Helping students recover from the effects of the COVID pandemic and the other crises of the past year is likely the greatest challenge that most of today’s educators will ever face. It will take extensive time, skill, and collaboration between leaders, teachers, staff, and families. And it will look different from community to community—and even from school to school.
Still, this section offers some thoughts on how instructional leaders might sequence the implementation of the recommendations in this plan, and how to bring them into a coherent whole. Also included are sample student and teacher schedules. It is our expectation that significant new federal resources will be available to help with the implementation steps described below.
Put the basics in place before adding new elements, especially high-dosage tutoring. Adopting and helping teachers implement a high-quality curriculum is job No. 1. There’s little doubt that many elementary students, especially those in high-poverty schools, will need extra help to recover from the loss of instructional time related to the pandemic. Done right, high-dosage tutoring shows great promise in helping such students return to grade level. But doing it right means integrating tutoring with regular classroom and small-group instruction and using the same high-quality instructional materials in all cases. Successful high-poverty schools that already had evidence-based instructional strategies and high-quality instructional materials in place before the pandemic might be ready to start integrating tutoring into their programs—but other schools have to walk before they can run.
Invest in building a positive, supportive school climate. We can expect many students to return to school with significant mental-health needs given the significant trauma associated with the pandemic, the economic downturn, and America’s reckoning with racial injustice. This will surely lead some students to want to act out or shut down at school. A focus on preventing these externalizing or internalizing behaviors, including by building strong relationships, ensuring school policies and practices reflect and engage diverse families, and setting high, common, school-wide expectations for behavior and academic achievement, can help students feel safe and optimistic and keep them focused on learning.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. The only recommendations that will help students thrive are ones implemented thoughtfully, with fidelity, and with attention to detail. Aim for quality over quantity, and save some steps for later.
Make teachers’ jobs doable. Consider asking teachers to team up, with one teaching English language arts and another teaching mathematics, social studies, and science, to both of their classrooms. That may be especially helpful at schools that are implementing new high-quality curriculum, given that each teacher would have fewer subjects to master. Alternatively, schools with several years of experience with high-quality instructional materials might consider “looping,” whereby teachers stay with their current students and follow them into the next grade in the fall, in order to maintain strong relationships. In all cases, schools, districts, and networks will want to consider focusing on priority instructional content, as identified by Student Achievement Partners.
Embrace external support. Most schools will benefit from getting help from professional learning organizations with expertise in the high-quality curricula a district or network has chosen. Such curricula come with embedded assessments that produce actionable data; external support organizations can help schools and teachers make good decisions around mid-course corrections.
Additional considerations for school improvement efforts:
Apply the principles of systems thinking to school improvement work.
Understand that the technical and social aspects of school improvement work are of equal importance.
Sample Student Schedule
A school’s precise schedule will depend on the time requirements for its chosen curriculum, along with various constraints (such as collective bargaining agreements and transportation logistics). Those specifics aside, see below for one example of a schedule that makes room for all of the elements discussed in the Acceleration Imperative plan.