Students, teachers and principals returned to classrooms in the fall of 2021 and realized that school, as previously defined, no longer exists. Predictably, children who needed extra support, be it social, emotional, financial or academic, pre-pandemic, needed that same support when COVID-19 took hold. Unfortunately, they could not receive the full benefits of those accommodations on a virtual platform.
Education professionals are still figuring out what classrooms of the future will look like in the realms of technology, distance learning and health protocols. However, students still need to be taught, communities still need to bond and seniors prefer real graduations.
Educators thrive in busy school environments and know the value of extracurricular activities. Yet, when the pandemic sent schools online, they felt helpless, begging students to turn on their cameras.
While these are issues that will likely resolve themselves in time, schools still need to be prepared to lead the changes that are coming, both in and out of the classroom. The following strategies can help teachers anticipate and better solve the problems ahead.
Embrace Technology Use
Learning to capably integrate technology in ways that fully engage students is key for educators as we move forward. School leaders across America find that some new teachers are overly dependent on technology and the students are suffering from an in-person lack of engagement. On the flip side, some veteran teachers have refused to return under the new electronic circumstances. Students are expecting the same level of empathy and intuition from their instructors, whether that comes with technology or not. This expectation creates a new challenge for administrators who are returning to a new normal.
Just over a decade ago, only a small portion of students had access to technology in the classroom. Public schools provided handheld devices to just 4% of students, according to a National Center for Education Statistics 2008 report. In addition, “the ratio of students to instructional computers with Internet access was 3.1 to 1.”
In 2021, by contrast, faculty are surfacing issues like the need for more power strips in classrooms so that students can charge their 1:1 laptops during every class. Teachers of the future will be asked to mitigate and solve problems that arise without precedence; the pandemic has recently provided plenty of practice.
Listening Is Key
Principals would do well to take input from teachers if they are committed to improving student learning outcomes in the current context. Education Week suggests that “if any administrator wants to know how effective education policy really is, listen to the teachers.” Schools of the future will need to incorporate technology in the classroom. They will also need to listen “to individual families’ needs, struggles, and hardships” while recognizing that “in a distance or blended environment, it can be challenging to determine what those needs might be.”
Leadership will also have to find common ground and ways forward with faculty members who are struggling to engage students with technology or view the technological classroom as detrimental to learning.
Given the heightened emphasis on student privacy and school security, it is essential for school leadership to stay aware of the legal ramifications of technology in the classroom — think student cameras and Google accounts.
Become Data Savvy
School administrators should consider expanding the types of data they use for decision-making. For example, going beyond basic demographics to include specific socioeconomic information can help principals gauge their community’s ability to adjust to new technology.
Last but most importantly, school leadership will be charged with streamlining curricula, adjusting for online testing and the extra security and protection it requires, and even changing their expectations around electronic submissions.
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville has touched on similar challenges in designing the online Master of Science in Education (MSEd) in Educational Administration with a Specialization in Teacher Leader program. When educators graduate from the online MSEd program, SIUE verifies that they have completed the necessary steps and entitles certification with the Illinois State Board of Education.