TeachLab with Justin Reich

Learning from the Pandemic

Episode Summary

Justin Reich joins Jal Mehta and Neema Avashia for the live webinar panel How to Learn from the Pandemic: Name, Nourish, Connect, and Grow! Together they discuss their collective research and experiences from COVID remote learning, what positivity emerged, and what stakeholders want changed as students and teachers look to re-enter the classroom. Hosted by Elizabeth Foster. “We actually used last year's Imagining September report that was put out, as the basis for redesigning our school schedule for rethinking curriculum. Really using what young people were saying and what educators around the country were saying, to say, ‘We're going to put our stake in doing what's right for young people and we're not going to let the fear of accountability, or the fear of standardized testing be the thing that drives’. We can't let compliance or obedience to external measures be the thing that makes us not do the right thing in this moment.” - Neema Avashia

Episode Notes

Justin Reich joins Jal Mehta and Neema Avashia for the live webinar panel How to Learn from the Pandemic: Name, Nourish, Connect, and Grow!  Together they discuss their collective research and experiences from COVID remote learning, what positivity emerged, and what stakeholders want changed as students and teachers look to re-enter the classroom. Hosted by Elizabeth Foster.

“We actually used last year's Imagining September report that was put out, as the basis for redesigning our school schedule for rethinking curriculum. Really using what young people were saying and what educators around the country were saying, to say, ‘We're going to put our stake in doing what's right for young people and we're not going to let the fear of accountability, or the fear of standardized testing be the thing that drives’. We can't let compliance or obedience to external measures be the thing that makes us not do the right thing in this moment.” - Neema Avashia


In this episode we’ll talk about:


Resources and Links

Watch the full webinar How to learn from the Pandemic: Name, Nourish, Connect and Grow

Learn more about the Imagining September Report!

Check out Justin Reich’s book, Failure To Disrupt!

Join our self-paced online edX course: Sorting Truth from Fiction: Civic Online Reasoning

Join our self-paced online edX course: Becoming a More Equitable Educator: Mindsets and Practices





Produced by Aimee Corrigan and Garrett Beazley


Follow TeachLab:




Episode Transcription

Justin Reich:                 From the home studios of the Teaching Systems Lab at MIT, this is TeachLab, a podcast about the art and craft of teaching. I'm Justin Reich. This week we’re excited to share “How to Learn from the Pandemic”, a webinar that I participated in with Learning Forward, hosted by Elizabeth Foster, and was talking with Jal Mehta from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Neema Avashia, a long time civic teacher in the Boston Public Schools. Jal, Neema, and I are involved in some research efforts this spring to try to better understand the experiences of teacher and students in remote and hybrid learning over the pandemic, in order to think about how we can build back better, as next year we enter the post-vaccination stage of school in the pandemic.

Justin Reich:                 You should particularly pay attention to how Neema talks about her experience from the last year, how her students describe their experiences in ways that sound very different from what state policy makers and national policy makers are talking about right now, and what she thinks we should be doing to bring build schools back better in the year to come. The one thing you won’t be able to get form this podcast, that you would have if you had joined us live for the webinar, is just how enthusiastic the audience was about everything Neema had to say. She really touched a nerve with her fellow educators about the direction school ought to be heading as we wind our way past this pandemic phase. Let’s go ahead and give it a listen

Elizabeth Foster:           Welcome everyone. My name is Elizabeth Foster, I'm the vice president of Research and Standards for Learning Forward. And it is my privilege and pleasure to welcome you all today. And I'll be moderating our wonderful panel. Today's webinar will focus on how amidst the many challenges and grief and difficulties that the pandemic has brought to us, there is much to learn and carry forward. There are innovations amongst all of us to be excited and optimistic about. And we'll hear today about ideas for mining successes and great ideas, and carrying those forward into the future. Today, we will hear from a great panel about what we have learned, what the research shows us about what positive outcomes have emerged, and how we can continue to learn from teachers and students so that their perspectives inform the future of schooling. So let me introduce our great panelists.

Elizabeth Foster:           What we'll do is we'll have each panel member offer some brief remarks and then we'll get into the questions that you're sharing in the chat box for a great discussion. First, we will hear from Jal Mehta. Jal is a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His research explores the role of the different forms of knowledge, play and tackling major social and political problems, particularly problems of human improvement. He has written extensively about what it would take to improve American education with a particular focus on the professionalization of teaching. He is the author of many publications, including The Allure of Order: High Hopes, Dashed Expectations, and the Troubled Quest to Remake American Schooling, as well as In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School. Jal has also done quite a bit of research about the impact of and reflections by teachers and students during the pandemic. And so he'll share a bit of that research with us today.

