Last month, I delivered a keynote on the future of education. It’s a vast topic, so I focused on four trends likely to impact our work as educators.
- Continued growth in blended and online learning.
- Districts confront record-high teacher turnover.
- Students continue to struggle with trauma and learning loss.
- Increased concerns about equity and access.
As school leaders prepare for the 2022-2023 school year, these four trends can help them identify district priorities and create a strategic plan for the year ahead.
Trend #1: Continued Growth in Blended and Online Learning
The pandemic pushed teachers and learners online out of necessity. By fall 2020, 69% of districts offered a virtual school option, up from 27% before COVID, and 30% of district leaders, administrators, and teachers expect to see significant growth in blended learning (Arnett, 2021).
Some of the factors contributing to this growth include:
- Keeping class sizes lower to limit transmission of COVID.
- Accommodating students in quarantine.
- Providing alternatives for immunocompromised staff and students.
- Dealing with staff shortages.
- Capitalizing on financial investments into devices and wifi infrastructure made during the pandemic.
- Increasing interest in flexible, technology-enhanced instructional models.
A challenge associated with the increasing growth in blended and online learning is that survey data indicates, “Many current approaches to remote and hybrid instruction aim to replicate the conventional classroom experience online” (Arnett, 2021). However, traditional approaches to instruction fail to maximize the benefits and affordances of the online learning environment. Designing learning experiences for blended or online learning environments demands a high degree of intentionality about what students do synchronously versus asynchronously. To optimize blended learning and online learning, educators need professional development focused on designing student-centered learning experiences that blend active, engaged learning online with active, engaged learning offline.
Trend #2: School Districts Confront Record-high Teacher Turnover
Teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers due, in part, to the strain of the last three years. When surveyed, 77% of teachers report feeling somewhat or extremely exhausted. 33% of teachers say they are very likely to leave the profession in the next two years, up from 13% before the pandemic (Hanover Research, 2022). Hiring and retaining high-quality teachers will be a challenge for school districts in the upcoming year.
As districts grapple with high levels of teacher turnover, it is essential to understand the connection between work engagement, job satisfaction, and teacher self-efficacy (Granziera & Perera, 2019). Teachers have faced shifting teaching and learning landscapes in the last three years. They transitioned online with little warning and, in many cases, no training to prepare them for teaching online. This negatively impacted their feelings of self-efficacy or their confidence in their ability to do this work well.
The rough transition online and the challenge of engaging students learning in home environments that may not have been conducive to online learning created myriad obstacles for teachers. Student engagement and teacher engagement are reciprocal, so it is not surprising that the lack of student engagement online had a devastating impact on teacher engagement (Roth, Assor, Kanat-Maymon & Kaplan, 2007; Tucker, 2020).
When teachers finally returned to classrooms, they faced new challenges, including concurrent teaching, hybrid schedules, students re-entering schools with trauma, substitute shortages, and fears about contracting COVID. All of this made an already challenging profession more exhausting and stressful.
Attracting and retaining high-quality teachers will require that school districts compensate teachers well for this demanding work. They also need to support teachers in their continued learning and growth with high-quality professional learning opportunities that help them develop high levels of self-efficacy.
Trend #3: Students Continue to Struggle with Trauma and Learning Loss
As schools reopened, there was a focus on learning loss, and educators felt pressure to make up lost ground and get students “caught up.” Unfortunately, the pressure to address learning loss may have overshadowed the more significant issue of students returning with trauma after two years of social isolation. 49% of students reported feeling “depressed, stressed, or anxious to the point of interfering with their learning.” 71% of teachers said that student morale was lower than before the pandemic (Hanover Research, 2022).
After two years of remote learning, students needed to be reacclimated to an academic learning environment. They needed to feel connected to a supportive learning community where they felt welcomed and safe. Although social-emotional learning (SEL) has been a frequent talking point in education, it needs to be woven into the fabric of our students’ classes.
The CASEL Framework for SEL provides a concrete path for applying evidence-based SEL strategies to our students’ daily lives at school. Educators who focus on integrating SEL skills into their classes can help students manage their emotions, make responsible choices, consider the impact of their behavior on others, and develop healthy relationships. When students develop their SEL skills, they can also take a more active role in their learning, sharing the responsibility for learning with their teachers.
