Reflecting on an academic year of adaptations and changes, Milton faculty leaders are considering the upsides from 2020–2021 that may carry forward into post-pandemic teaching and learning.
“From my perspective, there are quite a few things that are worth keeping, including those skills around time management and how students navigate school,” Academic Dean Heather Sugrue said. “Did you communicate with your teachers? Did you ask for help when you needed it? We went down a path this year, which I felt was the right choice, of being flexible with deadlines. It felt like a key step because we were separating the ability to turn things in at a certain time from a student’s understanding of the material.”
In addition to some technological advancements and new approaches to teaching, the Upper School is preparing to launch a new schedule for the 2021–2022 school year that provides for deeper learning and more time for community building and work on issues of antiracism, diversity, equity, and justice.
We’ve learned of the powerful impact of intentional community-building within classrooms and we plan to continue doing that work with students on campus next year.
Some aspects of this year—such as the executive functioning students developed to manage hybrid class schedules and complete work on time, new thinking about feedback from teachers, and using technology to connect with outside experts—are worth carrying forward as Milton plans its return to a more traditional year on campus, Sugrue said.
Pacing guides—which give students detailed plans for their courses throughout the weeks—have helped students prepare their days, something Sugrue said “respects our students as individuals who have other demands on their time beyond one course’s syllabus. The pacing guides allow for students to look at their week ahead and get organized. So if a student knows they’ll be at a speech tournament for a whole weekend, for example, they can plan ahead.”
Although conversations regarding “what to keep” from this unusual school year are ongoing, one thing is certain: There will be a new schedule in the Upper School. The goal is to provide opportunities for deep learning and community work without lengthening the school day, said Indu Singh, dean of teaching and learning. It will also reduce the number of times students transition from place to place during the school day. Significant work has gone into developing a new schedule with longer class periods and more time for teachers to meet with students and colleagues, and the new schedule was developed with the academic, social, and emotional needs of adolescents, Singh said.
“Every time a student transitions, they lose time at the beginning and end of every class period, so it’s essentially 13 to 15 minutes of learning loss per subject,” she said. “Research suggests that longer class blocks create fewer transitions and less learning loss. What we’ve learned from this time is that students’ learning is compromised if they don’t feel connection with one another and their teachers. We need to be more deliberate in the ways we give time to build relationships and trust. Learning is social.”
Longer class blocks will provide time for teachers to continue planning the cadence for each unit of teaching, Singh said, including setting the tone for each unit; assessing students’ prior knowledge of the concepts or disciplines; equity and identity work; assessment; and reflection.
Teachers have also spent significant time this past year making teaching and learning “visible,” Singh explained: Students make their learning visible by sharing digital portfolios of their work or demonstrating their understanding of a subject in novel ways. Teachers, meanwhile, have worked to be exceptionally clear about assignments and expectations. This increased communication and visibility between teachers and students will be served by longer class blocks.
“We’ve learned of the powerful impact of intentional community-building within classrooms and we plan to continue doing that work with students on campus next year,” Singh said.
Video-conferencing technology like Zoom, which became necessary for remote and hybrid learning, won’t be missed as a constant presence in classrooms, but it could continue to provide great opportunities, such as inviting guest speakers and working with other schools, Sugrue said. Teachers can continue to use video in strategic ways, like sharing recorded lectures prior to class meetings so that more time can be spent working collaboratively during class periods.
Zoom has also broadened the Milton community in some ways, allowing families who live far away from campus to participate in parents’ association meetings and Upper School webinars, as well as to view student performances they wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend in person.
“There are some opportunities for looking outside the traditional bubble that are really awesome to imagine,” Sugrue said.