In a recent Head of School News column, Dr. Anne Stavney talks about the trends Blake’s educators are seeing after last year and at this point in the pandemic.
We know our students—like many of us adults—are still trying to make sense of the past 20 months and integrate our experiences in some meaningful way.
In my observations, the pandemic’s effects on us as individuals and across school communities have been uneven, complex and nuanced. And of course, we will not have full knowledge of the effects for some time to come. We have recognized some themes, however, regarding teachers, schools and students. Here are some we have seen among Blake students in regard to their social-emotional well-being and academic preparation.
- Students are generally very happy to be back in school full time. They enjoy seeing their classmates and are really pleased to develop personal relationships with their teachers again. At the same time, students have been challenged to work up the stamina, mental and physical, for full-time in-person instruction.
- We see students working to recall the concepts and recover the skills they learned before and during last year’s remote and hybrid educational experience. In courses such as math and science, for example, teachers recognize that students need to refresh themselves on foundational concepts and skills before they can move on in their current work. Teachers have made time in class to re-introduce concepts and to ensure all students are following along.
- Students have had to learn how to be in community with each other again and to “do school.” In LS this means practicing taking turns while speaking, listening attentively and working in groups. In MS this means practicing executive function skills like organization, sustained attention and time management. In the US, it means practicing how to offer and receive peer feedback through discussion and writing. After three months back in school, many of us are just starting to see students’ academic and emotional age align with their chronological age.
- More and more, we define academic rigor in terms of depth and not volume. Last year, we couldn’t teach as many concepts or subjects as we typically may have in a given course or year. This forced us to prioritize concepts and skills and redesign lessons and projects such that the learning was compressed and concentrated. Rather than engage in an expansive curriculum, we asked students to go deeper on specific topics.
- Last year reinforced what educators have long believed: learning should be less about content knowledge and more about ways of thinking, ways of seeing and skill development. Our new schedules in the MS and US have continued this emphasis on deeper engagement by offering more class time to explore topics and for individualized student-teacher attention.
While we continue to face uncertainty and challenges, students are generally hopeful for the future. The 2021 Children’s Mental Health Report from the Child Mind Institute finds that 67% of students agreed with the statement: “I am hopeful that I will adapt and rebound from the challenges of the pandemic.”
We know, too, that the care and attention adults have shown students over the past 20 months have given them support and hope. When parents ask me about how our students are doing, they simultaneously express immense gratitude for all that our faculty and staff have done for them—from pre-kindergarten to grade 12, from student services to grade deans, from athletics to administrators. I want to echo their thanks and appreciation.