Action Designing for Post-COVID: Inside the April J-WEL Connections pK-12 Program | MIT J-WEL

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Action Designing for Post-COVID: Inside the April J-WEL Connections pK-12 Program


Key areas of pK-12's recovery, reconstruction, and reconfiguration of a post-pandemic world.

Graphic recording of the panel on the implications of COVID-19 on mental health The emphasis of the pK-12 Collaborative’s J-WEL Connections (JWC) program was "Action Designing for Post-COVID.” The pK-12 team identified three core themes to guide participants throughout JWC:
  1. Professional Development and Teacher Education (Report being updated)
  2. Remote Learning
  3. Mental Health and Social-Emotional Learning
The pK-12 team prepared the reports for each theme (above) in addition to developing keynote sessions and panel discussions.

Listen and Respond to Educators

In the keynote session for Teacher Education and Professional Development, Prof. Fernando Reimers from Harvard University talked about “Preparing Teachers to Build an Education Renaissance after the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Prof. Reimers stressed the importance of community and connections for transforming education systems. Supporting teachers and developing teacher capacity helps achieve new curriculum goals. Transforming education systems helps students develop the breadth of essential skills in a rapidly changing world.

Our panel on Teacher Education and Professional Development included Dr. DeLaina Tonks, Mountain Heights Academy; Vikas Pota, Varkey Foundation; and Dr. Janet Rankin, MIT. With teachers coping with unprecedented situations during the pandemic, our panelists offered examples of their own innovative teacher professional development solutions across a variety of environments. Some of their core suggestions included listening and responding to teachers’ and communities’ needs, learning from other teachers and contexts, and creating a deliberate culture through competency-based hiring and meaningful interactions based on organizational values.

What Have We Learned From Remote Learning?

Prof. Justin Reich’s keynote session “Remote Learning: What do we know? What should we learn?” compared what happened over the past year with education during COVID-19 with what was “supposed” to happen. Educators have had time to test different strategies for remote learning, since existing challenges with student motivation and widening equity gaps were exacerbated. We also heard from panelists Prof. Susan Cusack and Dr. Nettrice Gaskins of Lesley University, as well as Dr. Aaron Kessler and Dr. Simona Socrate of MIT. Panelists shared their personal experiences with reshaping teaching and learning in pK-12 and higher education. Many teachers experienced a sense of professional loss when they adapted their curriculum for online learning. When considering new pedagogical practices, it’s clear that both students and teachers have valuable input from their remote learning experiences.

Building Resilience in the Time of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting health, education, and economic crises have negatively affected many people’s mental health and created new emergencies for those with pre-existing mental illnesses. Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl from the University of Illinois at Chicago, our keynote speaker for “A New Kind of Fitness: Strengthening the Social and Emotional Competence, Resilience, and Well-Being of Children and Youth Through Social and Emotional Learning – Recent Science and Practical Strategies,” focused on the importance of teaching resilience to our children. The intentional integration of social and emotional fitness into the curriculum will require a systemic approach that considers the needs of educators, students, and their learning contexts.

During the panel “The Implications of COVID-19 on Mental Health,” Peter Senge moderated a conversation about the most pressing challenges faced by educators and learners around the world, in addition to some of the positive impacts and successful approaches being used to address them. Dr. Heidi Kar of the Education Development Center looked at the needs of the community surrounding early trauma. Prof. John Gabrieli, MIT, shared research on how mindfulness helps with both social-emotional learning and cognitive development. Finally, Dr. Mette Böll from the Center for Systems Awareness looked at the Compassionate Systems Framework as a way to work with people at all levels to develop a sense of community and reconfigure structures to provide the outcomes we want.

Image: Graphic recording by Marsha Dunn