Ancora Imparo: Spiritual Reflections to Combat Racism in Catholic Schools

The following blog was contributed by Vincent Hale, music and theater teacher at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in New York, NY. For a more complete and in-depth understanding of Who, What, When, Where, and Why to respond to Racial and Social Injustice, check out his piece on the Partnership Schools blog.

As a Black male Catholic school educator and leader, ancora imparo—I am still learning. I am challenged to expand my knowledge, the capacity of my influence and the impact of my instruction, especially in the current state of our country, laced with violence, hate and systemic oppression. I have been wondering how I should respond to these heinous acts of police brutality against people of color and the requests of my white colleagues and friends for suggestions on how they support the Black Lives Matter movement.

In Start with Why, Simon Sinek prompts the reader asking, “Why did we start doing what we’re doing in the first place?” As educators we should ask, what policies, curriculum, systems, structures and routines implemented in my school advance or hinder racial justice? Scripture animates my educational philosophy. I get out of bed every morning to have a transformational impact on the lives of children and families through the power of music and theatre infused with love and joy. I encourage all Catholic school educators and leaders to return to their “Why?”

Through personal connections to scripture and individual relationships with God in prayer, He imparts infinite wisdom. The fruits of the spirit are the keys to overcoming the racism that devalues the image of God in others. We must access our faith to see people how Christ sees them. This process will require self-reflection, mindfulness, and being open to addressing all the thoughts and feelings that arise. Below you will find six scriptures with a probing question that support my version of “Why” to respond to racial and social injustice as it stands now, while ancora imparo.

  1. I Corinthians 12:15-26 NABRE
    “But as it is, there are many parts, but one body.”
    If I am in a position to hire, what practices do I employ to ensure diversity within my staff?
  2. Proverbs 22:6 NABRE
    “Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it.” Am I helping students learn from an early age that their voices, lived experiences and opinions are valuable?
  3. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NABRE
    “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.” How have I fed into the idea and perpetuated the effects of white privilege?
  4. Matthew 28:19-20 NABRE
    “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” How are my thoughts, words, actions, and character shaped by my environment?
  5. Colossians 3:13-14
    “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.” How can I listen with the intention to understand without judgment?

I have been the victim and inflictor of racially charged biases on several occasions. White people, probably with good hearts, have unconsciously asserted microaggressions against me and I have done the exact same. The key is to acknowledge those missed opportunities for human connection and ensure we are prepared for an alternative response in the future. My hope is that this post points you in a clear direction of “Why” to commit to this work.

Leading by Example

The following blog was contributed by Rachel Rell, a junior at the University of Notre Dame and a summer intern with the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).

As the oldest of six children, I often found myself calling out to our mom for help in yielding off the copying voices of my younger siblings. As I grew up, I began to notice the other areas my younger siblings copied me: ideas for art projects, food recommendations for dinner, favorite colors, the list goes on. Although this was largely an area of annoyance for me throughout my younger years, I began to see that my younger siblings were watching all that I did and copying it. Although having them choosing the same favorite color was annoying to me, the things I did were creating an impact on their lives and the habits they were developing. How I responded to situations and treated others was how they were going to act in the future. I have lived my whole life in a sphere of influence, and now have made it one of my guiding principles to live as though others are watching, because they are.

Timothy 4:12 says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” Even though I don’t believe this verse is written only for the young, it is one that I have built my life upon. Our culture today has taught us that leaders are strong, dominant and outspoken. But what about those of us that were not made this way? One of the many lessons my younger siblings have taught me is that leadership does not always look the way that it does in movies. Leadership is stepping up to be a role model for others and living up to the responsibilities involved with being a positive one. Our Church and our schools need these leaders more than ever. Our students need you to show them how to become the person God is calling them to be, not only through carefully laid out lesson plans, but through actions.

