‘Should Schools Open This Fall?’ Is The Wrong Question
by Terry Heick
In the United States, we started off concerned with nurses and doctors–and rightfully so. But are teachers next up in the battle against COVID-19?
First, some context. There’s no way to make this post non-political but the point of the post isn’t political. As founder and director at TeachThought, I’m willing to make statements that appear political if I think that’s in the best interest of our mission at TeachThought: to innovate education through the growth of innovative teachers.
But merely offering my opinion-as-political-statements is counter-productive. TeachThought isn’t a political organization and is neither ‘liberal’ nor ‘conservative’ but rather interested in critical thinking to further human causes–i.e., critical literacy. And in respect to that critical literacy is the current national crisis around COVID-19.
This is a topic that really deserves a strong scientific foundation stuffed with the most recent research and statistical trends. I realized, however, that such a tactic could come off as simply being ‘against teachers returning to school in the fall.’ To be clear, being at least vaguely familiar with science and data around ARS–CoV–2 as a virus, I do not think most K-12 schools should open in the fall.
I could make that argument in light of existing counter-arguments I’ve seen, but in the end, as a matter of national policy, my opinion doesn’t matter. And as far as contributing to the ‘discussion’ about it all, at this point most people already have their mind made up and we all know what confirmaton bias does to thinking.
Why Are We Putting Teachers On The Frontline Of The Fight Against COVID-19?
But while there is at least some discussion happening about whether or not schools should open for in-person instruction in the fall, I’m not seeing as much about innovation–nor why we are so willing to be cavalier with human lives regardless of very real concerns about mental health and poverty, for example.
While mortality rates for children are extremely low compared to adults, asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic carriers are suspected (as of early July 2020) of being responsible for 50% or more of new infections. Any teacher who has struggled with dress code can squint a little and guess some of the problems children might have with masks.
It was strange to see the American Pediatric Association come out in support of children returning to schools:
“The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school,” according to the guidance. These coordinated interventions intend “to mitigate, not eliminate, risk” of SARS-CoV-2.
With all due respect for their knowledge about the treatment of viruses in children, asking them if we should open is like asking an equine veterinarian if we should allow fans at the Kentucky Derby this fall or asking Mick Jagger’s doctor if we should allow fans at a concert to see The Rolling Stones. And so on.
And then on July 6 came this tweet–screaming in all caps with three exclamation marks:
While most school districts have been planning all summer on how to handle ‘school’ this fall–polling teachers and families both formally and informally–the ability to push bets and wait out July to see if something might make a little more sense in early August was taken away with one tweet.
And just like that, teachers are–rather suddenly–being placed on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19 in the United States.
Seeking A Better Question
At the risk of understatement, there has been a lack of leadership on a national level since the COVID-19 first started making news in late 2019. Now more than halfway through 2020, I’m not sure things are any better.
The challenge of facing COVID-19 in K-12 and secondary education is urgent and multi-faceted. The concerns in the bubble of education are similar to those experienced outside of that bubble–biological, scientific, economic, political, cultural, legal, and so on. There quite simply is a lot to consider with careful, rational thinking and patient communication borne of goodwill–both of which seem to be in short supply.
The majority of social media-based ‘discussion’ I’ve seen is about if schools should open to in-person instruction in the fall rather than how to do safely. An even better question would be, “What is the best way to educate children during a pandemic?”
Or more specifically, “In light of the human needs (what students and teachers need) and existing human and technological resources (what we ‘have’ to serve those needs), what should we do this fall?”
Those are big questions that should be part of any discussion about education–with or without the threat of COVID-19. That we have yet to suitably answer questions like these before COVID-19 is our burden during COVID-19.
It’s not just unfair to ask teachers to teach in-person this fall, it’s governing (and governmental) malpractice. In effect, we are asking teachers to withstand the brunt of six months of lost leadership at the national level. And further, we’re doing so under the guise of what’s ‘best for the kids’–as if any teacher not willing to play roulette with the virus is the problem.
While every teacher I know wants to teach in-person in schools this fall, fewer than a fourth I’ve spoken with think it’s a good idea. And even if some teachers are willing to (literally) risk their lives for the ‘good of children,’ why are we even considering allowing that? How did we get to this point?
