The New Role of Educators During and After COVID-19
By Ryan L. Schaaf
The global pandemic has disrupted just about every facet of our lives. COVID-19 is testing our patience in slowing down and staying put. It tests and continues to test our combined ability to sift through the information and misinformation about the virus and the safety precautions necessary to quell its spread. The impact of this pandemic is testing our global healthcare systems, emergency services, economies, and very social fabric in real-time.
As a family, our normal was replaced with a ‘new’ normal. My wife and I were two full-time working parents operating strictly at home while trying to manage our two sons through their triaged learning programs provided by our local school system during the shutdown.
My children, along with countless others, had to abandon the physical school buildings they loved. Our boys were lucky – many families in the world were not as fortunate.
Globally, 1.5 billion students (over 87 percent) had their schools closed. In the U.S. alone, most of the 55.6 million K-12 students were sent home not to step foot back into schools again physically. Individual school systems were left on their own to offer instruction at a distance.
Most school systems discovered it wasn’t easy to go virtual. A lack of teacher training, accessible tools, and preparation time made the launch of remote learning flawed and rushed. Add this to the fact that educators and school leaders are dealing with their own anxieties and fears for their lives as the virus continues to spread, and there is a global call to open back up brick and mortar schools.
The critical question to ask is this: Why couldn’t education systems adapt to such a large-scale change during the pandemic? Like most large-scale well-established systems, education resists change. Schools haven’t structurally changed much in a long time. But the world we live in is no longer the stable and predictable place it once was. Add a deadly virus to the equation, and what do you get? A complex system ill-equipped to adapt quickly to serve its learners and prepare its teachers.
As an education system, we must jump ahead and prepare for learning post-COVID 19. What will teaching look like in this future? Here are six of the new critical roles educators must embrace to serve themselves and their learners during these uncertain times.
Number One: Educators must be future-focused
As educators, we can teach the content outlined in our curricula and academic standards, while simultaneously helping learners develop the required skills of modern learners. Since these are uncertain times, educators can take the opportunity to practice project-based learning, flipped learning, maker learning, or another student-centered learning approach.
Number Two: Educators must be lifelong learners
Educators must continuously learn, unlearn, and relearn to improve their instructional craft. New research findings and advancements in teaching methodologies are reported each day, but this further information vital to educators is lost in the sea of information overload. Educators can explore micro-courses, workshops, or certification training to brush up on their face-to-face, blended, and online teaching practices. Or, they can simply search for new ideas online or join a professional learning network.
Number Three: Educators must be facilitators of learning, not sages on stages
Despite the longstanding tradition of doing just this, the job of educators is not to stand up in front of students and show them how smart they are. Instead, an educator’s job is to empower students to become independent thinkers and doers. Educators must shift the responsibility for learning from the teacher, where it has traditionally been, to their students, where it belongs.
Number Four: Educators must be expert generalists, not specialists
In a world dealing with information overload, memorization is just not the same as understanding. Increasingly, what we see in the modern world is a move away from associating success based on rote memorization of content. As the amount of information increases exponentially, success in life depends less and less on rote learning and more and more on a person’s skill to process information and use it in a discerning and creative manner. Expert generalists have effective analytical processing and application skills. They study many different fields to understand more profound principles across domains in order to make connections.
Number Five: Educators must embrace discovery learning
When educators depend too heavily on the “teaching as telling, learning as listening” instructional model, it can cheat learners out of that ‘aha’ moment where they connect prior knowledge to discover something new. Modern educators must constantly strive to be creators of engagement, not just ‘know-it-alls’ or ‘content dispensers.’
Number Six: Educators must enhance instruction with real-world meaning
One of the essential uses of information is in solving real-world problems and creating something new or better. For learners to undertake these endeavors, they will need to depend on educators to craft problems for them to solve; or products for them to create. Educators must be crafters of real-world problems.
Although there are plenty of other roles and responsibilities educators must develop, these six are very practical and transferrable to any academic setting – virtual or face-to-face. Although the pandemic is unnerving and unsettling, it is forcing people inside and outside education to question longstanding practices and change its antiquated system into more of a fluid and adaptable model.
About this post
This post is a part of The Brief History of the Future of Education series. Based on the newly-released book written by Ian Jukes and Ryan L. Schaaf, this series will explore the TTWWADI (That’s The Way We’ve Always Done It) mindset in schools, examine school’s challenges of teaching in the Age of Disruptive Innovation, traverse the new learning attributes of the digital generation, predict what learning will look like 20 years from now, observe the essential next-generation skills schools must cultivate in its learners to prepare them to survive and thrive in the future, and consider the new roles educators must adopt to stay relevant in the profession.
About the author
Ryan Schaaf is Associate Professor of Educational Technology at Notre Dame of Maryland University and faculty member in the Digital Age Learning and Educational Technology program at Johns Hopkins University. His passion is working with educators to explore the potential of gaming in the classroom, the characteristics of modern-day learning and learners, and exploring emerging technologies and trends to improve education. Follow him on Twitter @RyanLSchaaf.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.