Elizabeth Foster:           Next we'll hear from Neema Avashia. Neema has been a Civics teacher in the Boston Public School since 2003 and was recognized as a city-wide educator of the year in 2013. She has written and performed for The Moth StorySLAM and has become a powerful voice on the Boston Public Radio show, I can't say this word, I've tried several times. Cognosintia, you can-

Justin Reich:                 Cognoscenti I think.

Elizabeth Foster:           Cognoscenti, that's right. Thank you. I did practice but it just sticks in my head wrong.

Justin Reich:                 We all have them.

Elizabeth Foster:           Neema has published work about the urgent issues of our time including Newton North High School: Talking To Students When A Symbol Of Racial Hatred Is Unfurled Close To Home. When not working on essays about inequity in education and racism, Avashia writes about the complexity of growing up Indian in West Virginia. And I will say that I know you have done a recent podcast and some other great recent writings about the pandemic and listening to students, so we're eager to hear about those today as well. Then finally, we will hear from Justin Reich. Justin is an assistant professor of Digital Media in the Comparative Media Studies and Writing department at MIT. And he is the director of the Teaching Systems Lab. He is the author of Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education and is the host of the TeachLab podcast. His writings have been published in Science, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, as well as other scholarly journals and public venues. He started his career as a high school history teacher and a coach of wrestling and outdoor adventure activities.

Elizabeth Foster:           So I'm excited about this panel today. I know that the three of them have been working together closely on research about teaching and learning during the pandemic, what we can learn from listening to teachers and students. And we've actually talked a lot about optimism for the future of schooling as a result. So I think we're going to have a great discussion. Before I turn it over to Jal, I would just like to highlight that a lot of the themes you will hear from Jal today and throughout the conversation have been captured in an article by Jal in our recent magazine. You'll see the theme is Looking Ahead. And again, you'll see this theme of Seizing the Opportunity and learning from what we've all just experienced over the past year. So I encourage you to take a look at that if you haven't already. With that, I'll turn it over to Jal to hear about your research and your finding about teachers and schools. Thanks.

Jal Mehta:                    Great. Thanks so much, Elizabeth. Really appreciate the introduction and great to be with you and Justin and Neema today. So I think the framing thought for today is, we have this pandemic, we are still in the middle of a pandemic, schooling has been considerably disrupted, and at some point fingers crossed, we will go back to something that looks more like school as we used to have it. And I think the question is, as we move into that space, what do we want to carry forward from this period? Have there been actually some good things that have happened during this period or things that we've learned? And then what do we want to hospice? What is no one asking to go back to? Or if you're a frozen fan, what could we let go? Might as well get something useful out of that for those who have kids.

Jal Mehta:                    So I think that's the big frame that I want to offer, and the title is Name, Nourish, Connect, Grow, and that comes from some work on emergence. And so this is an organizational theory and that idea is pretty basic, it's that when there's a massive disruption, lots of new and different things happen. And what good leaders do is they look at all of those seeds and they try to cultivate the ones that are growing in a good direction, and connect them to each other and build them up. So we'll offer a bunch of ideas over the next 40 minutes or so, but I really think the most important thing, if I could just offer one message, it would be talk with your teachers and your students and your community members about what they would like to hold on to from this year, and what they would like to let go of going forward.

Jal Mehta:                    And I don't imagine that this will all be accomplished by next September, I'm imagining that this is a process that could continue over a period of time. I just wanted to stress four things that we've seen out there in the world that might be the kinds of things that I'm talking about. I wrote a piece in The New York Times at the beginning of the winter called Make Schools More Human, and so that's the overall theme that connects the things that I'm going to say. So I feel like one of the things that's happened this year in some places is, closer and fuller relationships between students and teachers. Teachers have in some cases visited students' houses, in other cases seen into their houses over Zoom. Parents and teachers in some places have had actually more time to talk, or at least they had a chance to talk at the beginning of the year. There's just a recognition that the kid who gets dropped off at eight o'clock, all the stuff that happens before eight and after three is really relevant to what happens in between eight and three.

Jal Mehta:                    And if we could hold onto some of that going forward and trying to think about how we might do that, that's one thing. Second thing has to do with schedules. A number of schools moved from a six or a seven block schedules in middle schools and high schools where teachers could be upwards of... I was talking with a teacher yesterday who had 187 kids who are her responsibility. You can't build those kinds of relationships at those numbers. And so a fair number of schools have moved to having longer blocks where teachers are overall responsible for fewer students at a time, which allows for more relationship building. It allows for, within a class period, some time for building trust and relationships, as well as some time for developing content. And so, was the schedule this year for some of you actually better than a normal schedule, and could we carry some of that forward into a new world?