How did we arrive at the reality that for the next six months, teachers will function as the frontline for COVID-19?
Lily Eskelsen García, president of the three million-member National Education Association, leads the largest union in the United States. And in response to Trump’s shouting demand she had this to say today on CNN:
Even trying to open schools to in-person instruction in the United States ‘safely’ (there will be no ‘safe’ re-opening, only less dangerous re-openings) through recommendations from the Center for Disease Control is being answered with questions about practicality and cost.
Above, we have threats–I think against the CDC but it’s often difficult to tell with Mr. Trump.
And below, we have misleading, out-of-context data:
Demanding opening in lieu of very compelling science against it–then threatening to defund any school that doesn’t fall in line? These are not characteristics for rational thinking. Consider the following data:
And then there’s this short-sighted piece by Bloomberg that completely misses the sanctity of life and the purpose of education. The lack of critical thinking here is only surpassed by our lack of foresight and planning.
None of this is smart, affectionate, practical, innovative, courageous, or thrifty. This is a massive, massive failure from top to bottom–and the teachers are now being asked to save everyone from the mess. That’s unfair and unsafe and nowhere close to our best thinking.
And so, as of July 13, 2020, that’s where we are. No one knows how any of this will turn out, of course. The virus could ‘weaken.’ A therapy or vaccine could miraculously emerge and wash away all of the uncertainty.
But until such an event, teachers are being asked to risk their lives to teach in big brick buildings with more human beings per square foot than any hospital or factory and most office spaces. We have released inmates from prison because of the threat of COVID-19, but are suddenly saying it’s safe for schools to open–presumably because the mortality rate for children is low?
Police departments across the country have altered their service (well before the Black Lives Matter movement) in light of the threat of the virus. It’s too dangerous for them and more importantly, spreads the virus.
Many prisoners are being released from prison because it’s too dangerous to stay there.
Barber shops and bars and restaurants can’t open and sports stadiums–at least for now–are empty to protect citizens and reduce the spread of the virus.
So, what about the teachers? Why should educators have to make the choice to put themselves and their families at such extraordinary risk? How is this even legal, much less moral or rational?
If we are (justifiably) concerned with doctors and athletes and police officers and moviegoers getting (and then transmitting) the virus, why not teachers? Because ‘parents are mad’? Perhaps they could become teachers and step in to fill the gaps.
Because of learning loss and lack of access to technology in poor communities? Rational thinking would solve those as individual problems rather than the cruder alternative of simply ‘reopening.’ Sentimentality is an enemy during a crisis and uncertainty breeds propaganda.
So then, why are we okay with making teachers the frontline in the fight against COVID-19 in the United States?
Why are we viewing this as ‘open’ or ‘closed’?
Where’s the innovation?
What Is Edcamp? An Overview For Teachers
What Is Edcamp? An Overview For Teachers
by TeachThought Staff
What is Edcamp? In summary, Edcamp is a low-cost, ‘bottom-up’ approach to teacher improvement where ‘conference’ participants gather, decide what’s going to be learned, then set out to teach one another in a laid-back, communal approach of sessions.
Obviously, the big idea is in the contrast to large conferences or formal professional development (which we also offer and believe has a role in education improvement) that is more ‘top down’ and pre-determined–that is, where a few people come and deliver content to a lot of people about a topic more or less out of their control. Edcamps are often called ‘unconferences’ and the video below explains why.
According to edcampnepa.org, in an Edcamp event, educators simply gather to learn:
EdCamps are ‘unconference’ events with a focus on education and learning. Most professional learning is done where participants listen to one person who shares their presentation with the audience. EdCamps on the other hand are meant to encourage conversation and participation among the attendees. Participants determine the topics for the day and take an active role in setting the direction of the conference. In the first hour of EdCamp NEPA, attendees will meet and interact over coffee and a light breakfast. An empty session board will be available for everyone to post session titles. From that, a session board will be constructed that will provide the schedule for the day.
