A new project aims to collect the ‘quick wins’ that are changing local schools 

By Melissa Rayworth

Some day, teachers may look back and divide the history of American learning into two distinct eras: Before Covid and After Covid. 

Twelve months ago, the educational blueprint that schools had used for generations was suddenly crumpled up and thrown away by a global pandemic. The sudden shifts — first to remote learning, and then for some to hybrid models — have been incredibly difficult. 

But for those who’d spent years pushing for innovative approaches to teaching, assessing and interacting with students and families, it has also been exhilarating. 

Teachers at all levels of experience have been encouraged to creatively hack a system that was ripe for growth and change even before the pandemic. And thanks to this commitment to finding solutions that would make MacGyver proud, good things have been happening.

Schools and parents are more connected than ever. Personalized learning is becoming a reality as students are guided through some classes at their own pace. Teachers are using technology to connect kids with unique virtual experiences and they are collaborating more than ever with each other.

Learning loss remains a problem, of course. And troubling disparities between the resources that one district has versus another are even more visible and worrisome. But small victories, unexpected discoveries and valuable innovations are happening out of necessity in classrooms around our region every day. 

And that’s the challenge: We need to capture these new ideas before they get lost. Without them, we risk returning to a pre-pandemic “normal” that never was normal or sufficient. Small wins can only become big ripples if we preserve them, share them and help them grow. 

To make that possible in the Pittsburgh area, Remake Learning is asking educators to add their “quick wins” to a growing database via a simple Google form. 

Quick wins may have happened at the district level, or may be a small shift that had noticeable impact on a single student or caregiver, according to  Remake Learning. Quick wins may focus on a new practice that was integrated, a new technology that was leveraged, or simply a new mindset that was brought into your work.

These are just a few of the responses that have already come in:

Using time in new ways

Homer-Center School District has altered their “specials” schedule so that students have their current special each day for three straight weeks, instead of having it just once or twice a week over several months. This was done to keep groups of students together to minimize the need for potential quarantine. But they’ve discovered that it also allows more in-depth work in each special area, and students are now completing units and projects that were previously impossible. 

Changes in the schedule have also led to all Homer-Center students in grades K-6 receiving one week of a class called Exploring Spanish Culture, which exposes them to the culture and language of the district’s ESL students. 

Afterschool time is also changing: At Kiski Area School District, time previously used for after-school detention is being used for virtual or in-person tutoring. This has increased student achievement and collaboration between Kiski’s high school students who do the tutoring and the 5th and 6th graders who get their help.

Reallocating time has enabled one district to replace after-school detention with tutoring. Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

Harnessing the power of virtual learning 

“I had a Zoom meeting with a Holocaust survivor in order to teach the children about the dangers of White Supremacy, which has resulted in students becoming active in diversity groups,” one middle school history teacher from Seneca Valley School District told Remake Learning. 

Carmichaels Area SD is doing the same — encouraging teachers to include virtual guests who can “give students unique experiences” and “the ability to see and pursue their passions.” 

In another creative use of online learning, one high school PBL class in Greater Latrobe tackled a virtual escape room together, which led to “a great series of lessons focused on collaboration and problem-solving.”  

Fresh approaches to parental engagement 

Many schools tell Remake Learning they now meet with parents virtually in small groups or one-on-one. For an especially creative twist on this approach, one Northwestern School District teacher scheduled a virtual classroom visit with an author for the evening, so parents and kids could participate together. She has also created “take-home STEM kits” to allow parents to engage and learn alongside their kids. 

Meanwhile, Duquesne City School District has been helping parents and guardians navigate the technology platforms the school uses, so they can better understand what and how their kids are learning. And Cornell School District has implemented a new tool to translate emails and texts to parents into their home language. 

New takes on assessments and deadlines

In a simple but powerful shift, one Greater Latrobe Senior High teacher has begun asking students to tell him what they have learned, rather than just asking them for correct answers. This makes students think and reflect, he says, which prompts them to take a new level of ownership of their learning.

Several districts also report new approaches to due dates: “I have greatly relaxed/re-evaluated my ‘due date’ requirements,” wrote one West Mifflin teacher “to allow students to experience success in spite of the current challenges.” 

In response, he’s seen “tremendous gratitude from students and thanks for being understanding and helpful.” 

Along with collecting innovations like these via Google form from teachers and administrators, Remake Learning is working with the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the nonprofit KnowledgeWorks to host a series of listening sessions with educators.

Once this collection project is complete, Remake Learning and the Tomorrow campaign will widely share the results to help as many districts as possible benefit from these innovative ideas. 

Parents and educators, share your pandemic learning experiences with Remake Learning via this five-minute online survey. You’ll have the option to enter a raffle for a $50 VISA gift card at the end of the survey.

This article is part of a series for “Tomorrow” powered by Remake Learning. “Tomorrow” will explore – through virtual events, grantmaking, and storytelling – what we can do today to make tomorrow a more promising place for all learners. Follow along or share your hopes for today’s young people using the hashtag #RemakeTomorrow and tagging @RemakeLearning. Learn more about Remake Learning here. And read more “Tomorrow” articles published on Kidsburgh.