One of the reasons my parents chose Catholic school for my siblings and me, and one of the reasons I chose a Catholic university for myself, is the people that students are surrounded with. My teachers throughout the years provided me with positive role models at school to continue the emphasis on the values that my parents taught us at home. My teachers taught me not only math and English, but also helped to form my habits and values; my friends, not only hopscotch and jump rope rhymes, but what a true friend looks like. As Catholic school educators and proponents of Catholic education, the children that we form are the most important aspect of everything that we do. As those that they interact with on a daily basis, we can have a substantial impact on the habits they form and the people they become. We aren’t perfect. We make mistakes. But, it is the resolve to act intentionally, knowing that they are watching, that helps us to become the positive role models our children and students need. We have all heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words,” but it is a common phrase for a reason. So, live and teach as though your three-year-old sister is copying everything you do because although your sibling, child or student might not be watching, someone else’s probably is.

Finding a New Purpose for NCEA 2020 Convention Bags

The following blog was contributed by Kathy Mears, Interim President/CEO at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, VA. The Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago filled unused bags from the cancelled NCEA 2020 Convention & Expo to take care of food distribution and the local shower program. Kathleen Donahue-Coia, acting president & CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, said the bags helped the immediate need for food and personal items for the increased numbers of clients in the Chicago area.

Some of the plans for the NCEA 2020 Convention & Expo couldn’t be undone. The Chicago-based company Integra Graphics Synergy had already printed 4,000 Convention bags. What to do with them? The company generously offered to deliver the bags within a reasonable distance from their plant. Catholic Charities office in Gary, IN had a perfect use for the bags – food distribution. 

The onset of the pandemic stressed most food pantries around the country. Catholic Charities USA was no exception. While keeping the pantries full for the increased need in many communities, Catholic Charities also needed bags in which to pack the food. 

Starting with Patricia Cole and Jane Stenson of Catholic Charities USA, the offer of thousands of bags went out to the closest locations to Chicago. Joanne Pivarnik of Gary was able to accept one thousand bags to help with packing and delivering food. 

Other local Chicago area food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters were able to put the other bags to work.

Student Voice Survey Series: ‘I can’t talk to my teacher in-person, so it makes my learning harder’

The following blog was contributed by Gretchen Guffy and Katie Gragnaniello.

What students are experiencing during the coronavirus outbreak while learning at home

This spring, we began the series on students’ perceptions of coronavirus with a blog summarizing the technological devices available to students at home as well as their internet access and quality. In this blog, we highlight students’ responses related to learning experiences at home.

Learning at Home

We asked students how well learning at home is going, online and otherwise, compared to when they attended school.

Overall, students expressed concern that their learning experience is not as effective as in classroom settings.

In late March, the majority of students (89%) reported a continuance of class-related work even when their schools were closed. And of those students, 95% reported receiving at least some form of instruction from at least some of their teachers.

However, the format differed depending on where students live. Rural students, in particular, reported receiving more printed learning materials and less access to online learning than counterparts in urban, suburban and other communities.

In all, 76% of students reported receiving online instruction for classroom materials, while 15% received printed instructional materials.

It was clear from their responses that students miss their access to informal, real-time teacher feedback and interaction with peers. Without this traditional approach, learning new material is difficult, particularly during the sudden shift to an online setting.

Comments from students reflect a range of concerns about learning without the physical presence and support of teachers:

  • “It’s a little harder to learn the material because the teachers are not actually present, and it’s all through the internet.”
  • “I feel like I’m not learning as efficiently and effectively at home rather than school. It is very hard to learn new topics at home without the instruction of a teacher right in front of you. I prefer learning at school than at home.”
  • “It is much harder to learn online especially when many teachers are not actually teaching, they are just dropping new materials. I am a person who needs physical interaction to be able to comprehend and learn well.”

New Normal

Students also expressed concern that they are not able to focus as well at home as they are in a classroom and feel less motivated. This creates challenges for maintaining academic success, which may impact further educational pursuits.

Thirty-seven percent of students said school closure will affect their academic preparedness “a great deal,” and another 51% said “somewhat.” Students clearly expressed strong preference for their traditional classroom setting.

