Sure, I’m Anxious About Again-to-College. However Not Due to COVID
When America’s schools open this fall, millions of children will be returning after some degree of disruption from the past two years of school. For most working parents, it’s a mixture of relief and worry. Concerns about our children’s physical health have taken their toll, and recent data on the Delta variant suggests that there is still cause for concern.
But parents may want to turn their attention to what is happening in schools today, beyond masking and closure protocols. As a mom, former teacher, and headmistress, these are four trends that I’m watching closely this fall.
How do teachers and administrators react to pressure?
Whether we call it “loss of learning” or “incomplete learning,” the adults in school buildings are likely to feel pressured to catch up with children academically. Yes, there are gaps to be filled, especially in elementary school and math in middle school. But if the school’s plans are to cancel breaks, cut projects or field trips, or even divert children from an exciting subject like science, they’ve probably chosen too much.
Education policies do not yet reflect everything we know about brain development, but with the support and encouragement of parents, schools will often reorient themselves towards what educators and parents know is best for children. This includes a school day full of exciting study, research, and exercise breaks – practices that have never been more important as disrupted social experiences mean children may have to relearn how to work in groups, develop academic stamina, and deal with frustration .
Do schools test children from the start?
Schools rightly seek to compare and evaluate where children stand in terms of academic content that may have been missed. But the instinct to test in the first week or two of school is likely misguided. Research has found that children show what they know if there is a strong, warm relationship before the test and if they’ve had quality classes for a few weeks. If an assessment earlier in the year suggests your child is way behind, it is perfectly acceptable – and even good practice – to request a retest in a few weeks. Reviews aren’t all bad, and good teachers know how to use them to inform and personalize what kids are learning next. Great schools combine academic focus with time and space, giving teachers the time and space to lead children into a new year and build strong relationships.
What if school tells me little to nothing about how my child is doing?
Unfortunately, this happens just as often as an overvaluation. If your school does not share with you your child’s exam results or projects they completed in the first few weeks of school that show how children apply their knowledge, you can request this information. Some schools that have close family partnerships will also share how the rest of the children are doing, on average, broken down by grade level and some demographics. This can help provide a context to understand the needs of our own children and how schools should prioritize improvement efforts so that we can support children in our local schools community-wide. Of course, not all schools have the means.
Do schools and teachers focus on my child’s strengths?
My kids missed some important things last year. But they also developed a lot of skills and some interests that they would not otherwise have had. Everything I know about child development tells me that with great experiences and a little personal attention, they will catch up. Learning gaps play a role primarily because our school systems still keep children moving in groups and cohorts. Great teachers see what is possible and extraordinary in each of our children and then tailor their interventions and instructions to a child’s merits, strengths, and talents.
My “mother stress” may be at an all-time high, but I also know that teachers are under pressure. I will be sending my children “Dear Teacher” letters introducing them so that their teachers can support them from the start and see them as whole people who are more than their reading and math scores. I will advocate for the needs of the children at our school who have lost more – both emotionally and academically – than my own in the past two years. I will also rely heavily on the village of trusted adults outside of school who help my children thrive despite the challenges of the world we are currently understanding.
Rebecca Holmes is a mother of two young children, a former middle school teacher and assistant commissioner for the Colorado Department of Education, and CEO of the Colorado Education Initiative, a regional nonprofit that supports visionary schools and districts.