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Why principals should “loop” students back in

One of the big questions facing school leaders right now is what things will look like when the new school year begins. No one fully knows whether teachers and students will be able to fully or partially return to their classrooms and, even for those who can enjoy “business as usual,” the atmosphere at school is likely to be filled with uncertainty, unease, and lots of distancing.

While it can be difficult to build and maintain a learning atmosphere under such conditions, it may be even more challenging for teachers to develop the nurturing relationships that are so critical to student development, particularly after having endured so much uncertainty already in the previous half year. To expect teachers to connect with their charges and be able to support them during the formative first weeks may be too tall an order for many and could set students up for an even more challenging year.

It is for these reasons that I believe school leaders should strongly consider looping, at least through the first portion of the academic calendar. 

Looping is the term used when teachers “advance” with their students from one grade level to the next. There are many advantages to looping, including increased familiarity with and understanding of their pupils, which allows teachers to better meet student needs and assists the learners in working more comfortably and confidently. Compare it to a relationship between manager and direct report, or a head coach and quarterback. If there was turnover on an annual basis, much time and energy would be lost in developing rapport and establishing processes and trust.

Those that oppose looping cite such negative factors as “spreading teachers thin” (not allowing them to become experts and develop materials in a specific range of instruction,) as well as what to do when teacher-student relationships sour (neither party would want a Year Two under those conditions.) And, of course, there’s the diminished feeling of progress kids feel when they don’t move on at year’s end to a new grade with a new teacher.

Still, I would argue that the combination of all the lost learning from the outgoing year as well as the need for stability and relationships as the new year commences would more than justify assigning our teachers to the same group that they ended the year with. For starters, the focus should be on content review and gap closing, as even the best remote instructors had to deal with higher-than-normal decreases in engagement and accountability towards year’s end. This would mitigate stress on teachers by not requiring them to prepare extensive new content and lessons while still trying to master their remote/blended/in-person instruction. Also, since there is a preexisting relationship, teachers can make quick assessments of student work and be in better position to provide needed interventions. 

In addition, the inevitable uneasiness created by COVID-19 in students’ lives, minds, social networks, and domestic dynamics means that more students need social-emotional support than usual. Teachers serve as the first line of defense in this area and, if they know their students well, can help determine or at least contribute intelligently to the conversation about the best course of action needed to help support their students.

Schools that do choose to loop temporarily should identify a transition point in the first part of the year so that everyone can stay focused on the goals of reestablishing normalcy and quickly closing academic gaps. Schedule a mini calendar break so that teachers and students can return to something different on the other side. Throughout, create opportunities for the next level teacher to meet and interact with her future students before they enter her classroom. This will make the transition more seamless and add an element of anticipation. 

There is no simple way to restore normalcy for our students and teachers. It may take years for that to occur and we can’t afford to lose any more time or dig ourselves deeper into our COVID-hole. Through looping, schools can accelerate the process by taking advantage of pre-existing knowledge and relationships to build momentum and identify ways to accelerate progress and learning over time.

Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) is president of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. He is author of Becoming the New Boss and several free e-books including, Core Essentials of Leadership, The Impactful Productivity Blueprint, An E.P.I.C. Solution to Understaffing and How to Boost Your Leadership Impact. Naphtali is offering a Back to School Boot Camp starting July 21 for new and emerging teachers and the professionals who support them.

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