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Home / Blog / “School” Has Been Razed to The Ground — Let’s Rebuild

“School” Has Been Razed to The Ground — Let’s Rebuild

Back To School, Our Voice      September, 2020     

Almost all the parents I talk to these days have an edge in their voices, beneath the veneer of “I’m hanging in there” and “I feel grateful that we are safe and healthy.” Exhaustion? Uncertainty? Overwhelm? All understandable. We’re worried about our kids, our community, our country, our world. We’re experiencing a trifecta of trauma: COVID + anti-Black police brutality + wildfires. Even the skies have become one big distress signal. We all know, even if we don’t want to say it out loud, that things will never “go back to normal.”

For students, families and educators, the idea of “school” has been razed to the ground. What are we going to rebuild in its place? Could we create more compelling learning experiences for all, in ways that unwind generations of systemic racism? Could some of the stopgaps actually become the cornerstones of a better public education system? Intentionally laying the foundation today could lead to new routines when schools start to reopen, which could become the new standard once in-person learning becomes the norm again. If we start now, maybe we’ll be less likely to revert to our old habits that created the inequities that have persisted for generations

Here are three features that I hope will become part of our public school system as it evolves:

  • Families as co-designers: Family members are a child’s first teachers. Now, with all kids learning from home all the time, it’s become super-obvious that families and teachers have to work together for kids. Education is now decentralized, no longer tethered to the physical school building – and families are constructing new learning approaches. Frequent, transparent and proactive 2-way communication and collaboration now, during 100% remote learning, can help establish an authentic partnership and should also inform the timing and approach to reopening and hybrid learning. When schools are able to open for full-time in-person learning, the practice of co-designing with families should become part of the regular cadence and routine of the school year.

How we’ll support families: At Educate78, we have championed family voice and choice since inception. In 20-21 we will continue to do so by supporting families advocating for their students’ learning via the Oakland REACH and other parent groups. We are also excited to fund the aunties and grandmas and big siblings and neighbors who are leaning in to support children’s learning right now – via the People’s Literacy Fund, our newest initiative in partnership with Energy Convertors.

  • A culture of learning: Schools are education organizations but ironically, they have often under- invested in the continuous learning of their staff. Right now, because everyone recognizes that teachers need to do their job completely differently, they are receiving more training and prep time. That will need to continue — not only because the evolving public health situation will require schools to continue to adapt, but because teachers already needed more support and training to do their very complicated jobs. In the long-run, schools need to be designed, resourced, staffed, and scheduled so that teachers get the time to learn new skills, practice, get and give feedback, and grow professionally. Even in a resource-scarce environment, investment in talent pays off.

How we’ll strengthen the culture of learning: At Educate78 this year, we are pitching in: continuing to support school leaders of color through our Antiracist Collective and convening a new Literacy Learning Network. Both advance the professional development of our principals, teacher leaders, and principal supervisors.

  • The science of learning: There is a robust body of research on how students learn to read, on the importance of a broad cumulative curriculum, on what rigorous and relevant instructional tasks look like, on the role that cultural identity plays in students’ learning – and other topics. Unfortunately, most Oakland students are not getting the benefit of this research. With remote learning, students receive fewer instructional minutes, so teachers need to decide what to prioritize. We’re hoping that evidence-based practices make the cut now, and stay prioritized ongoing.

How we’ll advance the science of learning: In addition to helping school teams improve instructional quality in our Antiracist Collective and Literacy Learning Network, we are proud to partner with the NAACP-Oakland’s FULCRUM (Full and Complete Reading is a Universal Mandate) initiative to get research-based literacy practices into all Oakland schools and with the Literacy for All coalition to raise awareness across the community.

Most of us working in urban public education have witnessed the ways in which systems have created inequities over generations for children of color. And many of us are also trying to undo these racialized outcomes. Building an antiracist future takes constant and deliberate effort because equitable systems don’t magically just appear and power does not naturally accrue to those deserving. There’s no silver bullet for creating great learning experiences for all students, but the 100% remote learning experience prompts a close examination of every aspect of how schools do teaching and learning: how time and space are deployed, what tools and materials are needed, who is doing what to support students. Let’s start a conversation about purposefully doing school in ways that will help everyone thrive, and work together this year to make them happen.

If you are a student, parent, educator or community leader – what are you seeing, hoping for, or trying to build into your new ways of teaching, learning & leading? We’d love to hear about your ideas, celebrate what’s working, and collaborate!

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