As we emerge from the chaos that has been the Covid-19 pandemic, I am hearing a lot of messages and concern about learning loss. And with new government funding in the form of EANS funds and other Covid-19 related grants, schools are being encouraged to explore all kinds of options for addressing the ‘learning loss’ impacts of the pandemic.
Leaders in Christian education have had a pretty exhausting year, across the board. But now is not the time to take the easy solution: to put the entirety of the responsibility for addressing learning loss on students. We need to be extra careful about giving students the idea that any of their learning loss is unique to them; everyone has endured this pandemic and it has impacted every student, teacher, and administrator. Some of those impacts are visible now, and some we will discover in coming years.
But no matter what we discover in the years ahead, we will need to seek understanding of our students first, in order to foster their understanding and learning. This doesn’t just require pedagogical knowledge, but also an understanding of social, emotional, and behavioral empathy driving our daily interactions.
One of my esteemed colleagues and school psychologist Doug Bouman says that one of our roles is as a defense attorney for students who are beginning to prosecute themselves for factors out of their control; to give students who are struggling a holistic picture of themselves as children of God. During this time, students who may be struggling need even more reminders of their personal strengths and of everyone’s weaknesses. It is astounding how often students respond to such conversations with relief: ‘I just thought I wasn’t very smart – I didn’t realize I was just made differently!’
I fear that as we make our ways out of the Covid-19 pandemic, we may forget to serve as the defense attorney our students need against such self-portraits. And as Christian educators, this may be one of the most impactful roles we serve: helping students understand God’s love for them and the way they are made, regardless of ability.
So how should we address the impacts of the pandemic? There has never been a better time for investing in a multi-tiered system of support, where every student receives the supports they need. This means examining closely our general education practices, measuring and benchmarking student progress, and providing research-proven interventions as part of the school day for students with varied intellectual and learning abilities, or lagging social-emotional and behavioral skills.
There is a possibility that students may have lags in their academic progress due to missed instruction during the pandemic. We need to recommit to their needs and anticipate a wide range of achievement moving forward throughout a school career. This isn’t a matter of implementing support services for some students, but of incorporating support services into the entire schoolwide approach. Anticipating a wide variety of abilities means creating relational environments that adapt, that put some systems into place while also changing systems in response to the needs of every child.
When I look at my own kids during another weekend at home with nowhere to go, I muse about what the defining characteristics of this Covid-19 generation might be. I wonder if they will be closer to their siblings as they grow up, whether they will be invigorated or overwhelmed by crowds someday, or if they will remember snow days as a thing of the past as schools turn inclement weather into virtual learning days. But I don’t wonder if they will continue to learn, and I’m committed to ensure that they are not prosecuting themselves for any struggles they may encounter during this time. I am grateful for a school and teachers that do the same, and who foster their relationship with a loving God in doing so.
Elizabeth Lucas Dombrowski is the executive director of All Belong, where she serves as a champion for ability inclusion in schools and churches. Her training is in fundraising and nonprofit administration, serving at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago for nine years, and at All Belong since 2012. Her calling to All Belong and advocacy for places of belonging are the backbone to her thoughtful and creative leadership of an organization that is transforming communities nationwide. Elizabeth has a bachelor’s degree from Valparaiso University and is currently studying for her Master’s degree at Grand Valley State University.