Common Elements Of ‘An Edcamp’
A session board for day-of session planning
Food and ‘swag’
Sponsors (cheap doesn’t mean zero-cost)
Short 30-60 minute sessions
Use of social media to share learning and connect with teachers inside and beyond the Edcamp event using twitter and hashtags like #edcamp and #edcampusa, for example
Teacher-driven ‘promotion’ of Edcamp event that often includes blogs, digital/social ‘groups,’ and larger sign-up tools like Eventbrite
In a previous post on TeachThought from 2014, Dawn Casey-Rowe offered her view on Edcamp:
EdCamp is the essence of collaboration–melding and sharing of ideas in the spirit of excitement. How many school professional development days have seen faculty disappointed that there wasn’t enough slots to do all the interesting professional development?
Now, imagine this. Imagine that your faculty meeting had no agenda. Imagine that there was simply a grid in the front of the room with a certain amount of empty spaces with corresponding rooms and participants could put “I’m going to present this!” Some rooms might have (academic) standards, others might have co-teaching, still others could have “physical fitness and student/teacher wellness.” It could be anything. People vote with their feet–the sessions that were the most helpful for people would be the ones that fill up. It might be that there were a couple of mandatory sessions. It might be the entire day could be up to the participants. But to really do it right, you’d have a nice table full of coffee and treats, and just let the day flow.
Consider having an Edcamp or Edcamp-style PD event at your school and getting your rock star faculty to take ownership of the subject material. You’ll save money, give respect to your on-staff experts, and have a day full of community building and interesting collaboration. Set up a twitter board and tweet between sessions. I give a guarantee this will be a PD format you’ll want to continue.
The Background Of Edcamp
According to their About Us, the story of how Edcamp got started is fairly simple: Educators got together to improve independent of a conference, local requirement, or large-scale training. They just gathered and grew.
The first Edcamp was organized in 2010 by a group of teachers in Philadelphia who met up for a computer science “un-conference.” At BarCamp, they collaborated with others to create discussion sessions based on the interests of the people in the room. There was no presenter; no boring slideshow. The entire day was personalized and learner driven with those in the room sharing their experience and expertise. At the end of the day, the teachers decided this model was too good to contain! They exchanged contact information, and within the next few months they used the “unconference” model of BarCamp to target educators.
We’ll have more on Edcamps soon. In the meantime, if you want to search for Edcamps near you, here you go.
If you’d like to see what they look like ‘ in real life,’ here are some pictures of previous Edcamps shared by participants.
What Is Edcamp? An Overview For Teachers
Actors Theater Announces New Voices Young Playwrights Festival For Students
From a press release
LOUISVILLE, KY—Actors Theatre of Louisville is proud to announce the return of the New Voices Young Playwrights Festival. This year’s lineup will feature eight new plays by local high school students. The 15th annual festival will be sponsored by the LG&E and KU Energy Foundation. The New Voices Festival will run from April 27-29, 2020.
This year, 833 students submitted plays in consideration for the New Voices Festival. This includes students from 31 schools in 6 counties in Kentucky and Indiana. Selected plays for the festival were chosen by a group of 37 readers, made up of Actors Theatre staff and volunteers. The winning playwrights represent seven different high schools.
This year’s festival marks the first time a winner has been chosen from Central High School.
The festival is produced by the Learning & Creative Engagement team at Actors Theatre. Each piece is assigned a director, dramaturg, design team, and group of actors from the Professional Training Company (PTC), who work in conjunction with the playwrights to bring these pieces to life. Together, each team participates in workshops, production meetings, and a full rehearsal process before the festival in April. Each year, the plays produced in the festival are also published in the New Voices Young Playwrights Anthology.
To reserve tickets to review, to request images or for any other press inquiries, please contact Elizabeth Greenfield, Director of Communications, [email protected].
Actors Theatre’s Professional Training Company is generously supported by a significant grant from The Roy Cockrum Foundation. The $1.2 million award supports grants over a ten-year period for each apprentice during the nine-month program, and enables year-round employment for the program’s leadership. Founded by Roy Cockrum, the Foundation supports world-class performing arts projects in not-for-profit professional theatres throughout the United States. The Foundation considers grants by invitation only and is dedicated to helping non-profit theatres reach beyond their normal scope of activities and undertake ambitious and creative productions.
