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?
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.
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