Jal Mehta:                    A third thing is, we've learned what we should've known all along, which is that kids are not one size fits all. Some kids really don't mind so much being at home, and other kids it was absolutely miserable. And that's because some kids are extroverted, some kids are introverted, some kids were bullied when they were at school. Some kids like being at home. So is there a way that we could... I visited a school once where there were four classrooms around open space. And the idea was that the teachers would interact more and there'd be more sharing and collaboration.

Jal Mehta:                    And then a kid was showing me around and he was like, "In the middle of these four classrooms, there's this big open space. And you can be there if you want to see the other kids, but if you walk down this hallway, we have these chairs that face off out the windows and aren't really within view of all the other kids. So if you're tired of being in the middle of a maelstrom, you can come sit in this chair and do your work and look out the window." And so it was a small thing, but it was just like kids need different things. And so how could we accommodate that? And then I think a huge lesson of this year has just been slowing down. I saw a lot of that in the chat. Life in schools in general for everybody, basically kids, teachers, parents, it's just one thing after another. And I think some people have appreciated the slightly slower pace of life this year.

Jal Mehta:                    I do my academic research on deeper learning, and you can't do deep learning if you're trying to race through content. You need space and time to work on things. And so I think in a lot of places, as teachers have realized, that they're not going to get through the content they would get through in a normal year. They've come together and tried to think about, "What are our most important learning goals, what are our most important content knowledge, what are our most important skills?" And then pair a way to focus on those things. And that also seems like a salutatory change for schools going forward. So it's been a really hard year in lot of ways and I think we're going to hear some of that from Neema next. But I think the question from going forward is, we had this disruption, what do we want to carry forward and what do we want to let go of? So I'll stop there and pass it to Neema.

Neema Avashia:           So I want to start by just being really transparent with folks that when we transitioned to remote learning in the spring, it was a very, very royal disaster for me and my students. Initially we thought we were going to be closed for two weeks, and then two weeks became six weeks, and then six weeks became until the end of the school year. And the level of training and the lack of clarity for any of us about what we were doing or why, or how, just created a situation where in person school, 95% of my kids were engaged in doing what they needed to do and thriving to a situation where I was lucky if I was seeing 50% of my kids engaging on a daily basis. And as a teacher that felt really terrible. I felt very clear that I was failing. And I was trying really hard to hold that it wasn't individual failure, but it felt like one, a lot.

Neema Avashia:           And so I spent a lot of time thinking in the spring about how things needed to change in the fall and I realized that I didn't know the answers. I didn't know how it was going to be different. And that the only way I was going to figure that out was by spending a lot of time really sitting with young people and listening to them about what had not worked, and what needed to be different moving forward. And so Justin and I did a little bit of experimenting in the spring where we ran a design power hour with some of my students to get their ideas about how they would have re-envisioned last September. I did a lot of talking with young people and a lot of listening to them, and then really changed a lot of my practice for September, and really pushed my school to change practices too.

Neema Avashia:           So we are a school that moved from a six period day to three classes at a time. We have a module structure where students take three classes for four weeks and then switch. And then they come back to me every four weeks. We started our school day later, we created an advisory structure where every student had a person who was like their adult, who was responsible for checking in with them and their family on a regular basis. We tried to just make every adjustment we could to respond to what kids told us, which is that remote learning was really overwhelming. That they were really struggling with feeling if they got into a hole, they couldn't get out of it. That they were overwhelmed by the amount of communication that was happening to their families from multiple people. We just really used the ideas that young people shared with us to design forward. And that principle, I think, has also just carried me through this year, which has been full of change and full of changing messaging that ultimately, every time I have a question, if I go back to young people, I get a lot of clarity around how to answer it.

Neema Avashia:           But what has been stunning to me as we start to think about full reopening of schools across the country, as we start to think about what September looks like, is the disconnect between what young people are saying they need and what adults in leadership positions think young people need. And that disconnected is shocking because the majority of my young people, when they talk about the return to school, they're talking about the need for connecting with their peers, connecting with adults, strengthening relationships, having opportunities to grieve people that they've lost, really having opportunities to rediscover who they are, because that's something they feel like they've lost hold of during this pandemic. And that need for connection and relationship comes so clearly from young people.

Neema Avashia:           And it is so drastically different from the messaging that I feel like we're getting about this idea of learning loss and how our focus as kids come back to school is going to be about, well, they are X number of years behind, and the data shows their long-term outcomes are going to be Y because of this gap. And it's like, but what about the fact that if we don't meet kids' emotional needs, we're not going to make progress on the academics? And I teach the book Just Mercy to my students, and we're reading right now. So I've now read Just Mercy three times in the last eight weeks with my students. And so it's just making me think a lot about Bryan Stevenson's idea of proximity, that the only way that you come up with good solutions is when you are proximate with the people who are most effected by your policies and by your practices.

