More healing, less division

Is there anything left to say that hasn’t already been said on the pros and cons of learning pods during the COVID-19 pandemic?  Many have been quite vocal on the value and ethics of parents using pod-type learning to support their children if they want more than the models offered by their school or district. I too have been weighing in with friends and I still say there are no easy answers to any of this.

The real story of course is playing out on parent social media groups–  last I checked the core San Francisco Facebook resource group dedicated to pods and micro-schooling (a concept briefly explained in the first link of this post), had over 30,000 members. It has grown by 5,000 members just since I first looked at the site late last week.

My personal FB feed shows that this is not a simple issue. Every category of person, even those equity champions for children living in poverty, are not all on the con side of this debate. Educators are not all on the con side of this debate. And though the debate is grounded in class, which of course is tied to race when we look at our most vulnerable students, we must also acknowledge that this option is a growing reality and there are a myriad number of reasons people are choosing pod learning over what the districts are offering right now – parents trying to figure out what to do when they see no end in sight; school staff facing furloughs; educators who want to try something new, believe in the cause, or want to supplement their salary when not on the district clock. Pick a reason as ultimately, there are people buying into pod models of learning during this pandemic.

Critics are correct in being concerned.  Count me among those who have worries about the possible fallout. Inequities and gaps can widen.

But I’m trying to step back from the hysteria.  Pods of all types were happening already in the spring, over summer, and in some fashion, before COVID kicked in – I have seen them used for playgroups, childcare, and learning.  The issues of inequities and gaps are already here too, though districts are prepared to do a much better job this fall as they have had time to mitigate some concerns with distance learning. But current imbalances we have been fearing from spring will still be in play as we move into the new school year. As recently as June, principals were weighing in on potential full digital learning effects on social skills and attention spans (not a new debate). Attendance tracking was an issue last spring. And the digital divide has not been fixed completely to my knowledge – we are probably much closer, but devices and access deficits still loom, due to funding shortages or lost devices becoming a new and costly worry.

The question becomes are we simply exacerbating the COVID learning issues or solving for some of them?

And, just to complicate things a bit more, into this mix of approaches to learning during COVID, though not given as a solution to it, a different kind of educational idea has now been proposed for the long-term.

In an AEI publication earlier this month, an article offered up the concept of state-sanctioned “charter teachers” who in essence, become their own, individual charters outside of a school.  These teachers would run their own classroom and be located outside of a district or charter network; parents could select this new independent classroom and teacher best suited to “guide their child’s learning and development”.  The author also addressed the possible equity issue by suggesting public funds could be used to support this idea and better ensure “access for all”.  And she was very clear in saying that charter teacher policies “should vary by state”, i.e., funding and accountability models (oversight board or parents “voting with their feet” to name 2 possibilities)

Agree or not, the COVID learning pod concept has one very real rationale behind it – supporting the social aspect of learning and development while school buildings are closed (and I do believe most parents will want their children to return to their schools).

However, the charter teacher proposal, state sanctioned and permanent, is something quite different.

I think we can agree, parents have many school options already – private schools, charter schools, traditional public schools, partnership schools which live within a public school district, virtual learning, and homeschooling.  Not to mention that that we additionally have micro-schools, privately and publicly funded, already in place – a model the author mentions as a similar concept to the charter teacher proposal.

So I have to wonder what are we missing that is not already being done when it comes to choice?  

In other words, what do parents need or want choice from?

We are acutely aware that a move toward more individualism over the common good in this country is not working. As we look at life post-COVID, with ongoing protests and anger over racial inequities and injustices, it stands to reason, most especially in our schools, that we should seek opportunities to be a part of the larger and more diverse community, not decrease our opportunities to be together.

When I look ahead to a world that would be comprised of more isolated, individual classrooms that would serve as a child’s “school”, I see one more way we can be divided and removed from each other. And I’m not sure what we are saying to ourselves by pursuing this model – are we in pursuit of the perfect teacher, the perfect classmates, the perfect curriculum that perhaps fit a caregiver’s personal wants, views, and beliefs?  Beyond the incredible amount of choice we already have?

