Save the Lessons

Nicole Wolff Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom

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“Throw away the bad experience, but save the lesson.” – Frank Sonnenberg

I think we can all agree the last year has been a bad experience. One that has forced many unwanted and unsolicited changes.

Change is inevitable. Sadly, this is true for even really, really bad change. Exhibit A: March 2020 and the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. In my twenty years in education, teachers have never experienced such abrupt, monumental change to their practice.

With only three weeks left in the longest school year ever, I’ve been thinking a lot about the changes we’ve been forced to make. Many of them I will gladly abandon in favor of previous methods once the pandemic is over. However, bad situations can produce innovative ideas and I’ve realized there are some pandemic born practices we should preserve and expand.

From the district level to the teacher level, there are positive processes we put in place that shouldn’t be cast aside.

District Level

 Live streaming Governing Board meetings

I’ve attended many school board meetings in multiple districts throughout the years. Unless a particularly controversial topic is being discussed, attendance is sparse.  Decisions that impact thousands of students are made in these meetings. Yet, school board meetings often have more empty chairs than people in attendance.

COVID changed this. When COVID mitigation protocols closed boardrooms to observers, many governing boards found alternative methods of making their meetings accessible.  Districts that had never before entered the digital world for board business began live streaming their meetings.

Suddenly, hundreds of people were “attending” the board meetings. It turns out parents and community members are interested in the work of the governing board. They just need a more accessible method to engage. Districts should continue to live stream their governing board meetings. It’s an enormous benefit to the community with very little downside.

Virtual options for parent teacher conferences

Parent-teacher conferences were held via Zoom or Google Meets this year because of health necessity.  What an unexpected revelation this turned out to be! Most schools strive for 100% turnout during parent teacher conferences. Despite best efforts by teachers and parents, this goal routinely goes unmet.

With the virtual options this year, my school had the best parent-teacher conference attendance we’ve had in a long time. My colleagues in other schools reported the same results.

Is in-person the preferred method for conferencing? Absolutely. But, Zoom is a close second and gives parents who may not otherwise attend the conference an opportunity to see and speak with their child’s teacher (again, it’s about opportunities for engagement). Districts should continue allowing teachers to use this platform for conferences and other parent meetings.

School Level

Personalize professional development

Pandemic teaching brought a whole new set of challenges for those of us who plan professional development for our school sites.  The circumstances cast a bright light on the wide range of teaching experience, technology expertise, and social emotional understanding within our school staff.

Because of the disparate professional development needs among our teachers, we diversified our PD options more than we ever have before. We have more than a dozen different professional development groups working on various strategies and practices. It requires more work and organization for those of us leading PD, but it has been well received by our teachers. Our school has 100% staff retention for next year and I believe one reason is because their professional needs are honored.

Scrutinize teacher burdens

The leadership team at my school decided early on we were not going to pretend the 2020-21 school year is a normal year.  There would be no business as usual for us. The amount of pressure our teachers are under and the range of new systems they had to learn and create is extraordinarily burdensome.

Based on this awareness, we decided to closely scrutinize any additional tasks or duties for their worthiness. Any new undertaking we are considering needs to be important enough to justify the extra stress it will place on teachers. If it isn’t worth the stress, we let it go.  I hope we continue to analyze initiatives with the same consideration for teachers’ time and energy.

Teacher Level

Be selective about student work

Students are living through the most uncertain, inconsistent, worrying time of their lives. Educators know this and they have appropriately adjusted their practices.  Teachers have greatly reduced the workload requirements for students. This means assignments are being closely examined for their impact on learning.  This mindset should continue. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to decide which assignments and tasks are the most important for student learning. There is no reason for us to go back to busy work and unnecessary practice.

Utilize video recordings

Despite their initial fear and discomfort, teachers have become adept at recording lessons for their students. Initially used for asynchronous learning, many teachers are discovering that the videos have tremendous benefits.

I believe this has been one of the best byproducts from pandemic teaching. Lesson recordings are a game changer. Students can refer back to them to review concepts or clarify misconceptions. Absences won’t be as academically consequential if students can watch the videos to obtain missed instruction.  If we keep any practice at all, it should be this one.

This last year has been hard and we are all yearning for our pre-pandemic instructional routines and techniques.  But, opportunity can be found in even the worst of experiences.

What lessons have you learned in the last year? What changes will you maintain?

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi from Pexels


I'm a California native. However, I've spent my entire career teaching in Arizona public schools, as well as instructing at the university level. My passion for teacher advocacy and support led me to become an Instructional Coach in 2013. I am currently a coach at a K-8 school in Goodyear and love the students and teachers I get to work with every day. I have spent my career actively involved in instructional improvement, chairing many committees including Response to Intervention, Academic Accountability, and Professional Development Committees. I was named Dysart Hero (teacher of the year) in 2012. I was honored to serve as a 2017-18 Arizona Hope Street Teacher Fellow. I earned a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education and a Master’s in Education/ESL from Ottawa University. I am a National Board Certified Teacher. I’m also endorsed as an Early Childhood Specialist, Reading Specialist, and Gifted Specialist. In my free time, I enjoy reading, camping, and spending time with my family.

Comments 4

  1. Caitlin Gawlowski

    I, too, hope that we can take the positive from this year and leave the negative behind. One of my biggest takeaways from this year is virtual parent-teacher conferences. I had so many more parents attend, and I hope that this will continue to be an option! As you said, in-person conferences will always be my first choice, but video conferencing is a great alternative. I would like to see online learning continue to be an option for students as we move forward from COVID-19. I believe that most students do best in the classroom, but some students were able to be successful online. These students should have a teacher dedicated to their online instruction if this continues to be an option, since teaching in-person and online is a challenge I will be happy to leave behind this year!

  2. Austine

    I agree and I loved the part where you were talking about analyze it & if it doesn’t serve the greater good let it go. It should be the motto for every year not just a pandemic year in my opinion.

  3. Susan Collins

    I love this post! I’ve been meditating on a similar topic. There has been a huge amount of innovation and improvement to existing practices. We have learned so much in the past year, and it’s not all bad. Business as usual was not always working and we shouldn’t go back to everything we were doing before the pandemic. If we do, we have lost the lesson.

  4. Kyle Bragg

    Thank you for this post, Nicolle! You are right – there are plenty of positives to take away from this year that we can use when closer to our “normal.” For example, I’m excited about the fact that now I have nearly a year’s worth of online instruction lessons. When we are in-person these coming years, I now have lessons created for students to access if they can’t make it to school. For example, if a student is out of town. They might not be able to be in our lesson live, but they can still access materials I have created for students to participate outside of school. This creates equitable learning opportunities for students who might not be able to get to school due to situations beyond their control.

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