author, Educator

Trend #1: Wi-Fi for All Will Be a Priority

"Enough with kids going to McDonald’s for internet access. Remote schooling doesn’t work if kids aren’t connected. The Biden administration will be super-focused on internet access for students in their homes. The transition team is already looking into how to use the FCC’s e-rate funding for home wireless. [E-rate makes internet access more affordable for schools.] Some experiments are already in the works where an internet provider puts wireless into students’ homes and the school pays the bill. That wasn’t even a possibility in the past. These kinds of programs will be expanded. We’ll see a big focus on e-rate changes that allow schools to buy hotspots and get a 60- or 80-percent discount and then provide them to families."

Trend #2: Schools Will Offer More Learning Options

"When the pandemic is over, school isn’t going to look the same. Over the next couple years, we will see a lot of experimentation. What if schools continue to offer a choice of in-person or virtual-only learning? What would a long-term hybrid model look like, where some kids only come to school a couple days a week? Some kids are benefitting from remote learning. Why would we yank them from a delivery model that works for them? We’re also going to see more schools hiring uncertified teachers, who will act as learning coaches for groups of kids learning in virtual academies. Public schools see flexible offerings like these as a way to compete with virtual charter schools."

Tyrone trends

Dr. Tyrone C. Howard, UCLA Professor and ICLE Senior Fellow

Trend #3: Expect to See More Teacher Activism

"Teachers are feeling overworked, under-appreciated, and under-compensated. So I think we’re going to see more teacher activism to bring attention to their jobs and to what they need. Demands won’t just be for higher pay, but for smaller class sizes, support for social-emotional learning, and more planning time. We’ll also see teachers demanding more nurses, social workers, and therapists in schools. Students are suffering from depression, anger, and anxiety, and teachers are not trained to deal with these issues. The pandemic has given all of us a closer look into how hard teachers’ jobs really are. My hope is that people will be more willing to give them the support they need to help students succeed."

Trend #4: Racial Disparities Will Widen

"When we come back to school after the pandemic, we’ll see that Black and Brown kids are even farther behind their counterparts because they did not have as much access to learning opportunities, or to learning pods—or because they didn’t log into digital classrooms at all.

"It takes major events to shock the conscience into seeing that racial disparities are real, that inequality is real. In the spring of 2020, hundreds of thousands of people across the country protested after the death of George Floyd. I got a lot of calls from superintendents, principals, and school board members who said, ‘Okay, this is a real issue we have to address.’ I’ve never seen that happen before.

"My concern is that equity becomes a check-the-box item. 'We have equity PD; check. Let’s move on to technology; check.' The question is, how do we make working toward equity a sustainable part of what we do every day? I wonder if we are ready to think about our policies, practices, and school structures differently."

M Schlinger trends

Melissa Schlinger, Vice President of Programs and Practice at CASEL

Trend #5: Schools Will Rethink the Role of SEL in Equity

"The SEL-equity connection is going to become high-priority. The murder of George Floyd and resulting racial tensions have schools and districts rethinking the role of SEL in their anti-racism work and promoting equitable outcomes. All of this will translate into adults reflecting more on how to create culturally affirming environments that promote positive identity, a sense of belonging, and strong teacher-student relationships. More government and civics classes are already infusing SEL into their curriculums, especially in terms of civic engagement and helping youth take a leadership role in their education. This could mean kindergartners leading the morning meeting, or high school students doing service learning. The goal is student-centered learning, where youth have agency in things that matter to them."

Monica Burns trends

Dr. Monica Burns, EdTech Consultant and Former Classroom Teacher

Trend #6: One-Click Learning Platforms Are Coming

"Parents with children attending the same school are getting reminders from three or four different learning apps. Students are being asked to log on to several different platforms. This can be overwhelming. So we’ll see schools and districts create a central hub that teachers, students, and parents can access with a single sign-on. The hub will house learning apps like SeeSaw for younger students and Google apps for older students, and it will be the place where educators complete administrative tasks, like taking attendance and messaging with parents. The goal of single sign-on is to eliminate some of the barriers to education for parents and students."

Suzanne Jimenez headshot BI

Dr. Suzanne Jimenez, HMH’s Director of Academic Planning and Analytics; Former Special Education Director for Loudon County Public Schools and Arlington Public Schools in Virginia

Trend #7: Digital Learning Will Drive Creative Collaboration

"If something good came out of our rushed implementation of remote learning, it's that digital tools are helping us figure out how to work together to support special-education students. For one, more teachers are recording their lessons. The recordings can be shared with the special-education teacher, who can then modify the lesson or provide supplements for students with disabilities. In some remote-learning classrooms, the general and special-education teachers are taking turns with synchronous instruction, one leading instruction while the other takes notes in the chat for students who might have trouble following the lesson. And the notes can be archived, so the whole class has access to them. Plus, tools like Padlet allow the class or individual students to take notes and share them with one other."

Shirley trends

Dr. Sharon Johnson-Shirley, Co-Founder of Innovation For Equity and Superintendent of Lake Ridge New Tech Schools in Gary, Indiana

Trend #8: Teachers Will Become More Digital-Savvy

"Virtual learning is the future. It is the ways kids learn, the way they interact. I don't want to see us going backwards. I think the pandemic has provided an opportunity for school districts to step up their digital programs, put a device in every kid’s hands, and solve home connectivity issues. I think you’re going to see districts finding ways to provide teachers with professional development to adapt to this new world order. I talk to my staff about taking kids on virtual field trips and seeking out other virtual learning opportunities. It’s all about keeping kids excited about learning. It won’t be easy. Some teachers have more tech expertise than others. But attitude has a lot to do with it. You’ve got to be excited about student learning, and you've got to make students understand, ‘I'm here for you. We're in this together and we're going to get through this together.’"


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