The selections for this year’s 15th Annual New Voices Young Playwrights Festival
Once Upon a Breakroom
by Alexandra Rapp (Mercy High School)
The Bow and Its Arrow
by Jocelynn Pry (Brown High School)
by J.C. Hyde (Floyd Central High School)
by Lita Van (Atherton High School)
by Skylar Wooden (Central High School)
by Aiden Kash (St. Francis High School)
by Katie Dobson (Ballard High School)
by Ethan Bower (Salem High School)
A Bite of Strange Fruit
by Olivia Benford (Moore High School)
by Islan F (Brooklawn)
15th New Voices Young Playwrights Festival
An Evening of New Work
Written by local high school students
Sponsored by the LG&E and KU Energy Foundation.
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 W. Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Tuesday, April 27
April 27, 28, 29 at 7:00 p.m.
Tickets are $5.
Tickets will be available starting in April.
Call the Box Office at 502.584.1205 or visit ActorsTheatre.org.
To reserve tickets to review, to request images or for any other press inquiries, please contact Elizabeth Greenfield, Director of Communications, [email protected]. About Learning & Creative Engagement at Actors Theatre of Louisville
Erica Denise, Director of Learning & Creative Engagement
Janelle Renee Dunn, Learning & Creative Engagement Associate
Abigail Miskowiec, Learning & Creative Engagement Associate
As the home of the Humana Festival of New American Plays, Actors Theatre of Louisville is world-renowned for developing new work by playwrights with varying styles, interests, opinions and innovative approaches to making plays. Learning & Creative Engagement shares this energy and passion for playmaking by venturing into classrooms and teaching the art and craft of playwriting in fun, collaborative and differentiated ways.
By harnessing the wildly creative resources under its roof, the Learning & Creative Engagement department at Actors Theatre of Louisville aims to create outstanding artistic and learning experiences, where young people of all backgrounds, from elementary school to college, are invited to see plays and make theatre happen.
About the New Voices Playwriting Residency
Since its inception in 2003, the New Voices Playwriting Residency has introduced thousands of students from around the region to the basics of playwriting. Over the course of nine sessions, character development, conflict, dramatic structure and stakes are explored, as every student completes a ten-minute play. The Residency has inspired an annual New Voices Play Contest, a New Voices Young Playwrights Festival—fully produced by Learning & Creative Engagement and the Professional Training Company—and published New Voices anthologies of student-written work.
About the Professional Training Company
Jonathan Ruiz, Professional Training Company Producer
Now in its 48thyear, the Professional Training Company (PTC) is the cornerstone of Actors Theatre of Louisville’s commitment to education. One of the nation’s oldest pre-professional training programs, the PTC is a one-of-a-kind immersive program designed to elevate early-career practitioners in the American theatre industry by teaching the business and art of being a theatre professional. Members of the Company work directly with Actors Theatre artistic, administrative and production staff leaders as well as visiting guest artists, to receive hands-on training in their respective fields. The PTC is a diverse ensemble comprised of 39 talented individuals who are the next generation of American theatre.
About Actors Theatre of Louisville
Robert Barry Fleming, Artistic Director
Now in its 56th Season, Actors Theatre of Louisville, the State Theatre of Kentucky, is the flagship arts organization in the Louisville community. Actors Theatre serves to unlock human potential, build community, and enrich quality of life by engaging people in theatre that reflects the wonder and complexity of our time.
Actors Theatre presents almost 350 performances annually and delivers a broad range of programming, including classics and contemporary work through the Brown-Forman Series, holiday plays, a series of theatrical events produced by the Professional Training Company, and the Humana Festival of New American Plays—the premier new play festival in the nation, which has introduced more than 450 plays into the American theatre repertoire over the past 43 years. In addition, Actors Theatre provides over 15,000 arts experiences each year to students across the region through its Learning & Creative Engagement Department, and boasts one of the nation’s most prestigious continuing pre-professional resident training companies, now in its 48th year.