  • “I feel more engaged and motivated in school than at home. It is harder to learn new topics at home.”
  • “Online classes do not take into account the attention span of teenagers and it is sometimes difficult to communicate with teachers outside of class or do online work when the internet cuts out.”
  • “It was better in school because it was easier to ask questions. Also, the school environment improved focus.”

Teachers are Essential

Our survey results highlight the importance of instruction and the significant role that teachers play in students’ ability and willingness to learn new materials.

For this reason, while CARES Act funding to states will potentially enable students to have greater access to technology (e.g., one-to-one devices and internet services), technology in and of itself will not wholly fulfill students’ academic needs.

Exploring ways to improve the delivery of online education—for example, funding professional development and support for teachers to conduct effective distance learning—will be a critical investment in our current environment as well as in the future.

ACT Student Survey Series

At least 55 million students are now learning at home after approximately 124,000 public and private schools have closed their doors due to the coronavirus.

ACT wanted to hear from students about their experiences during the pandemic. We invited 130,000 college-bound high school students who registered to take the national April or June 2020 ACT test to participate in an online survey. A total of 13,000 students participated between March 26 and April 1, resulting in a 10% response rate.

We sought to gather students’ responses related to…

  • the technological device and internet quality that they have access to at home for school-related activities.
  • how well they are learning at home and online compared to when they were in school.
  • whether their basic needs (e.g., housing, food) are being met during the pandemic.
  • their current living situation, including whether they are employed, need to care for others, or are home alone.
  • the types of health behaviors (e.g., eating healthy, exercising) they are engaged in during the pandemic.

El Paso’s Bishop Mark Seitz: Black lives matter

Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, kneels at El Paso’s Memorial Park holding a Black Lives Matter sign June 1. Seitz and other clergy from the diocese prayed and kneeled for eight minutes, the time George Floyd, an unarmed black man, spent under a police officer’s knee before dying May 25. (CNS/Courtesy of El Paso Diocese/Fernie Ceniceros)

This article was written by Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas and originally published by The National Catholic Reporter on June 4, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

I think that sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that Christianity is a dead letter religion. That it’s about things that happened a long time ago or about words on a page.

But every day at Mass, when I kneel before Jesus in the Eucharist, I’m reminded that he is alive and present. That Christianity is an event happening right now. The drama of salvation is something playing out every day. And we all have a role to play.

I taught liturgy in seminary. In good liturgy, our faith is brought to life. I think what we’ve seen play out over the last couple days is maybe a little bit like liturgy.

The other day I saw a video of a young white woman at a protest near the White House who put her body in front of a young kneeling black teenager as police officers in riot gear approached. As Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

It’s a scene of solidarity and self-giving that has played out across the country so many times in the last week. In El Paso, Texas, there were two young police officers who knelt down with protesters during a demonstration here and it helped defuse some tension.

There is something profoundly eucharistic about these moments and I’m so inspired by our young people. They are teaching us something.

When religion becomes stagnant, we can forget that the Word always comes to us crucified and powerless. As James Cone put it, in America, the Word comes tortured, black and lynched. Today, we meet Jesus in those tear-gassed, tased, strangled and snuffed out. That’s the reason why the church teaches a preferential option for the poor. And why the church stands up for life wherever and whenever it is devalued and threatened.

To say, as all who eat from the table of the Eucharist should be able to say, that black lives matter is just another way of repeating something we in the United States seem to so often forget, that God has a special love for the forgotten and oppressed.

Many are understandably upset by the destruction and looting. It’s true, none of us should crave the thrill of violence or revenge. That’s wrong. We also need to recognize that we are seeing the effects of centuries of sin and violence and rights denied playing themselves out. And frankly, civil rights are not enough. That’s the minimum and clearly, we’re not there yet. We also need to be building a society with housing, and education and health care and just wages for all as well as the right to migrate. And then we can begin to heal.

My brother bishop in Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich, suggested we should be less quick to judge the proportionality of “their” response and start talking about the proportionality of “ours.” We also need to remember what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, that “a riot is the language of the unheard.”

