There’s much to consider as education leaders plan now for the 2021-22 school year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently revised its social distancing guidelines for schools from six to three feet. Vaccine trials for children and youth are underway now. These are just a few examples on a long list of social, academic, public health, and financial variables impacting instruction in the next school year. Through it all, educators have demonstrated their dedication to students and working within a continuous improvement framework to provide a path forward.
Students are now attending school in a variety of in-person, hybrid, and remote formats. Drawing on the evidence from the past year, educators have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t.
Strategies to Close the COVID Learning Gap
These six strategies for administrators will support efforts to improve student outcomes—academically and socially—accelerate learning, and help address the issue of interrupted schooling.
1. Prioritize Social-Emotional Learning and Mental Health
The pandemic has been an event that everyone, everywhere, experienced. For many, it was a time of loss and tragedy. All that’s happened in the past year will influence today’s youth throughout their lives.
Educators had already expressed an elevated sense of urgency about social-emotional learning (SEL) issues. For the last two years, HMH’s Educator Confidence Report—published in collaboration with YouGov—has identified SEL as the top concern among educators. Recent events have only heightened this concern, raising concerns about the mental health of children and adolescents.
Most districts now have robust plans in place but feel constrained by not having the counseling and other resources needed to support students and families. Research makes clear that students perform better academically when their social-emotional needs are met, and this happens when we integrate SEL into all aspects of schooling—culturally responsive teaching, for instance, is particularly important as we strive for social justice. SEL and mental health must be a priority.
This is not just critical to student success and happiness but also to the well-being of families and adults in the education system. In a recently updated survey by HMH and Kelton International, a top concern among educators is the use of time, and juggling new initiatives in a new environment has been challenging. Student behavior and difficult conversations were replaced on the list by issues such as isolation and loneliness. Teachers also reported showing themselves and their colleagues more patience and empathy.
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