As we approach the 2022-2023 school year, teachers and students will benefit from a focus on SEL, not as an add-on but rather as a skill set integrated into every subject area, to create more robust learning communities and help students develop the skills necessary to thrive in schools and beyond.
Trend #4: Increased Concerns about Equity and Access
Miguel Cardona, the Secretary of Education, said, “While COVID-19 has worsened many inequities in our schools and communities, we know that even before the pandemic, a high-quality education was out of reach for too many of our nation’s students and families.” The pandemic exacerbated existing inequities and has had a disproportionally negative impact on students from underserved communities, including communities of color, multilingual learners, and students with disabilities. Moving forward, Cardona emphasizes the need to “create more culturally and linguistically responsive and inclusive learning environments for all students.”
In the last two years, my focus has been on helping school districts and teachers leverage Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and blended learning to create more accessible, inclusive, and equitable learning experiences for all students.
UDL is a framework grounded in brain-based research and provides “concrete suggestions that can be applied to any discipline or domain to ensure that all learners can access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities” (CAST, 2022).
While working with Dr. Katie Novak on our book UDL and Blended Learning, we focused on exploring the synergy between these two frameworks. We explore how blended learning models can make implementing UDL more manageable and sustainable.
Universally designed blended learning is grounded in four fundamental beliefs:
- Learner variability is the norm, not the exception. Students are different in terms of their skills, abilities, learning preferences, language proficiencies, backgrounds, and interests. As a result, a one-size-fits-all learning experience will never address the variability in classrooms.
- Teachers must design learning experiences that strive to remove barriers. Almost every instructional strategy presents obstacles for someone. For example, a student with auditory processing disorder may have difficulty taking in and remembering information presented in a mini-lesson or lecture. Students who are shy or experience social anxiety may struggle to participate in discussions. Since students struggle with different learning activities, the best way to remove barriers is to prioritize student agency, giving them meaningful choices.
- All students can reach firm, standards-aligned goals; however, the pathways they take to get from point A to point B may be different. Students will likely need different levels of support and guidance to make progress toward firm goals. If our goal in education is to create more equitable learning experiences, students will need different inputs (e.g., teacher time and support) to reach a particular output or learning goal. Blended learning models provide teachers with multiple structures to provide students with different pathways while freeing the teacher to work with small groups and individual students.
- We must strive to cultivate expert learners who are resourceful, strategic, motivated, and self-aware. These students can share the responsibility for learning with their teachers and take an active, engaged role in their learning.
The two aspects of education that will not change in the future are 1) learner variability and 2) technology. Given these realities, schools must help teachers understand how to universally design blended learning to honor learner variability and maximize the impact of technology in classrooms.
The summer is a time to reflect, refocus, and prepare for a new year. After the challenges of the last school year, it is critical that school leaders focus on preparing teachers to begin the 2022-2023 school year with the skills they need to design and facilitate equitable learning experiences that integrate SEL and leverage technology to better meet the needs of all learners.
Arnett, T. (2021). Breaking the Mold: How a global pandemic unlocks innovation in K–12 instruction. The Christensen Institute. Retrieved from https://www.christenseninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/BL-Survey-1.07.21.pdf.
CAST. (2022). About Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from https://www.cast.org/impact/universal-design-for-learning-udl
Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). What Is the CASEL Framework? Retrieved from https://casel.org/fundamentals-of-sel/what-is-the-casel-framework
Granziera, H., & Perera, H. N. (2019). Relations among teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs, engagement, and work satisfaction: A social cognitive view. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 58, 75–84.
Hanover Research. (2022). 2022 Trends in K-12 Education. Retrieved from www.hanoverresearch.com/reports-and-briefs/2022-trends-in-k-12-education
Roth, G., Assor, A., Kanat-Maymon, Y., & Kaplan, H. (2007). Autonomous motivation for teaching: How self-determined teaching may lead to self-determined learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(4), 761–774.
Tucker, C. (2020). Teacher engagement in full-release blended learning courses. [Doctoral dissertation, Pepperdine University]. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.
U.S. Department of Education. (2021). Department of Education Announces Actions to Advance Equity in Education. Retrieved from https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/department-education-announces-actions-advance-equity-education