I think leaders in the church today, and leaders everywhere really, should perhaps say a little less right now. Instead, we should stand with and give the microphone and listen to those who have been unheard for too long. To those who have suffered our shameful history of discrimination and racial profiling and police brutality. To those who are putting their bodies on the line in protest and in defense of others.

Let’s look at the grace in all of this. Look at the witness of those who are bravely taking up their parts in the drama of salvation unfolding in front of us. If we look past the static, they’re pointing the way to redemptive transformation. They are showing us what the reign of God looks like and what our country can look like when we all have a place at the table. Let’s encourage them. And pray with them. And thank them.

With grace, they are joining the living ranks of a long faith tradition of laborers for greater justice, like Moses, Jesus of Nazareth, Joan of Arc, Harriet Beecher Stowe, James Earl Chaney, Oscar Romero, Thea Bowman and so many others. Thank God. Thank God.

[Mark J. Seitz is the bishop of El Paso, a diocese in West Texas on the U.S.-Mexico border.]

Our Shining Moment

This blog post with a video was submitted by Frank Donaldson, author of 25 Lessons Learned in 25+ Years in Catholic School Development and the 25 Lessons Learned in 25+ Years in Catholic School Development WORKBOOK and his recent new publication, 15 More Lessons Learned in 30+ Years in Catholic School Development, available in the NCEA bookstore. Frank is the founder and president of the Institute for School and Parish Development (ISPD).

As a tribute to Catholic schools, the Institute for School and Parish Development (ISPD) has released a seven plus-minute video titled, “Our Shining Moment: Catholic Schools, March 2020 – June 2020.” From the time many Catholic schools switched from on-site to online education was like the blink of an eye – we never missed a beat. The mission of bringing Christ to people and people to Christ never faltered.

Our schools connected, taught and built stronger relationships. We educated our students and their families. Catholic school teachers and administrators – although challenging – stood up to the task and took on the mantle of true leaders. March 2020 – June 2020: this has been and will continue to be OUR SHINING MOMENT!

Watch the video at https://vimeo.com/424636684.

Catholic Educators Continue to Work for Peace and Justice

The following blog was contributed by Kathy Mears, Interim President/CEO of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, VA.

Doug, Desmond, April, Michael, Kenisha, Eric, Aaron, James, Tiffany, Jennifer, Derek, Megan, Elizabeth, Adam, Linda, Reggie, Jamie, Matt, Kenny, Keri. These are the names of some of the students I have taught or was principal for during my 39 years in Catholic education. Some were black, some were white, and some were brown. They were all taught and cared for by my colleagues and me.

The actions of the last week have saddened me. My former students are upset, afraid and don’t know what to do. They were taught to respect each other, to work together, to show kindness in all things. Yet, they are living in a world that judges them not so much by what they do or how they live their lives, but by the color of their skin.

I am frustrated that in 2020, we aren’t doing better. As a child, I remember the riots of 1967, 1968 and 1970. I remember the people walking side by side asking for a better world. I also remember the anger and how some demonstrations became destructive. Fifty years later, I worry we have learned nothing.

Racism is a sin. It is wrong. As educators, it is something we can work against, but more importantly, we can teach our students that God made each of us and loves each of us. It is up to each of us to set an example of how to act and to teach our students that the color of one’s skin simply does not matter.

For those of us in Catholic education, where nationally almost 30 percent of our students come from minority communities, we can continue to work for peace, by working for justice. We can continue to teach students that they are all worthy, that they are all loved. We can show our students who will go on to become nurses, doctors, engineers, pilots, maintenance workers, police officers, teachers, farmers, miners, military personnel, attorneys, computer programmers, priests, sisters, and mothers and fathers that each of us is responsible for our own behaviors and that when we judge others by the color of their skin and not by their character, we are part of the problem.

As educators, we are in the position to make a huge difference. We are given the opportunity to teach that all people matter, that all people must be treated with dignity and respect, that it is through community that we will build the kingdom of God on earth. I pray that we won’t waste our opportunities to make a difference. I pray that we make sure that each of the students in our care know that they are known, that they are loved.

