Camden - New Jersey - US
Gloucester City Public Schools in Camden County, NJ
About a year ago, I was ready to embark on the 2020-2021 school year. I was four months into a new administrator’s position in a small New Jersey school district located 10 minutes outside of Philadelphia, PA and about two hours from New York City, NY. My role was basic as a first year administrator. I planned to observe, identify strengths and weaknesses, and establish relationships. That all changed in less than 72 hours in the middle of March. The district’s administrative team was blasted into warp speed with the possibility of shutting down schools and moving our learning environments onto a remote learning platform due to COVID-19 cases in the Tri-State Area. Our notion at the time was two weeks; we will be back in two weeks. Here we are today still navigating the unknown routes of a global pandemic in the educational world. In spite of this, history has shown us, out of every dark age there is new life. Is this our wake up call? Is this our rebirth of the 21st-century educational system? My reflection urges me to answer two simple questions: What does this all mean? Where do we go from here?
Some may argue that our students are “falling behind.” The proficient checkboxes in our basic skills are becoming limited. Our pacing charts and our academic roadmaps are dwindling away. On the other hand, this may be the natural regression that we needed, a chance to relax the expectations within our educational foundation. Can younger students enjoying play, exploration, and inquisitiveness be considered regression? Our students are learning resilience in real-world settings, empathy for our technically-challenged parent or teacher, compassion for others, and most importantly mastering the social emotional skill set that no standardized test or checkbox could measure. We may argue that one may master everything that is achievable in the academic world, but if one cannot survive the social-emotional toll that it takes to persevere success and failure, then we truly have done a disservice to our next generation.
Some may agree that our educational terminology has changed in the past 11 months. PPE, social distancing, distant learning, hybrid, remote platform, and online meetings are the surface terms. However, one term which may continue to evolve after this movement is flexibility. Definition of “my flexible '' may be different from a teacher's “flexible” or a parent’s flexibility. Can we agree that being flexible is shedding light on the idea that the one size fits all approach for a learner is no longer valid in the remote learning environment , hybrid learning environment, or traditional classroom. As educators and administrators we need to dig deeper into our flexibility practices to create the optimal learning environment for each student, for each teacher, and for the communities we serve.
In the wake of a hopeful end to this pandemic, my takeaways are simple and almost basic. My discoveries are not new; they were simply hidden under this rigid proficient rating academic façade, of which we are slowly peeling away the layers like an onion. Number one - put our people skills first. We must check in with our students, check in with our staff, check in with our families, check in with ourselves. This is our foundation to the optimal learning environment. Number two - be a master of pedagogy, not a master of a program. Exemplar teaching is learner-focused, which can happen on any platform or with the most basics of resources. Learners drive instruction. Let’s be flexible in our strategic planning. And number three, which may be the biggest piece of what was learned through this pandemic is just as simple as the common saying “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.” Be kind, wash your hands, and wear your mask.
Eliza Cadorette- Rawley M.A., LDT-C is Director of Special Services at Gloucester City Public Schools at Gloucester City, New Jersey 08030
Eliza has participated in the GEA Finland and Escalante programs.