Six Questions Schools Should Answer This Year

Back view of group of students raising their arms during a class at lecture hall.

By Nancy Gannon, Senior Advisor for Teaching and Learning, FHI 360

In fall of 2020, the content on this website, Connected and Engaged, was driven by clear challenges—school districts across the country had to teach remotely for at least part of the year. By winter of 2020-21, many districts shifted to hybrid learning, offering new challenges, and Connected and Engaged supported education leaders who were implementing hybrid schedules for the first time. This summer, schools planned for full time, face-to-face instruction. While they may be less dependent on google classroom, zoom technology, jamboards, and other technology, schools face an incoming student population like no other in our lifetime. Through focus groups and landscape analysis, we identified six critical questions schools should be working to answer this year.

  1. How will you support transitions this year? Most schools plan for how their students transition from one grade to another, and in particular, how they make the big leap from 8th to 9th grade. Many districts even provide time before the school year starts for a bridge or orientation program to help students prepare for new spaces and new expectations. Even small transitions are supported.
    Ninth grade teachers might end the year with skill-building students need for tenth grade, or 11th grade teachers incorporate activities that help students transition to their senior year. This fall, teachers will greet incoming students knowing that some of those traditional activities and events didn’t happen. In addition, they know that students may not be academically prepared for the new year. In what ways are district and school leaders preparing for that event?
  2. How will you rekindle students’ interest? Some students will come back hungry to reconnect with the curriculum. Others stayed focused throughout the last year and never disengaged. But there are a portion of students who stopped attending last year or who logged on and checked out. School leaders should be considering how engaging their pedagogy and curriculum are and where they need to make shifts to meet the needs of young people.
  3. What needs to change in the path to postsecondary success? Most schools have a staircase that ensures students have a series of experiences that prepare them to thrive after graduation. Maybe there’s a career fair in 7th grade and a college fair in 10th grade. Maybe they practice writing personal essays starting in 9th grade and they do internships and job shadowing in 11th grade. Many of those steps were disrupted by the pandemic. District and school leaders are grappling with what needs to be in place this year to make up for those disruptions.
  4. How will you help students reconnect this year? A rise in suicide rates. A rise in teen depression. Will young people return to school and reconnect automatically or will some of them need support in rebuilding relationships with peers and with adults? Many districts are considering building more time and creating more routines that foster connection this year.
  5. What is your district doing to rebuild attendance habits? Some districts saw a sharp rise in chronic absenteeism and even significant loss of enrollment last year. In districts that serve low-income families, teens got part or fulltime jobs that took place during school hours. In the new year, what will it look like to reestablish expectations and routines about coming to school daily and on time?
  6. How will your district or school support emotional well-being? The stress of the pandemic has taken a toll on everyone: students, teachers, and families. What are the steps education leaders should take to support good emotional health across their community?

While we don’t have all the answers to these questions, we do have strategies and resources that can help instructional leaders as the develop solutions.