This Moment in Education Is Demanding. To Move the Field Forward, We Must Support Educators in Three Key Ways.

The lasting impact of the pandemic is becoming more apparent as students and teachers return to the classroom this year. The gap between “haves” and “have-nots” has widened and more acute. Teacher shortage and burnout increased dramatically. The teachers, who are already vulnerable, have been challenged not only to meet all the students where they are in their learning, but also to support their emotional needs as they cope during crises.

This moment in education is demanding, and it is also historical. Regardless of your association with the core business of education, we have the opportunity to support teachers on the front lines by helping them address three major challenges.

1. Accountability of learning technologies.

With increased federal support to fund technologies in classrooms, expand broadband access, and put devices into the hands of more students, educational technology continues to play an important role in the lives of teachers and students.

While leaders at the state and county levels are investing in technology solutions to help their schools recover and meet students wherever they are, the problem is that not all education technology products are created equal. We should investment in teachers by funding technology solutions that are proven to meet their needs and improve student learning.

Teachers can only do so much with technology solutions that have been rushed by development to market and lack the research demonstrating learning growth. Therefore, education leaders must use technological solutions with the highest standards of effectiveness. Teachers and students should not be test subjects for unproven products.

This means that, as education technology providers, it is our duty to put our solutions under the utmost scrutiny and readiness with third party assessment demonstrating our commitment to student learning growth. Now more than ever, we need to provide teachers with the best tools, and only solutions to rigorous, independent review must earn the right to support teachers and their students.

2. Support the learning needs of teachers and students today, not just preparing for tomorrow’s assessment.

The most effective learning tools and resources must complement classroom lessons and enable teachers to engage each student with personalized learning experiences. We need to move beyond tools that are taught for testing and instead focus on solutions that provide teachers with real-time student data and training that enables them to better communicate with each of their students right now.

To do this, we first need to ensure that classroom technologies do not create more work for teachers. Instead, educational technology should encourage and challenge each student to learn skills deeply up to proficiency by adapting to individual learning.

As students learn from mistakes and challenge themselves to develop a learning curiosity, edtech provides educators with real-time student learning data with actionable recommendations beyond test scores. When combined with their own student feedback, these recommended next steps and lessons give teachers a more complete view of when and how to differentiate students.

It is also the responsibility of education technology partners and education departments to provide continuing professional development embedded in the function relevant to teachers’ learning needs.

This pandemic has put enormous pressure on teachers to adapt quickly. We must look to teachers as learners themselves to support them today as well as when the pandemic subsides and teachers enter a new world with new definitions of education, new expectations for learning technologies, and new levels of partnership with parents of home learning. In partnership, we can ensure the best support for teachers to customize instructions for individual students and small groups

3. Partnering with schools to adapt to the social and emotional needs of teachers and students.

When discussing the needs of teachers and students, we cannot ignore mental health. Teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate and experiencing high levels of job-related stress and depression. Students also face challenges in these difficult times and deal with increased stress and trauma, requiring more individual attention from their teachers. Educators and their students cannot recover from the pandemic if we do not support our social and emotional learning needs – first.

We have to go beyond acknowledging the existence of the crisis. Educators should be given strategies for creating safe and connected learning environments. School and district leaders should implement professional development and staff retreats focused on mental and physical health. Additionally, ESL efforts must recognize the social injustices experienced by people of color in our societies and how the pandemic has exacerbated these already unfair conditions.

Instructional technologies and providers also play a role in this fundamental work. Not only can we build social and emotional learning tools into our services, but we can also understand that our partners prioritize mental health and wellbeing.

There are great challenges ahead, but I am optimistic that the future of learning is bright because of the dedication of our teachers and students. By constantly listening and adapting to their needs today, together we help address these immediate obstacles with solutions that pave a more equitable educational path for all students moving forward.

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