Each new school year, teachers look forward to a fresh class roster. They may work with the previous year’s teacher and look at assessment scores to determine strengths and weaknesses of the students. There is no doubt that collaborating with the previous year’s teachers is a great way to get that early introduction and start planning the scope and sequence of skills to be taught. This year, collaborative teaching will be even more important due to the current health crisis affecting our nation.
Challenges Teachers will Face this Year
As many schools across the nation closed suddenly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers were unprepared to provide quality instruction to all students due to a multitude of issues. Being that the pandemic hit mid-March, many students went without learning new material for a quarter of the school year. This creates the challenge of unlearned prerequisite skills for this year’s standards.
In addition, teachers may not have the assessment data from spring benchmarks and state assessments to determine where students’ needs lie. In order to learn student deficits, they will need to begin the year assessing, adding stress to an already stressful school year start. Finally, teachers will need to find that careful balance between review and reteaching the previous years’ missed skills while moving forward with their own standards and lessons.
Collaborating with Previous Year’s Teachers
Because of the additional challenges brought to this academic year, teachers will need to spend preparatory time with the previous year’s teachers to determine the best learning pathway for each student in their charge. Here are a few guidelines for such collaborative talks:
Focus on data, not opinions.
It is easy for teachers to share their opinions about behaviors and academic progress, but this should not be the basis for any decisions. Spend time looking at data that is available. How were students progressing from fall to winter benchmarks? What were the latest assessment results? Who received intervention and how was that helping them progress? By looking at data, teachers will be able to make solid predictions and address educational weaknesses quickly in an effort to move forward this school year.
Embed missed skills in current lessons.
If teachers know ahead of time, by collaborating with the previous year’s teacher, which standards were not covered due to school closures, then they will be able to match them with their own standards and embed them in their lessons. Teachers should not feel ashamed because standards were left untaught. Every teacher across America is in the same situation, and it cannot be helped. Instead, they should disclose these disparities and share best practices for teaching these missed skills. The previous year’s teachers will know how the students best learn and provide strategies that work in teaching the skills.
Look beyond academics.
Every educator would agree that the purpose of school is to help students learn so they are prepared for college or career. However, research has proven that learning cannot take place when there are unmet needs. By collaborating with the previous year’s teachers, you can learn about what needs must be addressed. Did a child lose a relative due to COVID-19? Are parents stressed from lack of work? Is hunger an issue? Do children have the internet and technology necessary for an online learning experience? These are a few of the questions to discuss to help make plans for addressing the emotional and social needs of students. If the previous year’s teacher stayed in contact with the students, then this should be information they have to share. Again, it is best to avoid biased opinions when collaborating on this topic.
Discuss what motivates these students.
Most of our students have been in a non-structured home environment for months. Reconnecting to school, routines, and structure will be difficult. A conversation should include what motivates these students to learn. Some learn through peer interactions, while some prefer working alone. Some students are motivated by competition with others while some rely on praise and acknowledgement of successes. The previous year’s teacher will know what it takes to get the students engaged.
Determine technological strengths and weaknesses.
With the need to blend traditional and online learning, this year it will be important to know where students are with their technology skills. Teachers can learn from the previous year’s teachers how often students worked with technology, what type of projects or lessons were completed through its use, and what programs were used for assignments. Because we are all on edge thinking we could return to an online platform if the pandemic worsens, this conversation will help teachers prepare to meet students technology skills and utilize their potential.
We can all agree that this school year is going to present challenges, some of which we have not even considered. By collaborating, teachers can best prepare to move forward in closing current academic gaps and personalizing learning for all students.