Neema Avashia:           And I think in this moment, there is a profound lack of proximity between decision makers and the young people most affected by those decisions. And so I'm really hoping that in our conversation today, we're going to be able to give you some tools to help take the proximity that you have to young people and use it to amplify their voices and their beliefs about what they need, because I am very, very convinced that if our solutions are not grounded in what young people are saying they need, our solutions are not going to work. So thanks.

Elizabeth Foster:           Thanks Neema. Yeah, I can't wait for this conversation about the tools to help us get closer to students' experiences and beliefs, and ways and structures to listen to them. Because I think that what Jal said is right, that kids are experiencing this very differently, and we can't guess what we think they need, we have to really listen. So I think Justin is going to help us with some of those tools and structures to-

Justin Reich:                 Yeah. Absolutely. And also just to put one more fine point on what Jal and Neema have said, there is exactly one generation of students in American history that has gone to school in the midst of a pandemic, there are no other experts on this topic. And so I think that's just one more reason to be really close to these young people. There are lots of times as educators, we can say, "We went through that as students, we went through that as teachers, we know what this is about." For almost all of us we just don't know what this is about. And by listening and asking, we can really find out. So Jal and Neema and I like to do research projects together. And we like to do them in different participatory ways and invite lots of people to be involved. And so here's one that we want to invite you all to be part of.

Justin Reich:                 And it's basically pretty straightforward. We want to encourage you to have a conversation with your students. If you're a classroom teacher, this is pretty straightforward, take an advisory period, take a class period, set it aside. If you're a department head, an instructional coach, an assistant principal, find some folks to do this with. I mean, hopefully in your role, you have students that you're connecting with in one form or another, but if not, find some classroom teacher, teaching librarian, paraprofessional partners to do this with. And we want to give you five questions to ask. We have two slide decks, they're beautiful. If you're in a place where school starts in September, you can call the project imagining September. We've got pushback from our colleagues in the South and West that we're being exclusive, so we also made an imagining August slide.

Justin Reich:                 And then we want you to ask five questions to your students, or ask some fraction of the five questions. What are the aspects of remote learning that you've appreciated the most and would like to see carried back into in person schooling? That's a version of Jal's amplify question. What was really hard about remote learning that you hope you never have to manage again as a student? And that's Jal's hospicing question. We think there are a lot of adults right now in all kinds of roles who are asking, "What should we do next year?" And our version of that for kids is after this pandemic, what do you hope adults will do to make in-person school better for next year, and what do you hope that they don't do next year? And then two final questions is there's so much conversation which is organized under the term learning loss, and if that's going to be a key idea in adult's response, let's ask kids what they think of that idea. What do you feel like you've missed out on or lost because of the pandemic in school this year?

Justin Reich:                 And then finally, what are you most proud of? So you can take this slide deck, you can make a copy and modify it however you want. Add questions or subtract questions, or put your school logo on it, or really do anything you want with it. If you want, you can translate it into other languages. You can adjust it to be not just with students, but with students and families or anything else you want with it. When you're done, there's a little survey link here and we'd love by April 15th to have a bunch of you submit your thoughts to the survey link. And the survey is going to ask you to reflect on three questions which are these in the middle here, which you won't be able to see, but I can at least read my notes for them. What kind of student responses stood out to you most in the conversation that you had, what struck you or surprised you the most? What kinds of responses did you hear most consistently from students? What were the key themes? And then what are you hoping to change about your own practice, or would you advocate to change at your school based on what you heard from students?

Justin Reich:                 Now some of you listening to this might be principals, you might be superintendents, you might be folks who have the power to say, "We're just all going do this. We're all going to go back to our classrooms and every teacher's responsible for taking one class period between now and April 15th," or whenever you all decide to participate in this. A bunch of you are teachers and instructional coaches, or department heads and you just don't have that much control. It may be that you work in a school or district which just is at the district level, at the state level, just isn't going to listen to students all that much because it's not in their DNA. And they didn't show up to this webinar and whatever. I mean, just give them a fair try. I just want to say how important I think it is that this change that involves listening to students, it happens as much from the bottom up as it does from the top down.

