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Back to School Reflections - September 2021

We are about a month in from the start of school for my kids here in Texas. Everyone has a renewed energy and is happy to be in person and engaging with their friends. I have two in high school and one that is a freshman in college. With the first month under our belt, I have reflected on some of the changes our local school district and university have implemented. I believe these are positive changes, made in response to the global health crisis, that will greatly benefit our kids in the long run.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is at the forefront and attention of both school districts, as well as universities. SEL in schools helps educators reach out and help students both inside and outside the classroom setting. As demonstrated over the last year, coping skills to confront crises and navigate life are as important as excelling in math. SEL when looked at and applied holistically can have the added side benefit of improving student academic performance. 

Check out this interesting article on SEL by EdSurge. This article not only focuses on the importance of SEL for students but also emphasizes the point that it should start with our educators. Great insight!

Another area that I have read numerous articles about is the age-old lessons learned. What can we take away from the pandemic that allows us to move forward with best of breed educational tools and philosophies that will be advantageous to us this next year? I found two interesting articles on this topic, one from an educational perspective and one from a parental perspective. Both offer valuable insight that I have seen our school district implement and some nuggets I will take away to continue to balance our personal life.

From an educational perspective, the article from EdSurge on how teachers are using some of the skills and practices they have used in 2020 to facilitate and manage virtual learning to in-person learning for the Fall 2021. 

Several teachers in my kids school district have embraced the use of online and on-demand content, and they are using it in a couple of ways. Not only for the sick/quarantined students at home, but also for pre-teaching in the classroom. My kids have embraced the approach of watching a brief video covering a new concept/learning objective at home as homework and then engaging in expanded discussion and explanation in the classroom. I love this idea, and it has proven to be particularly effective with my children. Also, the general idea of using technology to foster engagement both inside and outside the classroom. Teachers are using these connection tools in new and interesting ways to allow collaboration with individual students and peer collaboration for projects, etc.

This year is already proving to be another challenging one for our educators. It is great to see school districts not reverting back to the traditional in-person learning methodologies and look to implement additional practices to reach every type of learner.

The second article I read about implementing lessons learned from the pandemic is from a parent perspective. Challenge Success’ recent article on “Rethinking Normal: Back to School Tips from 2021” prompted me to reflect on how I want to manage the school year from a parent perspective. 

Each of the tips provided resonated with me. The first was to “Resist the urge to overschedule.” We have three kids, and they all play competitive sports. This statement right there means our lives are overscheduled. The pandemic was a forced slow down, and it was nice. As we move into the Fall, I will proactively look to use my time and encourage my kids to use their time wisely and focus on the activities that are most important to them.

The article introduced a new acronym for me: “PDF” which stands for Playtime, Downtime, and Family time. Being able to find balance in your daily life and find time for all three helps to provide your child the ability to focus when needed. I never considered PDF in my kids daily life, much less mine, except more on the aggregate level. I like the idea of making sure a bit of this is folded into each day.

The last nugget from this article that I felt was important was “Support your kids where they are.” Though in general “back to normal” is welcomed by many, it may not be welcomed by all. Give yourself and your kids some time to adapt and settle into Fall 2021 and everything that it brings: both the good and the challenging.

It is yet to be determined how Fall 2021 will unfold for everyone, and the unfolding will likely look very different based on where you live. Working in the education industry for over 20 years, I’m encouraged by the changes I see implemented at my local school and my son’s university. Increased flexibility and alternative learning methodologies have accelerated the digital shift to provide learning environments and experiences that can meet the learner where they are. As a parent, we are faced with continued difficult choices on how best to navigate the pandemic and what’s best for our children to meet their individual needs. These articles were thought provoking and allowed me to reflect and prioritize what is important for my family.

Patty Wolfe

Patty Wolfe

Senior Director - Applications, Integration, & Data
Patty Wolfe is the Senior Director, Learner Applications and Experience for Unicon Inc, a leading provider of education technology consulting and digital services. Patty has over 17 years of project management and consulting experience, managing all aspects of client relationships including strategic planning and implementation, project delivery, client satisfaction, and P&L. Since joining Unicon in 2001, she has worked with companies such as Scholastic, John Wiley and Sons, and Pearson Education to deliver a diverse portfolio of projects including sophisticated online learning applications, simulations, and progressive assessments that deliver an individualized learning experience. She holds a Project Management Professional (PMP) and Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP) certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI), and a ScrumMaster® certification from the Scrum Alliance organization.