This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Susan Moore Johnson, the Jerome T. Murphy Research Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Other posts in the series are compiled here.
When schools suddenly closed in March and moved to online instruction, I wondered how I would have responded if I'd still been a high school English teacher. I imagined having to prepare a series of engaging Ted Talks with follow-up Q&As. But having talked with many administrators and teachers, I’ve realized that good online schooling during the pandemic is a team sport not a solo performance. It calls for careful preparation and coordination among many players. Just as Covid-19 has revealed hidden shortcomings in our society, it has exposed the limitations of compartmentalized schools that continue to rise or fall on the skills, autonomy and self-reliance of individual teachers.
As teachers faced the sudden reality of online teaching, they had many pressing questions: Are my students safe and confident or are they at risk, hungry, and fearful? Am I responsible for finding students who don’t show up online? What kind of schedule provides meaningful routines with necessary flexibility? How can I create social learning experiences for students who are isolated at home? What can I do to help students who fall behind? How can we meet the special learning needs of students who rely on one-to-one support? How can I fairly grade students’ progress when I can’t provide extra help to those who need it?
In many schools, teachers struggled with such questions alone. Without a reliable forum where they could explore and resolve urgent problems with others, individuals did their best. Some convened their classes occasionally for live meetings, so students to could see one another and talk about how things were going for them. Many prepared weekly work packets for parents to pick up at the school or they posted assignments online—typically math problems or reading comprehension questions—for students to complete and upload for grading. Some relied on web-based educational resources, including short lectures by presenters their students had never seen. Many teachers were dismayed to realize that their repertoire of instructional practices had been drastically reduced to a few barren components. Meanwhile students within the same school might have either engaging or tedious learning experiences, depending on who their teacher was.