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The Strange Binary Thinking Around COVID-19 In Public Schools In The United States



The Strange Binary Thinking Around COVID-19 In Public Schools In The United States

by Terry Heick

I read this article last week based on issued recommendations from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

In general, they recommend schools open so students don’t continue to fall ‘further behind’–echoing the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations (which I wrote some about in Teachers Are Becoming The Frontline In The Fight Against COVID-19).

Public Education’s Coronavirus Response: New Problem, Same Broken Thinking

Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, has been more blunt in his push to re-open schools (as if teachers have ever stopped working):

“America’s going through a rough patch right now. Some people seem to be enjoying it. Maybe they just hate America.

What–they hate America?

Kennedy continues, “Maybe they just enjoy watching the world burn. I think some are liking the chaos because they think it gives them a political advantage. Part of that chaos is caused by schools closing. For our kids, we need to open them,” Kennedy said. “There are some people who want to keep our schools closed because they think it gives them a political advantage. They are using our kids as political pawns. To them I say, unashamedly, that they can kiss my a**,” he said.”

Oh boy. So there’s a lot to unpack here but one overarching issue? That we continue to view schools not as centers of learning and human improvement but rather industrially-fashioned civic infrastructure. Something whose condition is binary–something to ‘open’ or ‘close.’

And if they’re ‘open’ kids are being socialized and learning and growing and if they’re ‘closed’ students can’t learn and they’re withering.

Among other detrimental effects, this leads us to think not of children and learning and knowledge demands and understanding but rather ‘grade levels’ and ‘learning loss’ and ‘falling behind.’ We do this every year when we talk about summer ‘learning loss’ and it’s just, at best, very strange.

On American Students ‘Falling Behind’

So in this case, what exactly are students falling behind? Is there some ideal and standard we’re not meeting that we otherwise would be–students who live in a country relative unaffected by the virus, I guess? Are they falling ‘behind’ some criterion-based reference point? The school district’s pacing guide?

Learning is never done in a vacuum but for some reason, schooling can be? You can’t begin to effectively solve a problem until you’ve identified the problem–and the problem here isn’t ‘kids are out of school’ because the purpose of school can’t be for students to be in them. The problem is that children aren’t growing–and that is a much easier problem to solve than masking up millions of teachers and students and hoping for the best.

To know what to do, we have to know what we’re supposed to be doing. The purpose of school–while subjective and largely arguable–has to at least be somewhat based on transfer of understanding from placing of learning (schools) to places of knowing (communities). And at the center of this effort is the utility of that knowledge. Put another way, students ‘in school’ to ‘avoid learning loss’ is both a cause and an effect–and a tidy metaphor for our broken thinking about how and why and what children should learn.

Another excerpt from the NY Times articles:

Online learning is ineffective for most elementary-school children and special-needs children, the panel of scientists and educators concluded.

Okay–ineffective compared to what? Did we shoe-horn teacher-led curriculum into Zoom and Google Classroom ‘distribution’ and expect that to be ‘effective’? Are we trying to get 8-year-olds to sit still and watch a slideshow identify living and non-living things through a teacher-led, synchronous lesson?

Have we considered thinking backward from the platforms we’re using? Instead of thinking, ‘How can we use technology to teach students a given curriculum?’, have we instead considered, ‘What is the overlap between the (human/academic/intellectual/knowledge-based) needs of students and the features of our existing technological tools?

Put another way, ‘How can we use what we have to help them learn what they need?’

That eLearning ‘didn’t work’ when it wasn’t funded properly and teachers had little training and experience shouldn’t be surprising. Of course, that’s going to be ineffective. It’s ‘ineffective’ with 17-year-old’s too–they’re just either mature enough and sufficiently externally-motivated enough to learn the content in lieu of the challenge. Younger children aren’t motivated by the same things and their brain development and attention span and curiosities demand altogether different approaches to learning.

COVID-19 has made a spectacular mess of almost everything in the United States in 2020. Dr. Jha and other experts noted that the committee did not address the level of community transmission at which opening schools might become unsafe because too much virus may be circulating. “They punted the most critical question,” he said.

Here’s another excerpt:

And the report said that evidence for how easily children become infected or spread the virus to others, including teachers and parents, is “insufficient” to draw firm conclusions.

Here’s where the ‘recommendations’ start to feel ‘political’: They are suggesting that it’s ‘unclear’ how easily children spread the virus. While it’s true that how (and how easily) the Coronavirus spreads is ‘unclear,’ that doesn’t mean that there are compelling data that students won’t spread it to teachers and staff–not to mention bringing the virus home to the families who’ve been able to avoid the virus so far. Very few policies should be created on ‘unclear’ data but in this case, that’s what’s happening, which makes it feel like someone has something they want to see happen and they’re finding data to support that position.

This is not how reason and science and critical thinking work.

