The Next Normal

Principled provocations in education

decisions

A time for provisional decisions

By Carole Basile - Thursday, July 23, 2020

Back in May, I wrote about the need for systems planning in a crisis. I’ll always champion long-term systemic thinking. But, as the pandemic has stretched from the end of one school year to the beginning of another, and as our college works with P–12 schools to determine how to operate this fall, I have acquired a new appreciation for the value of effective provisional decision making.

Right now, education leaders find themselves in a position of having to make important decisions very quickly while armed with much less information than they want or need. It’s a decision maker’s nightmare: a surfeit of urgency combined with a deficit of time and information.

The stakes are, literally, life and death. The stakes also involve the academic and socio-emotional development of a generation of children, as well as the economic security of everyone who works in education, from preschools to research universities.

As dean of a college of education, I participate in decision-making in higher education. I also have a front-row seat to the decision-making process that our partner P–12 schools and districts are going through right now. For our college, the two are intertwined, as we have over a thousand students scheduled to conduct internships and residencies in schools and other youth-serving organizations.

Our students, faculty and staff are in state of suspense regarding how, exactly, we will operate this fall. Quite simply, we are downstream from some highly complicated decision-making that needs to happen in schools and districts. The paths those schools and districts choose will not be uniform. And they are likely to change over time.

There are few absolutely correct answers to the operational decisions our school partners face and to the dependent decisions we must make at MLFTC.

On the one hand, not all schools have the resources to ensure a safe return to in-person schooling. The Phoenix Union High School District recently made the decision to operate remotely for the first quarter of the coming school year.

On the other hand, moving school online raises new equity issues and inflames existing ones. Some schools lack the resources to enact an effective transition to remote schooling This can be both a technology problem and a pedagogy problem. And many families lack the necessary devices or internet access for children to participate fully in remote learning.

On another hand (because we all need three hands these days), educators are essential personnel providing an essential service. We know the steep toll likely to be exacted by months of learning loss; and we also know that the toll is even steeper for underserved communities. Taking responsibility for the health of learners isn’t just about shielding children from COVID-19; it is also about doing what we can to ensure the continuation of effective education until some combination of a vaccine and treatment can be found and fairly distributed.

Bars, nail salons and theme parks are nice to have, but schools and universities are essential. While we might not be able to deliver schooling as well as we want to, we are obliged to deliver it as well as we can.

So, at the college level, we will adapt. We will employ both asynchronous and synchronous modes — in-person, remote and blended — to design the best professional learning experiences we can under the current circumstances for our students who are conducting residencies and internships in schools. We will respond flexibly and compassionately to both students and faculty as they navigate the landscape of teaching and learning thrust upon us by this pandemic.

As for our P–12 school partners, we want to be part of their solutions — not another problem.

Superintendents and principals are thinking about their students, faculty and staff. They are on the floor measuring out six-foot-long spaces between desks. They are checking their inventories of bleach. They are responding to families inquiring about internet access. They are trying to figure out the basic choreography of how people will get in and out of buildings in a manner consistent with CDC guidelines.

Many educators (lest we forget) are also worried about their own children’s education or are trying to secure childcare so they can devote their professional attention to the welfare and education of other people’s children.

So we don’t want the question of what to do with our ASU teacher candidates to be another unresolved problem somewhere on the lower third of the to-do list of our school partners. We want to be part of the solution to some of the challenges already high on that list.

There is a sweet spot between what schools need right now and what our candidates need for certification and graduation. We believe our students can continue to:

· Work with their grade-level, vertical or content teams to design engaging synchronous learning that can be delivered in-person and/or remotely;

· Create deeper synchronous learning experiences connected to asynchronous lessons within learning management systems;

· Personalize learning by working with small groups and individuals;

· Support students and families as they navigate learning management systems and other technological systems; and, maybe most importantly

· Build relationships with students and families to support their socio-emotional needs.

Ultimately, we need to prepare our teacher candidates to work on teams (in-person and remotely), and personalize and deepen learning to mitigate learning loss and build critical skills.

Conducting residencies and internships in the middle of a pandemic is not what our students or school partners signed up for. But it is what we are all confronting now. The future will come. I’ve written previously about how this crisis is revealing cracks in the normal that have been there all along and how, when the storm passes, we might address the big challenges illuminated by the lightning.

For now, in the midst of the storm, navigating uncertainly means we have to make provisional decisions based on facts as we come to know them. These facts will vary from school to school, and they may change from week to week. As facts change, new challenges will emerge. While there are few absolutely correct responses to these challenges, we have to keep moving through them.

The measure of success, right now, is not perfection. It is relative goodness and contextual effectiveness. How valuable and meaningful can we make education during this crisis? Very, I think. Can we make decisions that benefit the greatest number of people possible? I think we can. Can we keep equity in the front of our minds? We have to.