Learning from Change

What can we learn about education and ourselves from the time of COVID

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From the intersection of today and tomorrow, American education finds itself at a turning point. A moment of reflection where the past, present, and many possible futures of K-12 learning merit thoughtful consideration. In light of all that we have learned about our systems and selves as a result of COVID-19, we’ve convened a panel conversation to explore a few thoughts from those in the know.



The Discussion – What are some of the lessons learned from COVID-19.

“COVID has given us a collective shared experience,” says Jill Ackers-Clayton, who has more than 20 years of experience on the question of how to create educational environments that beneficially impact learning outcomes. “Learning communities of all sorts have been forced to face a paradigm shift in education. For starters, COVID has exposed inequalities that are especially apparent in kids who have fallen off the radar because their environment outside of school is not safe. We need to come out of this with a new focus on what health and well-being mean, not just for students, but teachers, administrators, and the whole community that surrounds a school.”

Aaron Jetzer agrees. As a principal at an elementary school in a thriving community, Jetzer strives to make the educational experience the best it can be for students, teachers, and the people he serves.

“At the school level, a lot of education’s many components are governed by regulations set from afar,” says Jetzer. “COVID has forced both schools and students to pivot, to be adaptable in decision making. At our school, we engaged three different learning models – in-person, virtual, and a hybrid mix. There have been positive takeaways from all three approaches that will reshape our thinking going forward.”

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What may have seemed to be an overwhelming level of change is a circumstance VS America has been taking into consideration in the design of their products since the brand’s inception some 120 years ago.

“Our roots in education fondly trace back to a relationship with Maria Montessori, whose pioneering approach to education has focused on the whole child from the start,” shares DeBrot. “Flexibility, agility, and the ability to move freely have been the basis of our products for generations. COVID has brought these necessities to the forefront of educational thinking for everyone. Individual freedom of choice and situational comfort set the stage for success."

In explaining how COVID has impacted learning and learning environments at Eastwood Elementary, Jetzer shares that it’s not just the headcount or classroom layout that changed but the whole structure of instruction.

“We have reduced the number of students in a room by half and we’re finding ways to use non-classroom spaces in the school more effectively, and teachers are finding all kinds of creative ways to engage individual learners. And even throughout COVID we’ve been able to keep these core tenets: students are not always facing the front of the room and desks aren’t in rows,” Jetzer says. “In our school, the kids who have been in-person learning all seem to know the custodian and office staff a lot better. It’s a holistic change to our community’s interactions.”

Perhaps more than anything else, what a year of imposed introspection has revealed in all of us is the common need for a sense of control over one’s world, surroundings, and self. Ackers-Clayton’s work in design around learning has found integrating flexibility into the ways space can be used is critical to creating choice-filled opportunities for learners to thrive.

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“In some districts, students still sit in rows of the same hard plastic chairs from grade school through high school,” Ackers-Clayton says. “In listening to the needs of students and educators for many years, we find that when we give them a sense of agency in the process of learning, they excel.”

Allowing learners to choose where to sit, what is comfortable for a specific task, and giving them the ability to easily reconfigure seating arrangements for fluid group interaction are ideas at the forefront of educational design theory. The reaction to COVID has suddenly forced these concepts into broad practical application at schools of all sorts all over the country and likely all over the world.

“The cells and bells model of education denies students the chance to simmer in the ambiguity of problem-solving,” continues Ackers-Clayton. “Giving students and educators examples of what small-group, large-group, and project-based learning can look like is an exercise that extends from campus master planning to furniture selection.”

“Progressively, the curriculum is driving purchasing decisions. VS America encourages Districts to explore our pilot classroom program,” says DeBrot in agreement. “We can furnish one or several classrooms with collections of furnishings to test what works and what doesn’t for that particular community and curriculum.”

“Hopefully, we all emerge from this with a newfound appreciation for the joy of learning,” finishes Jetzer. “We are learning new ways of doing things we’ve been doing the same way for a long, long time. We are becoming more mindful of the transparency between academic-, social-, and emotional- learning. We are going to bring all of this into our school experiences in positive ways that will be amazing when we come out of COVID.”

Written by: Sean O’Keefe


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