Resilient educators deserve sustained support

By Denise Glyn Borders and Steve Cardwell
October 2020
Vol. 41, No. 5

Over the course of the last six months, Learning Forward’s weekly webinars have given us the opportunity to learn with educators across the globe, and our most inspiring lessons have come from practitioners making sense of a time that demands creativity and resilience. Now that more and more districts are returning to school, we’re eager to share several valuable lessons learned and ask you to join us in taking action on the support educators deserve.

We recognize that educators are faced with massive expectations from policymakers and community members alike. Families know how important schooling is for students, both academically and socially. Education leaders weigh dozens of competing factors to create schooling options for their local contexts, considering safety, accessibility of learning for all families in their communities, support for teachers, and quality of student learning experiences.

As educators have created imaginative solutions in the face of ever-changing circumstances, we’ve seen four consistent themes emerge. We invite learning leaders to consider how they’re supporting educators around these issues and suggest specific actions to advance our collective aspirations for all students.

In this #LearnFwdTLP article, Denise Borders (@dgborders12) and Steve Cardwell (@myphronesis) offer ways learning leaders can support educators. Click To Tweet

Attend to the health and well-being of students, educators, and communities.
Safety must come first in schools, and we know that every system is faced with balancing a wide array of demands from policymakers and community members as they determine when and how to open schools for the year. When the pandemic first hit in March, school systems jumped immediately to ensure communities had access to food and sought solutions to addressing inequities in access to health care as well as technology and broadband. Keeping students and educators safe is no less important now, despite the fatigue we all feel with a radically changed day-to-day existence.

Emotional well-being is also essential. We want to recognize the high level of uncertainty and fear educators, students, and families bear in such difficult circumstances, which creates a stressful living, learning, and working environment.

Key actions for education leaders:

  • Prioritize clear communication with educators and respect them as qualified professionals. Consider how they are part of decision-making processes.
  • Assess the level of trust and strengthen your culture to support both innovation and candor.
  • Invest in building and sustaining relationships — with and among staff, students, and community members.

Offer challenging teaching and high-quality instructional materials supported by effective professional learning.
Even as educators and policymakers adjusted calendars, grading periods, and specific high-stakes assessment expectations, we heard in our webinars that an instructional foundation tied to college- and career-ready standards serves as the academic backbone to reducing learning loss to serve each and every student well for the future.

Investments in high-quality materials are investments in equity. Remote, hybrid, and face-to-face implementation of standards and materials will, of course, vary; educators will need agility and support to navigate multiple delivery systems.

Aligned professional learning is the linchpin to success with this priority and others. Educators require sustained support to build their capacity to use and adapt materials and leverage deep content expertise.

Key actions for education leaders:

  • Establish and share a systemwide instructional vision that takes into account remote, hybrid, and in-person learning modes.
  • Invest in high-quality instructional materials and ensure professional learning at the school and team levels focuses on implementing materials.

Prioritize social justice and equity of access to high-quality teaching and learning.
Each passing week of 2020 has shined a painful spotlight on the entrenched inequities and racism built into so many systems in modern society, including education. From the disparity in health outcomes to the lack of access to technology, broadband, and community support for learning, communities of color are particularly hard-hit by the implications of this pandemic. At the same time, the nonstop violence against people of color has resulted in ongoing demands for social justice in cities across the world.

Within education, the parallel injustices — insufficient representation of communities of color in teaching and leadership positions, curricula that aren’t relevant for students in various cultures, and students’ lack of access to high-quality teaching, to name just a few — are also in the spotlight.

There are flashes of hope in this realm, including the increasing number of equity officers at high levels in school systems and a heightened awareness of inequity and commitment to improve among so many educators.

Key actions for education leaders:

  • Examine your own privilege, beliefs, biases, and assumptions about race.
  • Seek opportunities to build knowledge and skills and shift beliefs for yourself and others.
  • Outline actions to dismantle inequities within your sphere of influence and demand change from others.
  • Create mechanisms to monitor progress on critical actions to dismantle inequities.

Embrace this opportunity to leverage technology to accelerate teaching and learning.
Education is one of the few sectors that technology had not yet disrupted. Through an impressive pivot, the need to offer remote instruction quickly spurred educators to acquire new skills and build new ways of engaging students and conveying concepts.

While the coming months may eventually allow us to return to what we once called normal, educators have an opportunity to expand on what they’ve accomplished with technology and go so much further, exploring possibilities for combining the best of all learning platforms and virtual tools, without abandoning the importance of social interaction in schools.

Key actions for education leaders:

  • Explore teaching and learning tools systemically to identify options for innovation.
  • Hold technology platforms and tools to high standards.
  • Build educators’ capacity in leveraging technology for student learning and professional learning alike.
  • Advocate for technology systems and solutions that will advance district goals.

Clearly, this year’s back to school isn’t what we all grew up with or anticipated. Yet, despite the many challenges educators face right now, we are hopeful that these challenges will reveal new avenues to excellence and equity in teaching and learning. Our greatest hopes are inspired by the educators we see leading the way every day. Learning Forward is here to support you at every step.

Download PDF here.


Denise Glyn Borders is president and CEO at Learning Forward. Steve Cardwell is president of Learning Forward’s board of trustees.

Denise Glyn Borders served as Learning Forward President and CEO from 2019 to 2022. Before that, she was president of SRI Education, a division at SRI International, where she led three centers – Learning and Development, Technology and Learning, and Education Policy. Previously, Borders was senior vice president and director of the U.S. Education and Workforce Development Group at FHI 360, a global human development organization with an evidence-based research approach.

Steve Cardwell is vice president – students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU). Steve has had an exemplary career in education. He was previously professor of teaching at University of British Columbia and prior to this was the superintendent/CEO for five years with the Vancouver School Board and previously Superintendent for the Delta School District.

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