Over the past half-century, Actors Theatre has also emerged as one of America’s most consistently innovative professional theatre companies, with an annual attendance of 140,000. Actors Theatre has been the recipient of some of the most prestigious awards bestowed on a regional theatre, including a Tony Award for Distinguished Achievement, the James N. Vaughan Memorial Award for Exceptional Achievement and Contribution to the Development of Professional Theatre, and the Margo Jones Award for the Encouragement of New Plays. Actors Theatre has toured to 29 cities and 15 countries worldwide, totaling more than 1,400 appearances internationally.
Currently, there are more than 50 published books of plays and criticism from Actors Theatre in circulation—including anthologies of Humana Festival plays, volumes of ten-minute plays, monologues, essays, scripts, and lectures from the Brown-Forman Classics in Context Festival. Numerous plays first produced at Actors Theatre have also been published as individual acting editions, and have been printed in many other anthologies, magazines, and journals—making an enduring contribution to American dramatic literature.
You can find more information at ActorsTheatre.org.
Survey: High School Students Are Tired, Bored, And Stressed
by TeachThought Staff
Researchers from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Yale Child Study Center surveyed 21,678 American high school students and found that nearly 75% of the students’ emotions about school were negative.
“It was higher than we expected,” Ivcevic explained. “We know from talking to students that they are feeling tired, stressed, and bored, but were surprised by how overwhelming it was.”
The article continued to break down the gist: High school students are tried–and not just tired, but stressed and bored:
“They are on the positive side of zero,” Ivcevic said, “but they are not energized or enthusiastic.” Feeling “interested” or “curious,” she noted, would reveal a high level of engagement that is predictive of deeper and more enduring learning.”
It continued, “In the open-ended responses, the most common emotion students reported was tired (58%). The next most-reported emotions — all just under 50% — were stressed, bored, calm, and happy. The ratings scale supported the findings, with students reporting feeling stressed (79.83%) and bored (69.51%) the most. When those feelings are examined with more granularity, said Ivcevic, they reveal something interesting. The most-cited positive descriptions–calm and happy–are vague.”
We investigated students’ feelings at high school in a nation-wide survey of 21,678 US students (study 1), and in a four-week study using experience sampling methodology (ESM) with 472 students across 5 high schools (study 2).
75% of all feelings students reported in their open-ended responses were negative.
Feeling tired was the most prominent feeling, across measures and samples.
Negative feelings about school prevailed across all demographic groups.
We’ve explored emotion as a cause and effect of learning for years–even going as far as to suggest that emotion is more important than understanding. when Terry Heick explained, “While you look for your students’ attention and try to cause engagement, it’s their emotion you need to skillfully identify, navigate and masterfully manipulate.”
In general, the survey is data that reports what most teachers already know: Students are tired and, mostly, bored. And stressed. The conclusions we take away from this data are more critical–and we might consider answering some of the following questions:
Why exactly are students bored? Content? Learning models? Pacing? Their expectations? Pressure? Agency and ownership (or lack thereof)? The survey looked at demographic data. Are there any co-relations with learning models, teacher experience, content areas, letter grades, and said boredom/tiredness/stress?
What are the primary causes of the ‘tiredness’? Mental health? Engagemet? Sleep quality? Sleep duration? (The former could be psychological while the latter more behaviorial.)
What is the impact of negative emotions not just on academic performance but the long-term quality of life for ‘students’ (i.e., young human beings)?
And maybe most critically and broadly, in the face of this data, how should we respond?
“We investigated students’ feelings at high school in a nation-wide survey of 21,678 US students (study 1), and in a four-week study using experience sampling methodology (ESM) with 472 students across 5 high schools (study 2). Both studies combined mixed methods, including open-ended questions and rating scales (e.g., PANAS). In study 1, seventy-five percent of the feelings students reported in their responses to open-ended questions were negative. The three most frequently mentioned feelings were tired, stressed, and bored. Similar findings emerged with rated items, The prevalence of negative feelings was largely similar across demographic groups. Study 2 largely corroborated the findings from study 1. Although the retrospective measures showed similar results to study 1, the in-the-moment measures also showed frequent positive feelings. We discuss the findings in light of the ‘sleep deprivation epidemic,’ the achievement motivation literature, and implications for the validity of state- and trait measures of academic emotions.”
To analyze the data and methodology, you can download the full survey results here.
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