I don’t know.

So for the current short term learning pod models being implemented by parents, I am concerned, but I also know that short term solutions must be explored by districts with parents if in person learning, even partially, cannot happen this fall, especially for our youngest learners.

However, the charter teacher model as proposed is a slippery slope and we should proceed with caution with any such hypothetical recommendation.  As dystopian as it may sound (welcome to the teacher gig economy!), I’m afraid we could one day find ourselves becoming simply a large group of people who happen to reside on an oversized plot of land, without common knowledge, common understanding, or a belief in a common good.  Because we will not be collectively grounded in anything and the problems we have today with acceptance of our differences may just well pale in comparison to new problems we will have created.

Let’s think about the time and space we are in in 2020 and what will lead us to a better, more connected country.  Then let’s plan.

We need more healing, not more division.

In the meantime, I believe most of us want our students to head back to the schools they know and love and miss when safety plans are in place. And there are many positive things we can each do or collectively rally behind for short term support or long term benefit of our schools and our country.  Stay hopeful and let’s all look ahead to better days.  We’ve got this.

  • Wear a mask, practice social distancing, follow expert health safety guidelines  during this pandemic so we can start to move out of it as a country.
  • Demand adequate federal dollars be given to states (with guidance given to ensure dollars actually help at the local level) to ensure the safe rollout of a F2F return to school (PPE, additional staff, etcetera).  Contact your congress members today!
  • Keep an open mind and be ready to go F2F when the COVID curve in your community is flattened (not eradicated) –  some short term ideas that have been shared widely for schools and districts that I think hold merit include looping for the upcoming year in order to support that all important relationship piece between student and teacher; districts partnering with parents, childcare and extended day providers in new ways that could be organized for equity; exploring innovative indoor and outdoor spaces with community and business partners.
  • Demand action planning on lessons learned from COVID.  We need leadership at the national level, working across the aisle and with state and local input, to develop policies and funding commitments to address gaps or support ideas that showed promise.  Tech devices, internet access, learning models that were used should be reviewed.  Determine what worked and what didn’t.
  • Practice ongoing self-care, even if you are the one typically giving care and support to others.
  • Keep the anxiety at bay and remember, especially on social media, words matter.
  • Be a voice for equity and justice in your schools and beyond.
  • Register people to vote, drive people to the polls if needed, and vote every election. It matters.



Some education good news I want to highlight in my own backyard:

FCPS is holding a virtual superintendent book study on Eyes are Never Quiet by @desautels_phd (Lori DeSautels) and @mmcknight32 (Michael McKnight) – I’m glad I was able to join in as it is always a good day to hear school based staff weigh in with real time input.  The book is a look into the neuro-science (how brains develop, factors that can impede or support healthy development) that helps explain often frustrating and troubling behavior by students.  Understanding the affects of trauma in human development and ways to build resilience in the face of it certainly are are needed, most especially in 2020. We forget how readily we are prone to judge others by what we see, rather than understanding by knowing – a worthwhile book for schools and educators to explore.  But as social emotional learning is grounded in neuro-science, I was equally glad…

when SEL champ @Coach_Rudy (Keeth Metheny) invited me to sit in on my hometown district’s PD this week.  This training gave secondary teachers a foundational understanding of SEL supports and the rationale for explicit instruction on the 5 competencies (necessary life skills).  With lessons he will provide to them, they should be better equipped to support students (and themselves) through this continued COVID disruption and beyond.

I’m looking forward to seeing how my local district and their school communities  continue to grow in this work, most especially toward equity and transformative SEL.  No two schools who embrace SEL ever look exactly alike as no two schools look exactly alike.  That’s the beauty of SEL. Understanding the why, doing the foundational what, then growing in the work together will pay off immensely for students and adults. Game Changer!

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