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Readers respond with biggest lessons from 2021

SmartBrief readers send in their biggest education lessons from 2021 -- and editor Katie Parsons responds.

5 min read


Readers respond with biggest lessons from 2021

Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash

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It’s no secret that 2021 was a memorable one for educators. It marked a full calendar year of teaching during pandemic conditions – and demands continued to increase for educators to become experts in technology, social-emotional learning and all things related to student health.

As the editor of the SmartBrief on EdTech and the SmartBrief on Math Education, I read dozens of articles each day about teaching and educational trends. I also receive a lot of messages from readers commenting on article summaries we run in our briefs or on our Originals pieces that publish on the SmartBrief site.

These daily parts of my job not only give me insight into what we should be publishing, but also into what is happening in the profession of teaching and how it is evolving.

I recently asked readers to email me about their “lessons learned” in 2021. Some responded with full articles, such as Michael Gaskell’s piece about looking to history for hope in 2021 and a piece on enduring pedagogical practices by a trio of educators from the Poway Unified School District in Calif. An edtech CEO wrote a piece about the value of data in engaging students and continued professional learning for educators.

Other readers sent me a few sentences to include in this piece, which you’ll see below.

All had a universal theme: 2021 changed the educational landscape forever, and by leaps and bounds.

Here are some of the major lessons learned in 2021 that I’ve heard from readers:

Teachers embraced technology

As the dust from the onset of the pandemic started to settle, teachers moved from a place of tech survival to tech endurance. Educators were better able to articulate which pieces of technology enhanced their jobs and engaged students the most.

Lisa Cumming, a science teacher at Olmsted Falls High School in Ohio wrote me to say:

“One of the biggest lessons from 2021 centers on technology. Many educators that were resistant to the use of technology embraced it fully — partially out of necessity and partially because it made instruction so much easier and more efficient. At the same time, educators realized that while technology certainly made instruction easier, it was still the human connection and the face-to-face education students benefited from the most.” 

Curriculum must be agile – and engaging

As COVID-19 vaccinations became mainstream — and even the youngest students were able to obtain them — more schools got relatively “back to normal” with in-person instruction. As the Omicron strain of the virus rears its head, however, it’s a reminder of how important flexibility in learning delivery methods truly is for students and their families.

Engaging those students whether they are at home or in classrooms is also important.

Fred Fransen, CEO of Certell, emailed me to say:

“Almost two years into the pandemic, teachers continue to be challenged to conduct learning remotely, at least in part. It’s become clear to many teachers that you can’t take a regular classroom lecture, put it online and expect to deliver the same experience. At the same time, students today learn differently than other generations. They expect to be entertained and are used to high production value media.”

Fransen went on to explain that demand for relevant, engaging curriculm, such as the pop culture lessons offer by Certell, is rising.

“Teachers are gravitating to online content that pair pop culture media with engaging digital storytelling for effective, dynamic learning by today’s digital native students. According to a recent study conducted by Certell and Project Tomorrow®, 90% of teachers say the use of pop culture media in lessons increases their effectiveness in the classroom, and 84% of students say that pop culture references help them learn.”

Pop culture is one example of an engaging way to reach students. The rising popularity of Kahoot and crowd-sourced apps and sites also point to engaging students even more in the conversations surrounding their learning.

Instruction methods deserve reevaluation

Since the entire way school takes place in the US was uprooted at the start of the pandemic, reflective educators have taken the moment in history to reevaluate the way subjects are taught — and how teachers interact with students. This applies to all subjects, but especially core learning topics such as reading and early math skills.

I received this note from Stacy Hurst, chief education officer at Reading Horizons:

“2021 magnified the need for science-based reading instruction in our country. The growing impact of the pandemic on the reading development of children has only increased the sense of urgency to change the way reading has been taught. As a result, we’ve seen a greater commitment from states to provide teachers with the knowledge and tools necessary to teach all students how to read proficiently before 3rd grade.”

Relationships still reign supreme

Whether teachers and students communicate face-to-face, or via video conferencing, that bond is valuable. Simply teaching students in not enough; educators must build relationships of trust and mutual respect.

A reader named James emailed me to say:

“Relationships matter more today than ever before. Learning is not about time in a seat. We have shown that kids can jump hoops during the pandemic but are they learning?”

That’s a great question, James. I look forward to exploring its answer, and many others, with readers in 2022.


Katie Parsons edits SmartBrief newsletters on EdTech and Math Education. Contact Katie at [email protected].


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