For all their experience teaching remotely last spring, most educators faced the 2020-21 school year with one unexplored facet of distance learning: they had to get to know their students for the first time virtually. It’s something teachers at all levels struggled with. But the challenges were magnified in early childhood education, where developmentally appropriate digital strategies are intended to augment in-person instruction, not replace it.
We saw thousands of educators and caregivers rise to the challenge. Through ingenuity, perseverance, and hard work, they quickly transformed brick-and-mortar classrooms into virtual ones. As we reflected on 2020, we observed some key challenges facing our field:
Providing teachers with necessary tools in uncertain times. As educators planned for the 2020-21 school year, many didn’t know whether their state, district, or center would offer in-person learning, remote instruction, or a hybrid model. Our new Distance Learning Solution combines all of the important elements of instruction into a single digital experience, enabling teachers to maintain family connections, continuity of instruction, and professional supports from wherever they are.
Keeping students and teachers safe. As some schools began to meet in person this fall, we added a feature to our Tadpoles® family communication app that provides administrators with daily school-wide health reports and makes it easier for families to take advantage of curbside check-in procedures for students, cutting down on interactions with staff and other children.
Providing teachers with ongoing professional development despite the pandemic. Of course, educators needed professional development opportunities more than ever before, yet they couldn’t gather to learn and grow without risking their health. We responded by offering virtual professional development as an alternative to in person sessions and making our 200 hours of online professional development training available to individual educators. And in November and December, we held our first-ever Mighty Meet Up, so teachers could gather virtually and discuss teaching and assessment goals.
Continuing to support social–emotional development. Teachers were charged with providing unprecedented levels of social–emotional support for young children while dealing with their own challenges. We have been committed to supporting social–emotional learning through all of our products for more than 40 years, incorporating activities, resources, and strategies for teachers to help children develop these critical skills. In 2020, we also provided new free resources like our Six Positive Messages e-book to help teachers guide young children in processing their experiences and a Back-to-School Webinar Series designed to support educators’ self-care.
Now here we are in 2021, and our schools are still reeling from pandemic-related disruptions. Based on our experiences with many of you in 2020, we anticipate that several themes will dominate the classroom experience in 2021. Here are five of them:
- Schools will need to continue to find innovative ways to engage families. As teachers and families have had to work more closely than ever in the past year, the school-family relationship has evolved in profound ways. Our broad array of family resources, books, and videos available in The Creative Curriculum® and ReadyRosie™ help children learn through real-life experiences—like folding laundry or walking up the stairs—and model everyday learning moments for families to practice with their children. We remain committed to further strengthening family partnerships through these resources and better and more streamlined communication tools and expanded mobile focus.
- There will be more technology that empowers teachers. We know each child has unique circumstances and needs. We also know that teachers want to meet each child where he or she is. Our focus is on equipping teachers with data-powered interactive tools, dashboards, and resources to improve their visibility into children’s needs and elevate their responsiveness and role in ensuring differentiated instruction for each child.
- There will be greater flexibility for students and teachers to learn and work outside of the traditional classroom. New models of early childhood education unveiled in the past year have allowed for much-needed flexibility and individualized instruction—something that will continue beyond the pandemic. Our platform makes our instructional and assessment materials easily accessible to online educators and parents so they can adjust to a variety of learning environments effectively and efficiently.
- Technology will improve developmentally appropriate practice and help to measure and address learning loss. I deeply believe that digital strategies should augment developmentally appropriate practices, not replace them. The past year has shown us that when leveraged correctly, integrated technologies—whole-child formative assessment, research-based digital curriculum and resources for teachers and families, dynamic planning tools, professional development, and two-way communication—can empower the adults in a child’s life in ways that promote ongoing development and prevent learning loss when life, inevitably, gets in the way.
- Social–emotional learning will remain paramount as children return to the classroom. We still don’t fully understand the impact of the pandemic on social–emotional development in young children, especially those who are most vulnerable. But research tells us that a comprehensive social–emotional learning curriculum may help children build resilience and protective factors to develop their talents and capabilities. We look forward to introducing you very soon to our newest offering that directly addresses this need.
From the onset of the pandemic, Teaching Strategies has been committed to providing educators with high-quality digital solutions to challenges related to COVID-19. As I look ahead to the new year, I’m hopeful that the last year has ushered in changes in the early childhood landscape that will improve the quality of education for years to come.
Only Teaching Strategies integrates all of the essential elements of a high-quality early childhood education: curriculum, assessment, professional development, and family partnerships.