While studies from other countries are indeed mixed in this regard, few if any of those countries in those studies have anywhere close to the numbers that exist in the United States as of July 2020. It’s simply indisputable that the Coronavirus is an extremely contagious virus.

The Purpose Of School In The Age Of COVID-19

So what about the purpose of school?

While teenagers may be better able to learn online, they suffer the social and emotional consequences of being separated from their peers, Dr. Beers said. “Adolescence is a period of time in life when you are to be exploring your own sense of self and developing your identity,” he said. “It’s difficult to do that if you are at home with your parents all the time.”

This statement is full of faulty underlying assumptions, not the least of which the two options here are either re-opening school doors or children end up ‘home with parents all the time.’ It also assumes that it is the job of the school to develop student ‘identity’ and if the schools close, they’re somehow on the hook for not sufficiently developing said identity.

This is not what school is for–and even if this is indeed among the benefits of school, the argument to open or close schools can’t be made on that basis. That’s like arguing to open office buildings because closing them increases depression and anxiety in middle-age adults by 37%.

And then we have the folly of focusing on whether or not teachers are ‘scared’ rather than whether or not they’re safe.

In one survey, 62 percent of educators and administrators reported that they were somewhat or very concerned about returning to school while the coronavirus continues to be a threat, according to the report. “The school work force issue is really not discussed that much,” Dr. Bond said.

So 38% are ‘not at all’ concerned? And because they’re (seemingly) the majority, they must be right? If half of motorcycle riders aren’t ‘concerned’ about helmet safety, do we let them decide what’s safe for the other half?

Regular symptom checks should be conducted, the committee said, and not just temperature checks. In the long term, schools will need upgrades to ventilation and air-filtration systems, and federal and state governments must fund these efforts, the report said.

To clarify, all schools are getting not just ‘upgrades’ to HVAC systems but the precise type of system that will filter out the Coronavirus? For cash-strapped states, districts, and schools, this would be surprising–not to mention that money spent here could be invested in improving distance learning–or remote teaching or eLearning or whatever it is you’d like to call it.

And this is all being funded when? Installed when? Checked for efficiency when? Would teachers be safe? Isn’t providing safe working conditions for all school staff a very clear legal–and moral–issue?

“Staffing is likely to be a major challenge if and when schools reopen. A significant portion of school staff are in COVID-19 high-risk age groups, or are hesitant to return to work because of the health risks. The report says some COVID-19 mitigation strategies, such as maintaining smaller class sizes, will require additional teaching staff.”

This seems like a not-small detail–especially mere weeks before many districts are expected to open. A ‘significant portion’ are ‘high-risk’–so we give them smaller class sizes? This is a massive, spectacular failure of rational, critical thinking from top to bottom and is really discouraging to read and see argued on social media on a daily basis.

There is so much propaganda and misleading information being thrown around and it’s just very sad when, while incomplete, there is plenty of very clear data that says this:

Fact: While it’s not a ‘global killer’ many media platforms make it out to be, COVID-19 is a dangerous virus

Fact: In the United States, we’ve had over 4 million cases and 140,000+ cases in a matter of weeks/months

Opinion: As of July 2020 in the United States, the prevalence of the Coronavirus makes going back to school a disaster waiting to happen

Opinion: Arguing whether or not we should ‘open or close’ schools is emblematic of our broken way of seeing ‘school’–its purpose, its delivery mechanisms, its sociocultural outcomes, etc.

Opinion: We should use this opportunity to permanently innovate education and at the kernel of that innovation needs to be a very frank discussion not about funding air filters, but rather about the purpose of school.

If you’re interested, you can see a summary of the recommendations here.

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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, 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

Participant-driven ‘PD’

Teacher collaboration

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

Why Edcamp?

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

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Actors Theater Announces New Voices Young Playwrights Festival For Students



From a press release

LOUISVILLE, KYActors 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)

Posthumous Mishaps
by J.C. Hyde (Floyd Central High School)

His Lesson
by Lita Van (Atherton High School)

Sister Shook
by Skylar Wooden (Central High School)

Waffle Angel
by Aiden Kash (St. Francis High School)

by Katie Dobson (Ballard High School)

Postmodern Dad
by Ethan Bower (Salem High School)

Honorable Mentions:
A Bite of Strange Fruit
by Olivia Benford (Moore High School)

by Islan F (Brooklawn)    

Listing Information


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
Bingham Theatre

Press Opening
Tuesday, April 27
7:00 p.m.
Bingham Theatre

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

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

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Survey: High School Students Are Tired, Bored, And Stressed



image attribution flickr user Tulane Public Relations

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.

Yale News published recently the results from the survey–with co-author and research scientist Zorana Ivcevic admitting that the percentage was surprising.

“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).

Abstract Excerpt

Study Highlights

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.

Survey Takeaways

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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