Catholic education can make a difference in this area and we should lead the way. Let’s commit ourselves to teaching our students that prejudice is wrong, that we must live the Gospel message to love one another and that we must forgive each other as we will inevitably make mistakes. But with the hope of our faith, we can be the leaders God asks us to be. We can be the teachers we hope to be, and we can be the peacemakers our world needs.

Let’s get started today. We owe it to our students.

Identifying the Gifts of the Crisis

The following blog was contributed by Clare Kilbane, Ph.D., a faculty member, senior learning designer, and Catholic school liaison at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame. Follow her on Twitter @ClareRKilbane

2019-20, like all school years, was chock-full of learning experiences. But, what was learned and by whom was dramatically different! The conditions of remote learning presented many new challenges for Catholic school students, parents, teachers, and administrators. But the adjustment each made to new methods, tools and modes of learning generated many powerful “take-aways.” Catholic school leaders who take the time reflect on what they have learned and invite others to do the same, will enable the recognition of some of the gifts of the COVID-19 crisis. Although the methods (e.g., interview, survey, reflection) and modes (i.e., private or shared) by which these reflections will be best generated will vary across group (e.g., student, parent, teacher, administrator) and context (e.g., type of community, level of school, etc.), the new insights identified are certain to be a blessing that will enrich an uncertain future.

Here are some of the questions that would stimulate reflection and growth for each group:

Students: What did you miss about school while you were learning remotely? Are there things you took for granted that you will value more when you return? What are they? What did you like/dislike about your remote learning experience? What was most memorable about the experience of learning from home? What experience(s) did you have while learning from home that made you feel a part of the school community? How did learning in a more individualized, self-paced environment work for you? Are there aspects of it that could be incorporated into a face-to-face learning environment that would benefit you? What made it difficult? What did you learn about how you learn? What works for you? What difficulties do you have learning? How did you grow in your ability to get what you need to be successful? What did you learn about yourself, your character and the unique person God made you to be? What role did your faith have in this experience? In what ways did you benefit from prayer or quiet reflection during this time? What other activities/experiences were beneficial to you? How might you incorporate all of these new understandings in the months and years to come?

Parents/Guardians: What did you miss about school while your child(ren) were learning remotely? Are there things you took for granted that you will value more when you return? What are they? What did you not miss about school or perhaps enjoy about remote learning? What would have helped you gain more reward and benefit from the time of remote learning? What knowledge, skills and others supports would you like to acquire to better support learning at home? What did you learn about your child while he/she learned from home? Specifically, what did you learn about his/her character, gifts, strengths, and weaknesses as a person? What did you learn about your child as a learner? What seemed to be helpful/challenging for him/her? What would you tell a teacher that could assist him/her in the future? What role did your faith have in this experience? In what ways did you benefit from prayer or quiet reflection during this time? What other activities/experiences were beneficial to you? How might you incorporate all of these new understandings in the months and years to come?

Teachers: What did you miss about school while remote learning was in place? Are there things you took for granted that you will value more when you return? What did you miss about face-to-face, classroom learning? What did you not miss? What did you like about remote teaching? What did you not like? How might you have been better prepared for this experience? What more would you have needed with regard to professional knowledge, skills, tools, etc.? What professional development would help you do better addressing social and emotional learning? What was difficult about planning, implementing, and assessing learning in this setting? What were the contributions of technology to remote teaching? What technology or skills were you surprised to be good at? Which do you need help building? How did technology affect relationships communication and community during remote teaching? What did you learn? How could this influence and improve future teaching? What will you do differently as you prepare for next school year? What did you discover about yourself, your abilities, and the unique person God made you to be? What role did your faith and prayer play in your perseverance through the crisis? What will you celebrate as you recover and move forward?

