On March 30, all Minnesota public schools started “distance learning,” a way to keep education going for our nearly 900,000 schoolchildren since schools were closed by Gov. Tim Walz on March 18 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Six words of advice as this new educational model rolls out: Be kind. Be patient. Be understanding.
When it became clear that schools might need to close to mitigate the spread of the virus, the governor gave schools two weeks to transform the model of education that’s been used for centuries. Rather than teach students face-to-face in school settings, teachers had to develop plans to teach all Minnesota schoolchildren remotely, with no in-person contact. The same rules applied for small rural districts and large urban districts, with equity as a primary goal.
This is a massive change, and these are no ordinary times. We can expect feelings of loss, discomfort and anxiety. In the words of a psychologist, all change makes all people anxious all the time.
As our commissioner of education said, educators are creative. Educators are focused on the health and well-being of their students. And so our incredible Minnesota educators — more than 70,000 of them across the state — created distance learning plans for their school districts … in less than two weeks.
Can you think of any other major transformation that took place in that short a time?
Most schools will rely heavily on the internet for sharing their lesson plans and providing contact between teachers and students. Many created learning packets that they distributed to families and are asking teachers to call students for individual support due to lack of internet access. All are doing their very best job under incredibly stressful and difficult circumstances.
At the same time, schools were asked to immediately set up child care for emergency and health care workers, and ensure that all students could still have access to breakfast and lunch each day. Both of which they did.
If you know anyone who works for a school: Be kind. Be patient. Be understanding.
Parents are suddenly working from home while helping their children with the new education system. Simultaneously, parents are preparing meals, trying to keep their kids entertained without allowing them to be with their friends, ensuring everyone continuously washes their hands, paying bills, doing all the normal household chores and wondering if they have enough toilet paper.
Have you ever tried to manage a video conference call for work while your child asks for help with their online assignment and your dog needs to go outside? It’s not pretty, and it’s definitely not easy.
If you know a parent: Be kind. Be patient. Be understanding.
Students were suddenly told they could no longer go to school. They couldn’t see their friends, ask their teachers for advice during class, work on assignments together in the library, ride the bus, talk by their lockers, laugh together at lunch. No more band practice, art class or athletics. Their daily school and classroom schedules were completely upended, with little to no warning.
Kids are resilient, but this pandemic will definitely take a toll on everyone’s emotional and mental health.
If you know a student: Be kind. Be patient. Be understanding.
This won’t be smooth. There will be bumps. We may push our state’s bandwidth beyond its capacity as millions of people use the internet from their homes at the same time, demonstrating that adequate broadband is as important as electricity in a home.
But if we practice kindness, take deep breaths and help those who need it, we can make it through. Let’s accept the mistakes as they come, learn from them and move on. And let’s remember that the most important thing is to limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep people as safe, healthy and sane as possible.
We will emerge from this pandemic with a very different idea of what health, safety, school, learning, commerce and our societal needs are. This crisis has proved that public schools are America’s safety net for children. These are unprecedented times. And they call for an unprecedentedly compassionate response.
Be kind. Be patient. Be understanding. We are all in this together.
Andrea Cuene is board chair, Association of Metropolitan School Districts. Lance Bagstad is president, Minnesota Rural Education Association. Sue VanHooser is president, Schools for Equity in Education (SEE).