By Jamie Valenzuela-Mumau, Ed.D.
As schools across the country are bringing students back into the classroom, I am wondering if students will see a change in the way we "do" education?
Will we return to pre-COVID classrooms only to find the difference being less students in class separated by plexiglass?
Will any attention be given to the socio-emotional needs of our students after having been through a traumatic period?
Will we continue to allow programs that are based on inequity, rather than equity?
Will we continue to assess the learning of our students using an antiquated model?
As students come back to school, an environment must be created where success is attainable. The environment must be a place of safety and provide multiple opportunities for growth. Consideration for the needs of students who are sitting in classrooms will create an environment that is based on love and compassion through the development of dispositions regarding social and emotional learning.
Honoring the uniqueness of everyone through dignity by the development of dispositions based on the culture and context of each school will also create the safe environment necessary for success.
Finally, working with students to show what they know through a competency-based approach allows for students to take ownership of their learning through clarity of what is being expected. If there has ever been a time for educational overhaul, it is now! Taking the risk to ensure time is given to address the needs of the whole child will yield a return far greater than any has been seen thus far.
Social and Emotional Learning
Addressing the SEL needs of the students is the first step to take when students return to class. Casel.org (2021) defines SEL as "the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions."
Students have been trauma-exposed throughout COVID ranging from the separation of peer interaction, contained to their crowded house, to the loss of someone important in their life. Students need to be able to understand, manage, and set positive goals. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow's), demonstrates that this need of safety and security is a basic need. We all know that basic needs must be met before students can learn.
Maslow's also addresses the need for friends and belonging as a psychological need. With all of the divisiveness in the world which has started movements like #Blacklivesmatter, and #stopAsianhate, we must teach our students that belonging for everyone is a foundational standard.
Within The Core Collaborative's work, the IncludEd framework has been developed based on the work of Dr. Floyd Cobb and John Krownapple in their book, "Belonging Through a Culture of Dignity" (2019). The framework turns dignity into a verb. In other words teaching students to "do" dignity through dispositions like patience, openness, listening, and empathy.
According to a summary of the book on Amazon, it is the “author's aim to equip educators with the tools necessary to deliver the promise of democracy through schools by breaking the cycle of equity dysfunction once and for all.”
In order for humans to reach self-actualization, the time when one realizes their full potential, experiences of success must be had (Simplypsycology.org, 2021). However, oftentimes, those celebrations of success for some students seem to be few and far between.
What commonly happens is youth who are not yet ready to show mastery have been in school suffering failure after failure. As students in this situation are feeling less and less successful, sometimes that emotion is validated by others in the learning environment. This pathway to destruction can only be stopped if educators, through their clarity of the content, could meet the student where they are and provide opportunities for mini-mastery moments. Students who find themselves in this situation have capacity and ability to learn, they just lack the clarity they need to take the next steps.
If students have clarity on what is needed to be successful in a given learning task, then this repeated failure of not showing mastery may not occur as often. Further, if they are given specific feedback and have the opportunity to self-check against the success criteria, then they could clearly see their own area for improvement. This empowerment then allows for students to set goals on their pathway to mastery. Involving the students in these practices is the foundation of true formative assessment.
If we are to honor a student’s progression towards self-actualization, then learning rooted in clarity and formative processes is critical. If teachers have clarity around what they are teaching and students around what they are learning through success criteria, we are empowering students to become assessment capable learners.
John Hattie's meta analyses of over 800 studies in Visible Learning indicates an “effect size” for various educational practices where 0.40 “effect size” yields a rate of learning a typical student can do in a normal school year. In the same literature, the practice of a student being assessment capable yields a 1.33 “effect size,” which means the learning rate is accelerated more than three times (Visiblelearning.org, 2021).
When learning is accelerated at that rate, is the focus on “learning loss” misplaced?
Replacing the deficit thinking of “learning loss” with accelerating learning, provides a growth mindset for the challenges we all are facing as students are returning to school. Therefore, let's enter into post-COVID teaching and learning by equipping students to engage in the full formative assessment process which includes: teacher clarity in the learning progressions, development of success criteria, evidence-based descriptive feedback, self/peer assessment, setting goals and revision, and evidence of mastery.
Using the Impact Team model, developed by Dr. Paul Bloomberg and Barb Pitchford, great strides are realized for students everywhere regardless of socio-economic status or other traditional indicators which result in student oppression. Let's continue to develop our students by having them realize successes, which will lead them to self-actualization and their becoming problem solvers in the world.
Determining our response to post-COVID education rests in the hands of educational leaders and teachers. Federal and State funds are being allocated to ensure that students have what they need to be successful. We are given a call for complete school reform.
Addressing the self-regulatory mental health disparity through trauma informed practices, honoring the uniqueness of everyone by “doing” dignity, and being clear on what is being taught and what is being learned will provide successes for our students leading to their bright future. However, the question remains, are you going to be part of the reform, or are you going to settle and do what has always been done?
Jamie Valenzuela-Mumau, Ed.D. is a Partner Consultant with The Core Collaborative. He supports much of the core work which includes: EmpowerEd Learners, Impact Teams, and Student-Centered Curriculum Design. Jamie has demonstrated success in supporting the professional growth of teachers and administrators. He has been a mathematics teacher, as well as a site and district administrator at both elementary and secondary level educational institutions. Most recently, he was Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services at a county level, and supported children ages 0-5 by serving as a Commissioner at First 5 Monterey County. Jamie’s passion is to partner with educators who are student-focused, value continued learning, and willing to engage in best practices to support all students to become assessment capable learners who will build their capacity to set goals and strategies to reach their greatest potential. Away from work, Jamie loves to spend time with his husband and volunteering in his community in Monterey County, California.