Justin Reich:                 If individual teachers and educators in a community listen to students, then regardless of what state leaders do... They'll do things that we don't like or whatever, but the day-to-day experience that most students have will be affected by these conversations. I have a colleague that I work with sometimes here, his name is Peter Senge and he's at the Sloan School of Business, he's a pretty well-known management guy. He wrote a book called The Fifth Discipline. And he'd done a lot of work in education, but he's also done a lot of work in finance and in manufacturing with people in China and things like that. And one thing that I often learn from him is that sometimes the dilemmas that people have in schools are actually just like the dilemmas people have when they work with other people wherever you might be.

Justin Reich:                 And one of the things Peter says is, "In almost every sector, no one feels like they're empowered to make change." Change is not made by people who we should have told, "Well, now it's your turn to figure out what it is that we're supposed to do." Change is made by people who go, "This isn't right and we could do better." And they just take it upon themselves in whatever sphere of influence they have to try to make things better. And I really think there are all kinds of examples of schools and school communities that make progress in this kind of way. So, to make concrete the kinds of things that Jal and Neema are talking about, whether you do it with us or do it on your own, we'd really encourage you to have these conversations with the young people in your lives. We've got five questions that we've tested and think worked pretty well. And if you've got answers and want to take some notes and send them to us, we promise to read them and to stitch all the different ideas we get together. And to try to report back to you all this summer sometime about what we think we learned.

Elizabeth Foster:           That's great. Thank you, Justin. I'm seeing a lot of comments in the chat about just how much people appreciate this idea and the concept but also the tools and supports, and the slides. And people are eager to hear what you all learn in terms of themes over the summer, I guess. And I will say that this, you mentioned this only briefly, but I tried this out on my teenagers and I learned a lot. I have two daughters, one is in 9th grade and one is in 12th grade, and these were great conversation starters. I learned a lot about their vastly different experiences, so it works around the dinner table as well. So one of the questions I'd like to ask Neema is, what are some of the things you've learned from doing this with your students that might've been a surprise to you, and how has that given you new insight about some changes to make?

Neema Avashia:           I think that what's interesting is, this is hard. When we ask kids about what they want to change in schools, when we return to them fully in person, in some ways what's been hardest and most surprising is how low the baseline is for kids. That the things they're asking for feel like they shouldn't have to ask for them. So young people are asking that they not be in schools where their bodies are policed. They don't want to be told what to wear, they don't want to be told whether they can have a hood on or not. They don't want to be told that their jeans are too tight or have holes in them or whatever else. Right? They're talking about can we start school later? Because it's really early and it's really hard for us when we're having to get up at 5:30 in the morning to get on the train, to get to school by 7:10.

Neema Avashia:           I want them to dream really big. I want them to be like, "If we could blow up the school and recreate it, what would you create?" And in a way they can't, because there are so many things about school that get in the way of their being a human, that it's really hard to dream, right? If what happens to you every day that when you get to school is you get put in a little box, it doesn't let you be a person or a full person, then it's really hard to imagine a space where you could be a full person, and what that kind of education would actually look like. And so that to me has been the hardest thing, is that, these are the kinds of things kids have to ask for. Kids have to ask for the ability to go to the bathroom when they want to go to the bathroom, instead of it being like, you get two bathroom passes for the month or whatever we arbitrarily decide.

Neema Avashia:           And then the rest of the time, tough. We have created conditions, maybe not in all schools, but in a lot of schools where we have just narrowed what kids are able to be and who they're able to be to such a profound extent that it makes it hard for kids to dream. And so I think there's a lot of work for us to do around first creating more human educational spaces, which is what Jal writes about a lot. But it's like we almost can't dream bigger until we do a better job of meeting the basic humanity of young people in schools.

Elizabeth Foster:           Powerful. Yeah. I mean, that's such a powerful statement. And I'm seeing lots of support for that kind of focus on students' humanity in the chat box. And I don't know Justin or Jal, if you want to jump in on that. I mean, one of the themes we're seeing in the questions is, it's hard to make this happen. It's hard because there's so much pressure to go back to the way things were before. This is a big question, I mean, what do you take away, how do you engage others, how do you build support for making these kinds of changes?

Jal Mehta:                    Yeah. I think we get that question a lot. And I could turn my screen and show you a hundred books on the change process but they basically all come down to, make a case for what you want, build relationships, build power and push at whatever level that you can. I mean, I've come to think it helps to think almost like from a movement mindset perspective, a sort of like, as one door closes, another door opens kind of thing. So like, okay, your principal doesn't like your ideas, but your department chair does. Or that often you can't change policy, but no one's watching what's happening in your classroom that carefully. I mean, I tend to think that if what teachers do with students works well and students report that they're learning and parents are happy, unless you're in a really deep turnaround situation where if your kids don't pass the test the school is going to be closed or something like that, you essentially can build political power by virtue of being the person who's having success with students and parents.

