This opinion piece from our president and CEO, Jamey Fitzpatrick, was originally published in the Lansing State Journal on September 1, 2021.
Last school year was not easy for our students, parents and teachers — all whom deserve our praise for making the best of an extremely challenging situation as we continue to face the hardships of a global pandemic. It’s still difficult to believe how much change we have dealt with in such a short time period.
Despite the difficulties they faced last year, our education community achieved many successes worthy of celebration. Our schools invested in technology and teacher training that will serve all of our students in the coming year, regardless of whether they learn in a face-to-face or online classroom.
Thanks to these investments in educational technology, remote learning became a viable option for their students and teachers in most districts. To reach students in this new environment, teachers developed skills using digital tools that helped their students continue learning from home. Further, students and parents learned valuable lessons about how the remote classroom works that will continue to benefit them in the future.
The pandemic permanently altered the structure of where and when learning takes place, the definition of success, and our perception of our children’s needs. As we move forward, it will be vital to continue to build upon the remote learning skills we developed last year.
While we may not ever get back to the way things were before COVID-19 — and many argue that we should not strive to — we can use our growing knowledge of online and hybrid learning to make the education experience more accessible and equitable for Michigan students. This process will be ongoing as we continue researching effective practices and implementing new instructional strategies to support all students.
Building solid relationships between students, parents, and teachers — regardless of where learning takes place — may be the most critical lesson we have learned.
Strong relationships can be built in an online environment. In fact, many of our online teachers at Michigan Virtual report surprise at the depth of the connections they’re able to form with their online students. For some students, the online platform may even reduce social pressure and allow them to interact more comfortably with their teacher and their peers.
Throughout Michigan Virtual’s 20 years of research and experience in virtual education, we’ve found that building and maintaining relationships in an online learning environment requires students and teachers alike to develop new skills. Because research demonstrates that these relationships are crucial to student success, we keep relationship building at the heart of our professional development for online educators.
Our teachers and parents have gone above and beyond to help our students receive the best education possible in a challenging environment. They’ve embraced new technologies and spent untold hours learning and adapting to the needs of an emergency learning transition. This time spent was not wasted because it has prepared us to be better, more agile, and, ultimately, more successful educators and learners as we adapt to our “new normal.”
While many aspects of the upcoming school year are still uncertain, we stand better prepared to deal with the challenges we will undoubtedly face. Thanks to everything we’ve learned over the past 18 months — as well as continued improvements to educational technology — our educators will be able to personalize learning and differentiate instruction for their students more now than ever before. We can conclude with certainty that this school year is sure to be better than the last.
So, let’s put the lessons of the 2020-2021 school year to work.
Our students deserve it.