Working Together To Make Change
By | Michael Atkins
As I reflect on how COVID-19 has shaken the education system to its core, I stand reminded that being an educator and educational advocate is about service to students, families, and communities. In serving students, educators have to provide children with the knowledge and skillset to interact with the current reality of today, tomorrow, and the world they will create as they enter adulthood. Therefore, shifting the way we think about education is critical. We have to become facilitators of learning and stray from the historical patterns of teaching, where teachers hold the knowledge students receive. Our school’s strategic plan must reflect that we are thinking of education and students differently and shifting our perspectives on preparing students. Our children will not navigate a world that resembles the world we currently occupy. Therefore as educators, we have to be forward-thinking, and our interactions with students have to be intentional.
COVID-19 has allowed us to think and navigate public education in a different way. The pandemic has torn the education system down to the studs. As we rebuild, we must repair, remodel, and rebrand to ensure the new systems created represent and serve all of our students and families. The previous system was not designed to serve and support the students and families of different cultures that navigate our current school hallways. The prior school system was a practice of compliance, assimilation, and teaching, highlighting the dominant white culture in America. Consequently, disproportionate service in schools has become a cultural norm where students of color (SOC) are expected to fail. Often SOC in school environments are uncomfortable and forced to mask their identities and assimilate to American schools’ culture.
In March of 2020, the rapid shift to remote learning peeled back the cover of systemic inequities and exposed the education system to critique. The lack of technology, access to the internet, and creation of “learning pods” left many SOC in isolation. In addition, many families had to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape, which left many students in the care of grandparents or other family members, many of whom had little to no experience with technology, creating more enormous barriers for these students to overcome.
As educators, COVID-19 was an opportunity to redefine our role within communities in society. We are much more than educators. We are role models for the next generation. We often set the tone in our communities and give our students values within social interactions and the academic environment. For example, we captured an opportunity to engage our families in conversations that focused on immediate needs and supports and not on standards, assessments, and school expectations during the pandemic. Through these interactions and shifting our purpose of service, we strengthened and increased our relational capacity with many families in our community. In addition, through listening, we guided many families through healing while unpacking their childhood school trauma, strengthening trust and value within the community.
As I reflect on the post-pandemic era, I find myself staring at the situational diamonds created. 1-1 technology (each student has access to an electronic device, such as a tablet, Chromebook, etc.) school-wide has stabilized some of the academic inequities that children encountered before the pandemic. Our responsibility as educators is to supply children with the resources to engage in academics and social-emotional awareness and well-being.
The platforms of Google Meet TM and Zoom TM have allowed educators to tap into families and bring families into a space where they may feel comfortable and heard. Also, these platforms increased the flexibility to meet during the day, allowing schools opportunities to redefine parent involvement. As a result, we see increased parent engagement compared to before the pandemic and expanded voices in the room. These gifts have shifted the way educators and families are experiencing education. With a goal of doing education with families and no longer to families. Our families want the best for their children, and their voices and opinions matter. The changes needed in our school buildings will undoubtedly continue to be uncovered and illuminated by our families.
I am the proud Principal of Stedman Elementary School in Northeast Denver. I am a Park Hill, Denver native serving in Denver Public Schools for the past 20 years.