Administrators: What did you learn about the different members of the school community (students, parents, teachers, others) during this experience? What individual and collective strengths come to mind? What differences are there? What might be done to connect the community members in ways that strengthen and allow them to work together in positive ways? What were some of the surprises in this experience? What were some of the comforts or graces to be thankful for? What are some of the problems that surfaced to address moving forward? What will you do differently as you prepare for next school year? What will you incorporate into your direction and leadership for the future and what old practice will you discard or adapt for the new challenge of online schooling? What did you discover about yourself, your abilities, and the unique person God made you to be? What role did you faith and prayer play in your perseverance and success? What would you change if you were to do this again? What will you celebrate as you recover and move forward?

To be sure, the 2019-20 school year will be one long remembered. But in the future, maybe it won’t just be remembered as the year schools “pivoted” to remote emergency teaching due to a global pandemic. Perhaps, by engaging in thoughtful year-end reflection and incorporating the lessons of this analysis in planning for the future, we will remember this year as the one that transformed Catholic schools, students, families, and educators, for the better.

Every Student Deserves to Learn Something New Every Day

The following blog was contributed by Janette Boazman, M.S., Ph.D., associate professor of education at Constantin College of Liberal Arts, University of Dallas, and author of several NCEA Briefs on exceptional learners.

The last three months have been challenging, to say the least. I want to take this opportunity to commend the awe-inspiring work of Catholic educators and Catholic education leaders. The dramatic shift from in-class learning to distance learning forced upon teachers, students and families in March is unprecedented. Yet, as a collective body, Catholic school communities quickly orchestrated the change with determination, fortitude, resourcefulness, creativity and kindness. Catholic educators are beacons of hope for students and parents across our nation.

The summer months are upon us. As the summer season progresses and the carefree days of your well-deserved respite fade into planning for teaching in the fall, I challenge you to think about and plan for teaching and meeting the needs of the gifted learners in your Catholic school classrooms. During the recent shutdown, many students with exceptionalities, including gifted learners, have been without appropriate attention to their special needs. Not to anyone’s fault, these have been challenging times and there is a myriad of reasons educators and parents have had difficulty fully meeting all of the academic needs of all students.  Nevertheless, as a new school year begins in the fall, teachers must get back to attending to the various learner needs and meeting the needs of exceptional learners who have disabilities, who have gifts and who are twice exceptional.

It is not uncommon for gifted students to begin a new school year already knowing much of what will be taught in the months ahead. Teachers who find themselves with gifted students in the traditional Catholic classroom may have a tendency to subscribe to the myth that gifted students will be fine without attention to their special academic needs because they are smart. The truth is, when gifted students have to wait to learn because they already know what is being taught, or they learned what is being taught with little or no repetition, a window for potential motivational decline, development of poor academic habits and negative behavior opens for them. Moreover, when teachers observe students who are unmotivated, lack appropriate self-control and seemingly don’t study or do homework, they question and doubt the giftedness of the student. A gifted student’s potential can be permanently impacted if they lose motivation for learning, don’t acquire good study habits or get in trouble for acting out in school.

Another myth surrounding education for the gifted is the idea that it is more important to meet the needs of struggling students than it is to meet the needs of gifted learners. The truth is that it is important to meet the needs of both the struggling learner and the gifted learner. We strive for equity in Catholic education as schools increasingly work to meet the needs of diverse learners. An equitable learning environment is one where all students receive what they need to move forward in their learning. In an equitable learning situation, every student has opportunities to have new learning every day. There are common practices among teachers of having students who finish their work quickly read a book or help students who are struggling. We certainly want students in Catholic schools to develop a spirit of helpfulness, patience, acceptance and understanding of others but when gifted students spend most of their time in free reading, searching for something to fill their time or helping others in the class, the gifted student’s learning and development is not being advanced in a way that is equitable.

You are one teacher with limited resources, time, and energy. How do you rise to this challenge and meet all of the needs of students in the classroom? As you incorporate new teaching and learning practices into your work, especially if the practices may have some controversy attached, it would serve you well to share your plans with your principal so he or she can support you among your colleagues and in the greater school community.  It is beneficial to have coworkers who are like minded about differentiation and meeting the needs of gifted, not all of those around you will see things the same way. Seek out those people who have similar thinking and goals for their students, develop a support network for yourself and others, and share the information you acquire. Your colleagues will be appreciative.

