Jeremy Smith: Teachers have embraced the opportunity to build new skills

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) English teacher Valerie Gates, left, distributes a computer to help with remote learning, to West Hight School junior Monserrat Roque at West High School Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Utah students in public elementary, middle and high schools will not take year-end standardized tests this spring because of the coronavirus pandemic that has shuttered schools for at least two weeks, the state board of education decided Thursday.

What a wild moment in time as educators around the world sprint to address the needs required by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the last weeks have been a time of excitement, it has also been a reality check. Moving from face-to-face instruction to managing an online learning environment has been a steep learning curve for every educator. However, what has been most impressive is the fact that such a bold adaptation of teaching practices is successfully happening in classrooms across the nation in such a small window of time.

It is amazing to see systems, schools and classrooms making huge pivots to their instructional practices — breaking free of binding mandates and a limiting focus on end-of-year assessments to embrace new skills and meet students and families where they are at this difficult time.

At a time when some might have expected educators to balk at the overwhelming task being asked of them, the world has instead seen educators jump into meaningful and connected professional development to improve their practices and refine their approaches. Most teachers have done nothing but embrace this opportunity and have fully rejected the notion that others should expect anything less from them.

Additionally, very few teachers will return to the classroom and maintain the norm of recent years. Most will return appreciative of the time they have to connect face-to-face with their students and will value the opportunity that in-person interactions allow.

Not only that, but valuable educational technologies that in the past may have been discouraged by districts or ignored by educators will now be embraced and utilized to the benefit of all families and students. Additionally, both those who have been advocating for the use of these available technologies and those who had never used them previously will forever be able to put these tools to practical use in ways that will enhance the learning of all students no matter the future circumstance.

If nothing else, our current circumstances have also brought to light issues of equity that can no longer be ignored. We have evidence of the important role schools can, and must, play to best help students and their families educationally and otherwise. We can now see how these issues of access, support and opportunity truly impact students and families in significant ways.

Our focus in the future must turn from simply identifying these inequities to finding solutions that will address the issues head-on and bring lasting, positive change.

The reduction or elimination of directives, the encouragement to consider individual circumstances of both students and educators and the open sharing and availability of resources has also shown that when flexibility is allowed, educators can deliver. Of course, there are still limitations and challenges, but those specific difficulties are becoming more clear, which means that in coming days, weeks and months, we will most likely see new solutions and additional opportunities come forth.

This is a moment in time where we can do more than simply make do. This is clearly a time where past and future problems in education can be explored and solutions discovered. The educational landscape has changed more in 10 days in many locations than it has in the past 10 years — and in mostly positive ways.

Perhaps by granting our educators the freedom to creatively support students everywhere to meet the challenges that are inevitable on the path ahead, we will enable them to envision a future that clearly shows how their efforts make the significant impact they have always desired.

Jeremy Smith is a Utah Teacher Fellow and elementary educator in Smithfield

Jeremy Smith is a Utah Teacher Fellow and elementary educator in Smithfield who can be found at @effort2learn. He is dedicated to sharing ideas for lasting student learning and identifying sustainable educational practices.