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True Literacy: 3 Focus Areas for Moving Into Post-Pandemic School Environments

Dr. Michael Hart shares his thoughts on the complicated challenges facing our educational system post-pandemic in this installment of the True Literacy video column. He points to human connection, the digital divide, and districts shifting to a strength-based model as three main concentrations that can heavily influence what the future may look like for K-12 students.

I. Human Connection

With all the talk surrounding “no more classrooms, no more physical schools,” and the impact of virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), global connectivity, and communication networks, people still crave direct, organic human connection. There is a need for human contact taking place in the same physical space.

Students ─ Graduating high schoolers and college seniors have been experiencing a severe lack of human connection during this COVID-19 pandemic. Although our youth are some of the most sophisticated users of technology tools, they long to be with their friends.

They’re grieving the loss of their rituals, their parties, their graduation ceremonies. They want to be in the same room. They want to be able to bump fists and be affectionate with their friends. Some are even eager to learn how to negotiate dating, for instance, and prepare themselves for the next stage in life. All these things are innately human.

Teachers Educators are also lamenting the lack of physical connection with their students during the lockdown. In the U.S., fewer than half of the schools of any type of have organized digital learning platforms, and millions of students from low-SES communities have lost all connection with their teachers. Some teachers haven’t spoken to their students in months.

Even in the best of circumstances with very well-trained professionals on reliable online platforms ─ these teachers are reporting a deep lack of personal connection and control of their goals and objectives.

This whole disruption from the pandemic affords us the opportunity to take pause and pivot.

II. Digital Divide

The second area that needs addressing is the digital divide. It significantly impacts the creation of meaningful human connections, both offline and online.

UNESCO ─ Organizations like UNESCO have included the digital divide concerns in their sustainable development goals. One of the objectives calls for inclusive, equitable, high-quality education and lifelong learning for everyone by 2030. It’s an aggressive schedule, but sustainable development goals can serve as an excellent framework for us to shift in fundamental ways to provide equal access to everyone across the world.

Policy-Making ─ It’s going to take the collective effort of government education policymakers, practitioners, and key stakeholders to develop and implement inclusive policies successfully. It may be a tall order, but it allows all of us to take a step back and start planning for post-pandemic work and the shape of our newfound education world.

III. Strength-Based Model

In addition to addressing the challenge of solving the digital divide, school systems have an opportunity to shift from what is referred to as a “deficit-based education model” to a “strength-based model.”

A Shift in Thinking ─ This shift will require fundamental changes in our thinking about education. Rather than framing our understanding of what a student cannot do (the deficit-based model) ─ we need to start with a philosophical framework that begs the question, “What can our student do well, now?”

It’s a powerful shift in thinking that takes us from deficits to strengths. This stance is particularly important in lower SES areas where educational resources are already limited, and students often internalize feelings of deficiency. The foremost philosophy starts with instilling cultural richness and the positive impact of the educational community rather than viewing individuals as broken or needy.

Visionary Leadership ─ All of it begins with visionary leadership and how we approach training in university programs. But we’re going to need to reach far beyond that. We know from implementation science that substantial professional development opportunities, including ongoing coaching and mentorship, are necessary to drive actual behavioral change in a classroom for both the teacher and student.

These are very challenging times but incredible opportunities exist that all of us in the education community have not witnessed before. It remains important to recognize the need for direct human connection in the midst of a continued education technology revolution. There should be a conscious effort to address the digital divide, and making a philosophical shift to asset-based teaching can help guide how, where, and when we learn in the future.

Head on over to trueliteracy.in for more in-depth analysis and to learn more about literacy learning.

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