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There will likely be few years like 20/21 for educators — a year where the playbook got thrown out and schools had to create a whole new model for educating students. But as we look forward to the 21/22 school year with the COVID pandemic steadily ebbing, there's a unique new set of expectations.
The LiveSchool Council is a group of twenty volunteer teachers, school administrators, and counselors who serve as our team's advisors. We recently asked them how they're thinking about the upcoming school year. Here's what we learned.
If this school year has taught educators anything, it's that plans can and will change. Most of our Council expressed real hope about next year — but they also aren't setting any plans in stone.
The good news: many schools have already learned to be flexible. "We survived going back to school during a pandemic — we can do this!" says Nicky Clark (STEM Teacher in Kingsway Elementary in Port Charlotte, Florida). "I'm making my plans, but nothing is confirmed until we hear from admin," says one of our Counselor Council members from a public school in Ohio.
The takeaway: start to plan, but keep those plans flexible.
In 20/21 we asked students to adapt to change — and our Council members point out that many of them succeeded. "Our students' capacity for independent learning is far more prominent than it was in the past," says Paul Kennedy (Director of Scholar Advancement and School Programs at Global Leadership Academy West).
But coming back to the building means another round of adaptations for students. Paul continues: "Right now, students have more independence than ever. They're able to complete assignments at their pace, eat or go to the bathroom when they need, and so on. These new norms will need to be re-addressed as we reenter the buildings. Our culture and climate shifted last year, and it will have to shift again."
The pace of a school day may also be a huge difference between 20/21 and 21/22. "To be honest, I think the biggest challenge will be getting our scholars adjusted to the stamina needed for a full day in the building." says Teron McFadden (Assistant Principal of Healthy Start Academy Charter School in Durham, NC).
Our Council members point out that supporting students will require their team to be organized and consistent about their school's cultural values. The right values are critical to help students re-adapt.
Kim Wood, Behavior Analyst and PBIS Coach in Placer County, CA, says that these conversations are already starting in her schools. "21/22 represents a challenge and an opportunity. School-wide culture will need emphasis on strengthening and re-building connections, engagement, and collaboration between students and staff. We've been talking about how to operationally define what that looks like so we can ramp up our SEL support, pre-teaching, and acknowledgement of concrete skills when seen in students and staff."
Many schools adapted their behavioral expectations in 2020 to add recognition for things like resilience and perseverance. There's a feeling that these kinds of expectations will stay on their rubrics.
As we discussed the cultural values schools need to foster, the key terms that came up were connectedness, engagement, and collaboration. Our Council points out the importance of defining how to recognize these values as a team, and build that recognition into their LiveSchool-powered culture feedback system.
Melissa Bridges (Assistant Principal at Howard & Carnall Elementary School in Fort Smith, AR), says "We are incorporating HOPE within our school day. I’m looking forward to our team meetings to decide how this should look within LiveSchool, and how we'll recognize it with our students."
Kim Wood adds: "We need to do the work to define what connectedness, engagement, and collaboration look like — then build staff agreement on how we'll recognize and encourage those values when we see them in students."
With 21/22 feeling like a pivotal juncture point, the Council notes this is an opportunity to think creatively about our school culture going forward. It's an opportunity for change.
Teron McFadden notes that his school is already considering systemic improvements around their LiveSchool system. "We want to get more inventive about rewards, and push families to get more engaged in student behavior data via the LiveSchool app." The LiveSchool team looks forward to working with Teron and his staff to keep growing the impact of their culture system in 21/22.
Some council members are thinking beyond just the logistics of their system. One Council member (name withheld by request) notes the powerful opportunity in 21/22 for larger cultural changes around equity. "With America’s newfound awareness of racial injustice and inequality, we educators should ask ourselves what type of school culture we want to create. There's an opportunity for school leadership to meet intentionally on these topics, and create goals to promote equity and inclusion in our schools. LiveSchool can provide really great support to schools in this coming year by being customizable to meet the needs of each school and/or district." We agree!
If you're starting the conversation about campus culture in the 21/22 school year, we'd love to be part of that. We're working closely with our Council and partner schools to develop the kind of supports schools need in the coming year. Our platform can help you drive consistent expectations across your whole school and enable your team to better recognize, encourage, and reward the culture you want. Interested? Let us show you how.
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