Jal Mehta:                    So that's one answer. I did want to pick up on Neema's point, which is, I think this point about kids not being able to be fully human at school, I really do think that has been a big theme of the year. I think teachers have been able to, I said this before, but teachers and Neema could probably talk about this more really than I could, but teachers have been able to see into kids' homes. And that was embarrassing sometimes at first, but this is what real life is actually like. kids don't have to sit in chairs to learn. My kid has been doing virtual schooling and after three weeks he moved from a desk to the couch. And he still goes back to the desk sometimes if he needs to draw or write something that's required, but if he's just listening to the teacher or talking, there's not really any reason. There's no correlation between the hardness of the chair and the depth of the learning. In fact, it's probably pretty close to the opposite. So I do think in ways large and small, the more we could invite more of real life and real self, the better off we would be.

Justin Reich:                 I'll add one more concrete thing to what Jal and Neema said, which is I think it was Arundhati Roy who had a great observation that The Pandemic is a Portal. And pandemics have been portals throughout human history. That they are markers between before times and after times. And they're portals because we get to choose what we bring through the portal. One thing that I found surprisingly powerful is, I spent some time a year ago, March, reading the early state guidance about emergency pandemic remote learning. And I was just incredibly struck by how humane those documents were. That the West Virginia Department of Education says their first priority is making sure kids are fed, Department of Education talking about grace, talking about meeting students where they're at.

Justin Reich:                 In one of the hardest times we've ever had in education when we were most concerned about students, we weren't thinking about test scores and assessment, and other things like that. We had a widely shared agreement across the system, like what are people's needs right now? And how we can meet them. I think a great question to ask is when we were most concerned about the students, when were most concerned about the pandemic, what was most important to us in that moment, and why? And then the follow-up question is, okay, how is that going to be any less important in September of 2021 or December of 2021? For a lot of kids in the United States, a lot of days are like the worst days of the pandemic. There's all kinds of pandemics and suffering that young people show their resilience through. So I think that might be one place to start having some of these conversations.

Justin Reich:                 One of the things that we thought were really important for young... I'll give you another really concrete example that was one of my favorites, if you flip through the recommended daily schedules in March and April last year, emerging pandemic learning, all kinds of organizations, State Department of Education, big districts, they published recommended daily schedules as people were making up pandemic learning. Almost all of them were about half a day. I'm not saying we should necessarily go back to half a day of school, I think it's good to have cool things for kids to do all day or a good chunk of the day. But in almost all those schedules, even though they were constrained to like, here's three hours of recommended stuff, almost every schedule suggested that we make time for physical activity and creative expression every day. That there was a slot for PE and a slot for the arts in all those recommended schedules.

Justin Reich:                 And during regular times, during pre-times, we don't make room every day for kids to exercise and for kids to have creative expression. If that was something that we wanted to prioritize in a half day schedule in April and May of last year, why don't we want to prioritize that for September next year? I think a lot of kids need physical movement and time for creative expression every day. And what would schools like if we were to prioritize that?

Elizabeth Foster:           Amen to that. I think that is a really important point. I mean, we were focused on what kids need, what they're bringing to learning, how can we best support their needs. And we're moving a little bit away from that as we start to talk about getting back to normal, whatever that means. There's a great question in the chat box actually about, what's your estimate of how long we have to seize this moment? And any thoughts on how we push back against people trying to move back to a pre-pandemic... This is a little bit the same question as before, but what do we get rid of in order to make room for this kind of experience in the year ahead, or in the years ahead?

Jal Mehta:                    Neema, you said that you were able to not just shift some things in your classroom, but to shift some things in your school going into this year. Do you want to talk a little bit about how you did that?

Neema Avashia:           Yeah, I mean, we actually used last year's Imagining September report that was put out as the basis for redesigning our school schedule, for rethinking curriculum. Really using what young people were saying and what educators around the country were saying to say, "We're going to put our stake in doing what's right for young people. And we're not going to let the fear of accountability or the fear of standardized testing be the thing that drives us. We can't let compliance or obedience to external measures be the thing that makes us not do the right thing in this moment." And that's what let us change, that's why my Civics curriculum this year arguably reflects 30% of the state civic standards, maybe if I'm lucky. But I couldn't teach the state's Civic standards the way they're laid out, all 12 pages of them. If I did that in remote learning, I would lose my kids.

