Reopening and Recovery After COVID-19

by | May 17, 2021


Last spring, COVID-related school closures impacted about 90% of students worldwide. Now, school leaders face the challenges of learning loss recovery after COVID-19 and helping students transition into the post-pandemic school environment. We offer four key recommendations for principals and district leaders to consider as you strategize for the 2021-2022 school year:

Life and learning have been extremely challenging for students since schools closed in the spring of 2020. As we enter a new school year, you may be tempted to try mitigating  COVID-related learning loss through remediation—but we encourage school leaders to aim higher.

In a 2020 report, the Learning Policy Institute explains that traditional remediation programs can actually cause further detriment to students’ learning. Fortunately, there is growing evidence that students who have suffered learning loss can meet or even exceed grade-level expectations with the proper supports.

Michelle Kaffenberger from the University of Oxford advocates for school leaders to implement “remediation combined with long-term reorientation” to help students recover from COVID-related learning loss. Kaffenberger’s research suggests that the remediation and reorientation approach can help students achieve 2.3 years more learning than they would gain without mitigation efforts.

So what does a combined remediation and reorientation strategy look like?

There is no one-size-fits-all recovery plan that will work perfectly for every school. That said, Kaffenberger describes remediation and long-term reorientation strategy as:

  • Responsive to students’ individual needs — Educators use formative assessments to understand each student’s existing knowledge and skills. Then they use data from these assessments to differentiate instruction, allowing students to learn at a manageable pace based on their current learning levels.
  • Empowering for teachers — Teachers engage in professional development that not only trains them on how to conduct formative assessments and make data-driven instructional decisions but also empowers them to become educational leaders. Kaffenberger acknowledges that teachers need ongoing support to effectively implement a remediation and reorientation strategy.
  • Focused on students’ learning — Instead of feeling bound to your existing curriculum, Kaffenberger urges school leaders to consider “adjustment (or reform) of the curriculum to better match the level and pace of children’s learning”.

Reorienting your school’s curriculum will require collaborative efforts between school leaders, who can provide professional development, and teachers, who have valuable knowledge about their students’ individual needs.

2. Focus on the instructional core.

When planning a professional development program for your teachers, it can be easy to get so caught up learning about new concepts and tools that you lose focus of the instructional core. You may hear the instructional core described in different ways, but this term essentially refers to the relationships between:

  • Students and teachers;
  • Teachers and the instructional content; and
  • Students and the instructional content.

To realize sustained gains in student achievement, teachers must have a deep knowledge of the content they teach. They should also understand how to leverage your school’s available learning tools (including digital learning resources) to enhance instruction.

School leaders must plan content-specific professional development for teachers to strengthen the instructional core. Additionally, leaders should include teachers in the planning process to ensure post-pandemic professional development meets their most pressing needs.

3. Prioritize Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) within your school’s culture and academic curriculum.

One positive outcome from the COVID-19 pandemic is a new widespread acknowledgment that social and emotional supports are a vital ingredient for student success. Social and emotional learning (SEL) improves students’ self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and decision-making skills.

SEL can be incorporated into your school’s culture and curriculum to promote recovery from COVID-related learning loss. Schools must also focus on social and emotional skill development to set your students up for academic success by reducing distractions related to behavioral issues.  Teachers must design learning experiences to improve their students’ ability to work collaboratively and empower students to manage their own learning.

There is also a new research brief from Duke University and The Hunt Institute that reminds school leaders about why some SEL strategies are more effective than others. Author Katie Rosanbalm, Ph.D. explains:

“Frequently, given limited time and competing priorities. SEL resources are delivered to teachers as a list of strategies. Also a manualized curriculum, or a single training, with little to no follow-up on the “how” and “why” of implementation. Teachers may be left to learn the materials on their own and deliver as they choose.”

Effective SEL Strategies to Recover From COVID-19

School leaders should plan intentional professional development to help teachers effectively incorporate SEL into their regular routines. Rosanbalm shares some examples of successful SEL practices that have been implemented in North Carolina’s schools, including:

  • Structured SEL Curricula — Schools develop an SEL curriculum that teachers can follow at least once per week, to engage students in the SEL curriculum through direct instruction.
  • Coaching SEL Skills — Teachers incorporate SEL coaching for students into group activities and offer feedback to students in real-time as they work with classmates.
  • Staff Communications — Teachers and school leaders keep the communication lines open to discuss students who may need extra SEL supports such as school counselors who can step in to provide individualized support to supplement teacher-led SEL.
  • Formal Referral Mechanisms — School leaders use student and caregiver surveys to track student wellness and anticipate when students will need extra support, and develop a formalized referral system to ensure individual students receive the specific supports they need.
  • Individual and Small Group Interventions — Educators, school counselors, social workers, and caregivers work collaboratively to support students facing significant emotional or mental health challenges.

Read Rosanbalm’s full research brief for more SEL insights and recommendations.

4. Provide ongoing, job-embedded professional development for a sustained impact.

The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented challenges for educators and no one truly knows what the 2021-2022 school year will look like. As we prepare for the new school year, we need an adaptive, responsive strategy to help students and educators transition into a post-pandemic learning environment.

School leaders should ask teachers what they need to succeed and listen to their feedback throughout the school year. Give teachers space to share what techniques have worked and have them identify the ones that did not work in their classrooms. Then use this feedback to help inform new pathways and better approaches to promoting recovery from COVID-related learning loss.

Further, leaders must provide teachers with ongoing, job-embedded support as they implement new instructional practices. Effective professional development requires a combination of:

  • Direct Instruction — The facilitator clearly explains the instructional strategies and content teachers are expected to bring to their classrooms.
  • Modeling — The facilitator demonstrates the strategies themselves to deepen teachers’ understanding.
  • Coaching — The facilitator observes teachers in the classroom and provides real-time feedback.
  • Reflection — The facilitator invites teachers to reflect upon their own experiences and practices to identify their strengths and opportunities for improvement.

Many principals and district leaders bring in outside consultants to inform their professional development strategies. If your school leaders need support, our consultants at the Center for Student Achievement Solutions are here to help. We partner with educational leaders to create customized, evidence-based professional development strategies that target each school or district’s specific needs.

Schedule a free call with a CSAS consultant now to learn more about our approach to professional development.