Several years ago, as president of the Middle States Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools, I advocated for the addition of an activity called Lessons Learned to each of the accreditation protocols. The activity was designed for schools to reflect on what had worked, what hadn’t worked, what might no longer be relevant and what new issues had emerged during their seven-year accreditation cycle.
As I plan to retire (again) from MSA-CESS, having served as interim president for the past several months, I decided to use the Lessons Learned format for my final report to the Commissions and to make my recommendations as they begin their post-pandemic planning.
As it is currently organized and operates, MSA-CESS proved to be adaptable to the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic. We succeeded in maintaining engagement with our membership and in helping them move forward with their school improvement planning. Most schools hardly missed a beat, admirably switching to on-line learning and moving to increase the health and safety of in-person learning. They identified innovative solutions to mitigate learning loss and minimize the impact of the pandemic on the social and emotional well-being of their students and staff.
What Didn’t Work
What didn’t work were on-site visits and in-person workshops and meetings, which were prohibitive because of the pandemic. However, virtual visits along with online workshops and meetings served as viable equivalencies, and as the pandemic continued, the technology and platforms improved.
What May No Longer Be Relevant
The experience of on-line learning and virtual visits taught all of us a great deal about how we may want to operate going forward by highlighting the essentials of our work. We should use these lessons about what is important to operate more efficiently and effectively and to discard the practices we have learned that are no longer necessary or relevant.
What New Issues Have Emerged
The issues that have emerged are not really new but have been brought into greater focus by the pandemic. The pandemic’s impact on disadvantaged students and disadvantaged communities cast a new light on the disparity in educational access and issues of equity and inclusion. These issues demand and deserve our attention.
What Are the Lessons Learned?
We have learned that:
- Much of what we have always done consists of proven practices adaptable to the most serious challenge that educators have faced
- Much of what we created to adapt to the pandemic can serve us well as we plan for the future
- Some of what we have always considered important may no longer be as important as we go forward
- The time has come for us to seriously address education’s systemic failures further exposed by the pandemic.
And finally, we learned that we are all up to the challenge.