Neema Avashia:           My young people are not going to be online learning about the Mayflower Compact. Maybe yours would be psyched, mine, not so much. But my kids have been thrilled to read Enrique's journey and learn about immigration through that book. They've loved reading Just Mercy. We're going to read Stamped by Ibram Kendi and Jason Reynolds next. I feel really good about the curriculum I've created. It has absolutely nothing to do with what the state of Massachusetts thinks my kids should be learning right now. And I'm okay with that. That's a decision I've made, I'll live with it and we'll move forward from there. But I think it requires all of us to say that. It requires all of us to say that, these set of standards or measures that have been developed external to us, they don't make sense in this moment. I'd argue they didn't make sense ever, but they really don't make sense right now.

Neema Avashia:           And for people to be using them in a moment where it really makes no sense is not about what's good for young people. And it's not about meeting the moment. It's because somebody had a contract and have to pay somebody else, and that person wants their money. Those are the drivers that are causing this right now. It's not grounded in what young people need or what's right for them. And so how do we think about the fact that as adults who are sharing space with young people and in relationship with them, what does it look like to get loud for them? What does it look like for us to collectively stand up and say, "We're not going to do this, this isn't the right thing." Because I think the reality is that we have let a lot happen to kids that we shouldn't have allowed to happen. And that was happening before the pandemic. And I think what the pandemic did was make it so it was happening to a bigger set of kids, more visibly. But the reality is, it was happening to students in classrooms like the one where I teach well before the pandemic.

Neema Avashia:           And I don't think as adults that we have collectively really stood up on behalf of young people to say, "This isn't okay." And I think we have to. And I think we have to make sure young people's voices are amplified at the highest levels so that when people, whether it's the secretary of education or the president of the United States, who's talking about learning loss, there are young people saying, "Hold up, this doesn't match." We have to have it so that young people's voices come on parallel with those voices of adults who talk as though they're acting on behalf of young people, but aren't actually rooted in what's happening to young people. Sorry. That was long.

Elizabeth Foster:           That was awesome. And you can see in the chat box that people are really appreciating your message, and your clarity, and your advocacy for young people. I hope you can see that Neema. I have a question though that's come up a couple of times in the chat box, and that's about really what you were just getting at, advocating for this new way of doing things. And there's a couple of questions about how your colleagues are reacting or collaborating with you. And it sounds like you're using the findings from the last research report as an advocacy tool with your administration. And I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about those two things. And Jal and Justin obviously jump in as well.

Jal Mehta:                    You go on Neema, we're just along for the ride.

Neema Avashia:           It's been work, it's taken time. A lot of people are very tied to the ways we've done things and issues of compliance and minutes, and how are we going to meet those things? Those are conversations we have a lot. And so it's actually really helpful to have documents that we can ground ourselves in and to have bodies of research that are really pulling from other places. And pulling from groups of young people and groups of educators to say, "No. Look, we know this thing and it's not just us, it's people all over the country who are saying this thing." Otherwise it would have just been Neema being radical and weird and saying, "I really think we should do these things." It has really helped to be like, "I really think these things, and here's a report from MIT and Harvard that says so. And here's an article from The New York Times that says so." It's just very helpful to have some research base behind what I think is common sense, but a lot of people feel anxious about or hesitant about. And so being able to put that research into the conversation has been a huge help in moving the conversation forward.

Jal Mehta:                    The only thing I might add to that is, if we looked beyond the United States and we looked at the direction of the world conversation, when people made it OECD and think about the future directions of education, the leaders in those conversations are places like Canada, British Columbia where they already are... The stuff that Neema is saying and that makes Neema a radical, is mainstream policy document in British Columbia. So they narrowed the standards. I mean they thinned, didn't narrow, but they thinned the standards to name five big big goals and five big skills for each grade in each year. And I feel like five is a great number. You're in school for nine months, if you're responsible for five big ideas and developing five skills, that's a month and three weeks per thing. That creates space and flexibility for Neema to do units on all of those things she said. But she's building their critical thinking, their critical literacy, their advocacy, their writing skills, their interpretation skills, et cetera. If we're going to have standards, those are the sorts of things that should be in the standards. And so those are the sorts of things that Neema is describing should be.

Elizabeth Foster:           Maybe this is a great time to share again about how people can engage with your research, but then also using those tools again, let's just make sure we have those links in the chat.

Justin Reich:                 Yes. So, I had mentioned one that we're doing right now, and Neema also mentioned a thing that we did before. So out of our group, we actually had three different research projects that are key to three really important stakeholder groups; students, and then teachers, and then education stakeholders, leaders more broadly. So we told you about the work we do with students. Another project that we did last year that Neema referenced is that we got these multi-stakeholder groups together. And we tried to have some design based conversations about, at that point, it was what planning for fall 2020 should look like. And now we're doing the same thing with folks for fall 2021. We're asking adults and multi-stakeholder groups some of the same kinds of questions. What we're experimenting with right now are, what do you want to amplify for next year? What do you want to hospice? What do we not need anymore?