Research based information and practices about teaching and serving gifted learners can be found at the websites for the National Association for Gifted Children, the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, and Hoagies Gifted Education. Lesson plans and teaching ideas for teaching gifted can be found at the Educational Resources and Lesson Plans page. Finally, NCEA has two briefs on gifted education and a large selection of books on topics surrounding gifted individuals is available at Prufrock Press.

7 things educators can do right now to support student growth and achievement

The following blog was contributed by Brooke Mabry, strategic content design coordinator, and John Cronin, PhD, senior research fellow, at NWEA in Portland, Oregon.

The coronavirus has turned the world upside down—especially for educators and the kids who count on them. As noted in a recent NWEA brief, students may return to school in the fall with only 50–70% of typical learning gains.

Dire as the situation is, there’s a lot we can do to mitigate the damage. Here are seven recommendations. Learn more about them on the NWEA blog, Teach. Learn. Grow.

1. Know your students before next year starts

Many students and families are experiencing trauma, from the loss of a loved one to the loss of a livelihood. Even for students lucky enough to avoid major trauma, these uncertain times won’t be forgotten easily. All these things may impact students’ ability to learn.

Authentic, supportive teacher-student relationships provide a strong foundation for learning. Encourage teachers to connect with their students and ask how they are.

2. Identify what standards and curriculum are interrupted by school closure

What content would students have been exposed to if schools hadn’t closed? Review each grade level’s scope and sequence from the time your school closed to prioritize the key standards, concepts, and skills to formatively assess and plan for in the coming year.

3. Make a plan to integrate priority standards and curriculum into next year’s scope and sequence

Decide how you’ll integrate important content from prior grades into the coming school year for those students who need it. Establish how you’ll continue to advance learning for students who are ready for grade-level instruction and beyond.

4. Assess priority standards as soon as the year starts

Have formative or teacher-developed assessments ready to go that are designed to identify the key skills and concepts from the prior grade that students are likely to have missed. Paired with prioritization of standards and adjustments to scope and sequence, formative assessment will help educators and students partner well.

5. Collaborate with colleagues to develop creative schedules that support flexible, small-group instruction

It’s highly likely assessments will reveal widely variable student learning needs. Plan to address differentiated instruction to maximize the targeted support students need.

6. If you are an NWEA partner, look to MAP Growth for help

The Learning Continuum linked to MAP® Growth™ can identify key concepts and skills students are ready to learn. Educators can also use it to connect student RIT scores to the likely missed skills and concepts from prior grades.

7. Reflect on and lean into what is already working

Hold steady, take inventory, and reflect on what has worked, both across the school year and now. Teachers, students, and families need an anchor, and holding firm on using the resources, products, and materials that are tried and true will provide just that.


About the Authors

Brooke Mabry has more than 17 years of experience in education and joined NWEA in 2016 as a professional learning consultant. She now serves as strategic content design coordinator of the Professional Learning Design team. Brooke began her career as a high school English teacher in Asheville, North Carolina, and holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in education from Western Carolina University. She also holds national board certification in adolescence and young adulthood English language arts. She’s deeply committed to fulfilling the NWEA mission, Partnering to help all kids learn.

John Cronin’s work focuses on helping teachers, administrators, and school board members improve their presentation and use of data in schools. He provides consultation related to testing issues and the use of data to the US Department of Education, Texas Association of School Administrators, New York State Council of School Superintendents, Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, and District Administration Leadership Institute. Dr. Cronin is an expert in data application and design, accountability and teacher evaluation policy, and issues related to testing ethics and integrity. He’s published articles on these topics in Phi Delta Kappan and NASSP Bulletin, and has been a featured blogger for HuffPost. Dr. Cronin holds a PhD in educational studies from Emory University.