Education in the Pandemic

Published in the Delaware County Daily Times

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

By Joseph Batory, Times Columnist

H.L. Menken said it best when he noted that “for every complex problem there is a simple solution…and it is usually wrong.”  The pandemic in our nation has brought exceedingly difficult challenges to the task of educating our young people. Indeed, there are monumental obstacles being faced by today’s school superintendents, principals, teachers, students, School Board members, and parents, in dealing with the Covid 19 crisis.

There is certainly no “one size fits all” way to deal with this crisis. So, we are seeing a variety of models and approaches by educators. But, regardless of the strategy, the basic principles for educational success must remain in place.

Philosophy drives all action:  A thousand years ago, the Benedictine monks had it right when they philosophized: “Temper all things, so that the talented will be challenged, so that the average will not be forgotten, and so that the weak will not be left behind.”  This is the goal no matter what pandemic strategy is used. Great teaching is of course about looking at where each student is in the present, but, more importantly, focusing on what he or she might become.

Connect and Hold: Whether learning is occurring virtually or in small socially distanced groups, the goal of schooling must still be to connect with, motivate, and keep the students engaged. In that context, schools need to continue to develop and innovate the most effective ways to motivate and encourage and support the pupils to keep them in the academic ballgame.

Education must not be boring: Even in normal times, there is often too much peculiar artificiality or dry content in the academic courses of study for many students.  Especially during the pandemic, the delivery of education must be more interesting and challenging and fun no matter how the education is being delivered.  Linking school subject matter to the real world is also critically important. Students need to see a connection between what they are being taught and their futures.

Parents have been and continue to be the prime teachers of their children: More than ever in these difficult times, schools need to be more aggressive about enlisting parents as true educational partners. Schools need to explore new ways to reach out to parents with resources, seminars and workshops that define and assist successful parenting from the home and promote two-way communication between parents and schools.

Keep on Improving teacher skills: As Covid-19 continues, schools must utilize innovative “state of the art” research-based strategies and other scholarly pieces to enhance teacher skills.  Ongoing teacher training to develop innovative strategies specifically for “education in the pandemic” is a must.

Leadership at each school matters more than ever.  The leadership of school principals ranks right behind effective teaching as the most effective way to keep instruction and student learning on course. Principals must have “plenty of rope,” i.e., the freedom to innovate and take some chances with creative ways to foster student learning during the pandemic.  Too much central office micromanagement only wastes the talent, ingenuity, and leadership of key school leaders.

Seek out help: Reach out to businesses and community organizations to share their expertise and resources with schools in their efforts with students. Certainly, there are no panaceas and “quick fixes, and no simple solutions to making education work in this pandemic.  But people and organizations outside the schools can provide ideas and vision, human resources, as well as financial support. 

Fight to get extra dollars to deal with the pandemic.  While it is true that money of itself cannot totally solve a problem, it is also true that for almost all successful American enterprises, money drives creative changes and improvements.  Why should schools be any different?  Extra financial support from the government during the pandemic for school educational needs is more important than ever.

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Joseph Batory was the superintendent of schools in Upper Darby (PA) from 1984 to 1999.  He is the only Greater Philadelphia area educational leader to have even been honored with the Lifetime Distinguished Service Award from the American Association of School Administrators.

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