August 2 Blog

Our Story is SO Different

Caitlin Gawlowski Current Affairs, Education Policy, Uncategorized

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The scene is set in the front office of a school before teachers have returned to work. There are two people, the school office manager, and the principal, sitting and working separately on their computers. The hustle and bustle of the school year have not begun, and there is a quiet stillness in the air. Two people enter through the front door, a mother and her son, and approach the front desk.

Office Manager and Principal: Hello!

Office Manager: How can I help you?

Mother: I’d like to enroll my children. I have three.

<Mother affectionately puts her hand on her son and gazes down at him. Son smiles a shy smile and then starts looking around the front office area.>

Office Manager: Ok, yes, we can do that. What is your address?

Mother: 1234 Main Street.

Office Manager: Yes, that is within our boundaries.

<Office manager goes to grab the paperwork for the mother to fill out. The principal stands and approaches the family.>

Principal: Hi, my name is Mrs. Smith. I’m the principal here.

<Principal looks at the son, smiling warmly behind the mask. You cannot see her mouth smiling, but you can see it in her eyes.>

What’s your name?

Son: Mike.

Principal: It’s nice to meet you, Mike!

Mother: We just moved here from California. I have a second-grader, a first-grader, that’s Mike here and a kindergartener. We’re really looking forward to being back in school.

Principal: How did school work out for you last year in California?

Mother: Well, our story is a little different. We were online with ABC Online School, and it was really rough. We tried for a bit, and it didn’t work out for us. So, after that, my husband and I just put them in daycare.

[End Scene]


This story is not as unique as this mother thinks. Many families struggled last year with online learning, decided that it was not worth stressing themselves out over, and, for lack of a better term, gave up. Some of these children are returning to classrooms this year, while others will remain online. This poses a challenge for teachers – How do I meet the needs of my students with more academic and social ability levels than ever before?

We are trying something called Academic Acceleration, which has replaced our intervention time. The goal of Acceleration is to catch students up as quickly as possible; moving on to their next skill deficit as soon as one is mastered. It has a quick pace and intends to move students as quickly as possible through the skills they are missing. There is a lot of overlap between Intervention and Acceleration, and in my mind, I always defined intervention as moving students as quickly as possible through the gaps in their knowledge. I do not know a single interventionist who would keep students who are behind working on a skill they have already mastered. I only have 30 minutes maximum with a group for Intervention, or now Acceleration, and that time is sacred!

There is a difference in mindset between intervention and acceleration. Parents hear “intervention” and may have a negative response because of a negative association with the word “intervention”; when a parent hears “acceleration” they may be more understanding of how we are working with our students and trying to move them through their unfinished learning as quickly as possible. After last year, we can all benefit from a little extra positivity so I am all for this name change.

Teachers already do a lot of things at the beginning of the year that will help students get back into the swing of the school year, such as explicitly teaching and practicing classroom procedures and routines. Teachers often teach and reinforce the rules of other areas of the school, too, such as the cafeteria, playground, bus, etc. In the primary grades, teachers are often teaching social and emotional skills at the beginning of the year, which may turn into something year-round this school year; teachers in intermediate grades may incorporate these lessons into their classrooms year-round, too.

This is the boat we are all in, and we need to figure out how to sail in it. Teachers, what are some things you are doing about these young students who have never been in a school building before, or those older students who have been out of school for so long that they have forgotten how to do school?




For the record, there are many families who struggled with online learning and worked tirelessly to make it work. There are many families who struggled with online learning and then decided to return to school when the metrics permitted. There are many families that were successful with online learning. The pandemic impacted families from all walks of life differently.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels


Caitlin was born to be a teacher, although she did not realize that teaching was her calling until she went to college. She has always loved to write, and began college with the mindset of becoming a journalist. Before beginning her freshman year of college, she changed my major to Elementary Education on a whim and has never looked back. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education from Arizona State University, and won the Outstanding Student Teacher Award during her student teaching experience in the Cave Creek Unified School District. Caitlin spent 9 years in the classroom teaching 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade. She became a National Board Certified Teacher in 2018, and holds a certificate in Early and Middle Childhood Literacy: Reading/Language Arts. The 2021-2022 school year marks the beginning of her 10th year teaching, where she will be working as an Academic Interventionist, and supporting other National Board candidates on their journey toward National Board certification. If she is lucky enough to have free time, you can find her traveling Arizona with her husband and son, spending time with her friends and family, taking group fitness classes, or enjoying a good book.

Comments 4

  1. Sarah Kirchoff

    Hello! I completely agree! We see a lot of these gaps in the younger grades at our school. The students now in second grade seem to have the largest gap. Those students were in kindergarten when we started distance learning. That was the year when we went on Spring break and never came back in person. When we began online teaching, some students that year just never logged on or parents were figuring out how to manage distance learning. Those students seem to need the “acceleration” more than others. Thank you for helping me to see the difference between intervention and acceleration. I think it will help parents understand what their students need.

    1. Post
      Caitlin Gawlowski

      I agree second-grade students seem to have the largest gap. Third-grade students seem to be fairly close behind them, too. I hope that the acceleration mindset can keep students, parents, and teachers moving forward at a quick, yet appropriate, pace for learning.

  2. Rachel Perugini

    It’s interesting, because at the high school level, we’ve had conversations and agreed that we weren’t seeing huge loss of skills. My juniors writing is some of the best I’ve seen. I think that the engagement is so high it’s making up for the loss over the year online because our high schoolers are just so happy to be back in person. On the same note, we also have a lot more social issues with anxiety than we had before the pandemic.

    1. Post
      Caitlin Gawlowski

      Thank you for sharing your perspective as a high school teacher. I typically work with K-3 students and have wondered how high school age students were affected by online learning. I assumed that students who already knew how to read and had some computer skills (typing, troubleshooting basic problems, basic knowledge of word or google apps, etc.) would have been less affected academically by learning remotely for a year. At the time, I did not even consider the social-emotional aspect for high school students. Aside from anxiety, are you seeing other social-emotional or behavioral issues from the high school age group?

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