Implementing social-emotional learning (SEL) skills and strategies have shown to positively impact student learning. Especially with this past year, teachers and students have had to deal with challenges they may not have been prepared for including how COVID-19 our feelings towards learning. Addressing SEL skills is not a new concept and educators have referenced the SEL Framework to meet students’ emotional needs to clear a pathway to learning success.
There is countless research that says an engaging learning environment supports student achievement and success. As a former classroom teacher, my favorite memories are of seeing my students totally into a project, hearing them talk with their classmates about what they were doing, and celebrating their successes when they understood a concept or completed a project they worked so hard on. A classroom should be a place for conversation and collaboration, combined with critical thinking and creativity.
Now more than ever, school and parent/family connection is integral when it comes to supporting students as everyone is working to maneuver learning in various environments and situations. In response to school closures and a move to remote learning, there were districts that provided training to help the adults at home understand how online learning platforms, software programs, and video conferencing tools would be used. Parents and caregivers needed to know the what, when, why, and how of educational technology and how to best support learning at home.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework that helps teachers create flexible learning environments that can accommodate students’ unique learning needs. Research shows that when teachers incorporate UDL, they are better able to meet the comprehensive needs of their students, including students with learning disabilities. The goal of UDL is to implement a variety of methods to engage students, represent information, and encourage students to actively participate and express themselves. Essentially, the application of UDL eliminates barriers to learning.
It is nothing new that teachers juggle multiple resources, tools, and programs with the aim of providing their students with high-quality instruction that is engaging and improves their learning progress. With the move to remote and hybrid learning for many schools, teachers also had to juggle multiple platforms, software, and applications to facilitate synchronous learning sessions that would help students overcome education-related challenges. But does it have to be this way?
Districts and schools across the country are making decisions about how to best utilize federal funding. Regardless of the programs, software, and technology professional development and training plays a critical part in acclimating educators and students to what’s “new” for best integration for teaching and learning.
Since late March 2020, the federal government has approved relief funding to help states address challenges to student learning caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA), and the American Rescue Plan will provide approximately $190 billion to the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Education Relief (ESSER) fund. Of course, with the availability of funds come many questions such as - How can these funds be used? When do they need to be used by? Where should we start?
In late December of last year, Congress approved the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 in response to the challenges the Covid-19 pandemic has created. In the CAA, over $54 billion is available for K-12 schools to use, which is in addition to what was provided in the CARES Act ($13.2 billion). The purpose of these funds includes purchasing materials and education technology to address learning loss and improve school facilities and infrastructure to reduce the risk of transmitting the coronavirus. Funding will be available through September 2022. There will be instructions from both the federal government and each state to explain the process the overall process of using the funding.