Justin Reich:                 One thing that both last year and this year we've tried to point people to is, some way of thinking about the future that is organized around a small number of principles or designs. There's this notion that the way we need to respond to the future, is that we better have 147 point plan for addressing learning loss in each of these different dimensions and things like that. And you actually can't get people organized very easily around 147 point plans. One thing we've been playing around with are metaphors. What are metaphors that we think could help us imagine what next year looks like? Another idea that we've played around with, we sometimes call tentpole ideas. What's an idea that's so big and so central that a whole bunch of the rest of the design of next year, the rest of the changes of next year, might fall underneath that.

Justin Reich:                 So I have put a few links ago up in the chat and I can repost them. Some Google workbooks and some other things that we made last year that were protocols for having design meetings. Then again, probably the most important thing is just get a bunch of different folks together at different levels, teachers and educators and librarians, and the custodial staff and the paraprofessionals, and get together and start talking about what would be great for next year to look like. And then the third part of our research project is, there's 40 teachers that we interviewed last year in April, and we're trying to find those 40 teachers again and interview them this year. And just keep learning more about their experiences.

Justin Reich:                 Everything that we're describing though, is just organized around a couple of simple ideas, which is that it really matters when you listen to the people who are closest to the challenges. And there are all kinds of impossible constraints to work around. But before you start trying to tackle each of the impossible constraints, start with something that looks like, what would we be most excited about next year? Another thing that Jal and I have talked about, and I think we've talked about some with Neema but it would be great to get her feedback as well. A weird thing about this year is that it was exhausting and took an enormous amount of people's time and we completely rebuilt school systems, but in a lot of ways, we also rebuilt them into what they were before. Much of what we did was like a great expense and time to recreate a lot of the typical systems of schooling.

Justin Reich:                 People are tired, they just did a dramatic, but somewhat conservative activity. Are schools going to completely reinvent themselves in the fall of 2021? I'm not so sure because I think people are wiped. So part of what we have to do is say, "How are we going to think about the process of reflecting about this past year, of grieving, of mourning, of celebrating, that will probably take us some months, take us through the summer, take us into next year?" And hold within that reflective process the energy to say, "Hey it may take us some months to get to this, but we really have to make sure that we don't let go of and lose some of the important lessons that we learned here." We have to fight and resist against this notion to just go back to what schooling was before the pandemic. We're probably going to have to try to hold a space in between going back to what it was before the pandemic and completely reinventing schools. Because we don't want the former to happen and we're too tired for the latter. So we have to invent something in between to stick with for a little while as we rest up. I mean, to me, the notion of reflecting and grieving, and celebrating, is one meaningful way of carrying those energies for change forward.

Elizabeth Foster:           Yeah. That's actually a perfect way to wrap up our discussion. The time has flown by. I think we need you to come back every week to just re-energize us and remind us to honor the feelings of fatigue and what we've all been through, but inspire us to do something with what we've learned. And with that, I'll just thank everyone for attending. It's been a great conversation. Thank you very much again to our panel and have a great rest of the day. Thank you.

Justin Reich:                 Thank Elizabeth. Thanks everybody.

Neema Avashia:           Thanks everyone.

Justin Reich:                 Thanks for listening to TeachLab, that was the webinar “How to Learn from the Pandemic” produced by Learning Forward. Special thanks to Elizabeth Foster, Ariel Cain, and the team at Learning Forward for letting us share this on TeachLab, and many thanks to Jal Mehta and Neema Avashia for a great conversation. You can check out our show notes for the link to the full webinar and all the resources we discussed.  You can find my new book Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can't Transform Education, at booksellers everywhere. Be sure to check out failuretodisrupt.com to sign up for future online events, that's failuretodisrupt.com. 

Justin Reich:                 The Teaching Systems Lab now has two courses you can sign up for on edX. You can join myself and Vanderbilt professor Rich Milner in a free, self-paced online course for educators called Becoming a More Equitable Educator: Mindsets and Practices. Or you can join me and Sam Wineburg from Stanford University in “Sorting Truth from Fiction: Civic Online Reasoning” where you’ll learn the skills and practices of information literacy that folks like fact-checkers use to sort fact from fiction online. You can find the link to these courses in our show notes and you can enroll now. If you like TeachLab please leave us a review and subscribe so you never miss an episode. This episode of TeachLab was produced by Aimee Corrigan and Garrett Beazley, recorded and sound mixed by Garrett Beazley. Stay safe, until next time.