‘Remaking Tomorrow’ report points toward a post-pandemic future built on innovation and community collaboration
By Melissa Rayworth
Long before we’d heard of COVID-19, educators across the greater Pittsburgh region were exploring new forms of learning, assessment, support and connection for students.
High schoolers collaborate with computer science experts at Carnegie Mellon University to build apps and 3D-printed creations. A middle school began operating inside the science and tech hub of a children’s museum.
And throughout the region, the thousands of educators and professionals involved in the Remake Learning network were collaborating in ways big and small. As one teacher shared innovative practices with another and micro-grants fueled a series of creative ideas, progress kept on growing.
Now, as American families prepare for a school year like no other, Remake Learning has collaborated with KnowledgeWorks on a report examining pre-pandemic learning innovation ideas in light of the disruption caused by the virus.
It’s a vital thing to explore right now, at a moment of unique opportunity: Nationwide, the urgency and disruption of the pandemic has weakened some of the barriers to change that have kept outdated learning systems in place. With so much of the traditional structure of K-12 schooling upended, true long-term change is suddenly more possible.
Simultaneously, the nation is grappling more directly with systemic racial injustice than it has since the height of the civil rights movement. As the pandemic has made racial and socioeconomic divides in education more visible than ever, school districts are being asked to address this fundamental problem.
At this malleable moment, the path forward for school districts could be this: Make innovative choices now that will really serve all your learners in the long run — and don’t return to the old siloed and unjust ‘normal’ once the virus has been controlled.
This new report, titled “Remaking Tomorrow: Learning in a Post-Pandemic Future,” is part of Remake Learning’s Tomorrow campaign, which launched in May to drive the conversation around what we can do today to make tomorrow a more promising place for all learners.
In a letter introducing the report, the network’s co-chairs — Grable Foundation executive director Gregg Behr, University of Pittsburgh School of Education dean Dr. Valerie Kinloch and Benedum Foundation vice president Jim Denova — summon people to action by asking them to look toward a future changed both by progress and COVID-19.
“So what now?” they ask. “How might we think differently about schools, early learning centers, libraries, museums, out-of-school programs and all of the places – from the virtual to the natural – where young people learn? What new methods would realize greater justice while producing deeper, more caring relationships for and among learners?”
They tie that goal to a wider vision of a brighter future. “If we genuinely remake learning,” they say, “we may just accelerate the healing and inspire the hope that will help all of us remake tomorrow.”
Remake Learning’s Future of Learning Commission, which convened in May and June, explored these questions during workshops facilitated by KnowledgeWorks. Among their findings:
RELATIONSHIPS ARE VITAL
Although technology plays a growing role in daily life and learning, the report finds that solid human relationships — where children are dealt with as individuals and are deeply connected with supportive people — are central to impactful learning. As we teach children, we’re developing whole people who are part of a community. If they feel known and valued by their teachers and their community, they’ll be better civic participants and better leaders for tomorrow.
PERSONALIZED LEARNING IS POSSIBLE
For generations, we’ve taught millions of children in the same ways at a group-wide pace. But learners benefit most if they each have a culturally responsive, personalized learning pathway that reflects their interests and aspirations.
Children can have a shared curriculum while pursuing personal projects and growing their unique skills. Along the way, they can build real-world learning portfolios that document their projects and progress. One key is prioritizing skills and demonstrations of real learning over standardized assessments.
ACCOUNTABILITY AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
Schools, the report finds, must acknowledge the ways that learners of color have been systematically harmed by education policies, practices and mindsets, and they must develop anti-racist education cultures. This includes encouraging Black, Latinx and Indigenous people to enter education — and developing a school culture that encourages them to stay.
Accountability matters: The report urges districts to move from “the current top-down and test-driven system to a more expansive view of school quality that is both co-created and co-facilited by communities.” One possible route toward that? Create community advisory boards that involve learners and their families, along with the broader community.
“The future,” the report points out, “is everyone’s business.”
Schools are not alone in educating children. We’ve seen new levels of parental involvement since last spring’s school disruption, and there are examples nationwide of children benefiting from whole-community involvement in learning. From internships to increased support from out-of-school-time providers, kids thrive when the whole community participates in decision-making and encouragement of their growth.
And by involving the wider community, schools can allow teachers more flexibility in how they teach and how they pursue professional development.
This article is part of a series for “Tomorrow” powered by Remake Learning. From May to October, “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.