As we have collaborated with researchers and leaders over the past few weeks, and as educators prepare for the year ahead, the task in front of us can feel daunting. There undoubtedly has been learning loss, and it has been more deeply felt for students who likely were already behind and lacked access to the same resources and opportunities as their peers. But while some of the stats are striking, they are not destiny, and at our National Summer Institute, we were reminded about the power of effective teaching.
On day 2 of NSI, we hosted a panel discussion to talk about what needs to happen to change the trajectory for students who have experienced disrupted learning over the past 18 months. One of the leading questions was reconsidering how we support and equip teachers as we recover from the pandemic to ultimately strengthen instruction. Here are key reflections from our discussion, which included NIET CEO Dr. Candice McQueen, economist and education researcher Dr. Eric Hanushek, Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) Member Dr. Holly Boffy, and NIET Executive Vice President of Strategy and Partnerships Laura Encalade.
Leverage Teacher Talents to Reach Every Student
Pandemic learning loss is real, and that shows up in both in what teachers see and in economic outlooks. The impact has been more serious for disadvantaged students due to socioeconomic circumstances, lack of resources, and specific educational needs. Dr. Hanushek, who serves as the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, figures that as it stands now, students will experience a 6-9% loss in lifetime wage earnings as a result of the pandemic. But he was quick to note that we can turn this around by "getting the most effective teachers in front of more kids and the kids who need them," and said NSI participants are in a prime position to do so.
Dr. Hanushek listed three key ways educators can enact change:
- Leverage the skills of talented teachers to align with student needs, including rethinking teaching assignments and restructuring PLC meetings.
- More deeply personalize instruction for students who have experienced disadvantages over the past 18 months to meet them where they are at and scaffold their access to grade-level learning.
- Mobilize students to get them involved in the recovery.
Dr. McQueen noted how NIET district partners that have embraced these commitments maximized student growth over time. The problem, she said, is that "there are not enough of those success stories across the country. Who has the courage and will to make this happen?"
Support Teachers at Scale to Lead with a Growth Mindset
The state of Louisiana, a partner with NIET since 2003, has both. Dr. Boffy shared the state's commitment to working from the ground up through state-level policies to support teachers and leaders. These efforts have led to strong teacher leadership and support structures, mentoring opportunities for new teachers, high expectations, implementation of rigorous, high-quality curriculum, and improvement in assessments. In many schools, teachers and teacher leaders share a growth mindset that they pass on to their students.
"Our Kids Need Us More Than Ever"
If we can quantify the impact of learning loss to our country, what are the economic gains if educators are given the opportunity, authority, and responsibility to reach the deep level of learning that student ownership requires? Enormous, according to Dr. Hanushek, who translated the growth into a hike of approximately 25% in earnings throughout a student's future career.
"Our kids need us more than ever," Dr. Boffy told the educators at NSI. She recalled her former social studies student, Blake, who honed his gift for videography in her class, ultimately creating a family video for Dr. Boffy's daughter's adoption. "If you pour into them, you can make a difference. The statistics relating to student earnings can be changed by you and only you."
For more NSI takeaways, visit the 2021 NIET National Summer Institute webpage. For more information about instructional strategies and coaching resources to support student ownership, visit NIET's Learning Acceleration Resources webpage.