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Teachers Break Down Barriers, Build Bridges During the Pandemic

August 20, 2020
New Report from Teach Plus Examines Teacher Perspectives on Accelerating Learning, Leadership, and Innovation during COVID

WASHINGTON, DC―Since the COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools to close, teachers have served as the main resource on remote learning; supported students’ social-emotional and mental health needs; and broken down multiple barriers to help children learn and grow. To bring to the forefront teachers’ guidance for schools, districts, and states as these work on solutions to continue educating students in the next academic year, Teach Plus today released a new report, Barriers to Bridges: Teacher Perspectives on Accelerating Learning, Leadership, and Innovation in the Pandemic

“With millions of students having to abruptly adjust to school closures, teachers were on the front lines supporting their students’ remote learning, well-being, and success. The central lesson of this report for school and policy leaders is to empower and recognize the expertise of teachers in responding to this pandemic. They must make room for our teachers to continue to lead planning and bring forth solutions that will benefit students and their learning,” said Roberto J. Rodríguez, Teach Plus President and CEO.

Barriers to Bridges puts forth six recommendations for school, district, and state leaders to consider in their response to the pandemic: 

  1. Embrace teacher leadership and include teachers in the decision-making process. 
  2. Prioritize and incorporate the expertise of teachers in school planning and instruction. 
  3. Increase resources for trauma-informed instruction, student mental health, and the well-being of teachers. 
  4. Strengthen communication, connections, and partnership with parents and families to better support students. 
  5. Identify, evaluate, and scale-up promising practices and approaches, particularly from teachers who are uniquely qualified to understand and re-envision how schools can best serve children. 
  6. Prioritize education funding — and pay particular attention to those schools that serve the highest need students. 

"Teachers across the country are seeing this moment as an opportunity to be innovative through learning new skills that will enhance their ability to teach virtually and better meet the needs of their students. School districts are now acting with urgency to fund the resources needed to finally close the digital divide. This shift in education opens up a world of possibilities for both students and teachers and may just be the rainbow after the storm we have been looking for,” said Natalie Brown, a 2nd grade mathematics and science teacher at Frank Guzick Elementary in Dallas ISD and Teach Plus Senior Policy Fellow who facilitated focus groups in Texas.

For the report, Teach Plus examined feedback from 152 virtual focus groups with 532 teachers across 25 states. In these focus groups, teachers discussed their perspectives on teaching and learning, student equity and needs, student and teacher mental health and social and emotional learning resources in schools, and how schools can emerge stronger from this crisis. The research was teacher-driven: 69 Teach Plus teacher leaders facilitated the focus groups with their peers.

From the focus groups, five findings emerged highlighting what teachers experienced during COVID and what they know will be required in the coming year: 1) Prioritizing the mental health and well-being of both students and teachers in the coming school year.  2) Ensuring specific professional development in order for teachers to bring their best in this new era, including on how to teach remotely and on how to integrate social and emotional learning into their instruction. 3) Using this moment as a potential transformative point in education, to address inequities and support innovation in teaching and learning. 4) Using student learning data — including data collected through diagnostic assessments — paired with curated or “power” standards to tailor their curriculum and pace of teaching. 5) Deepening partnerships and relationships with families and community partners to better serve students, especially students with disabilities, English language learners, and economically disadvantaged students.

“At the end of last year, teachers were worried about how to keep the connection with students. Now at the beginning of this year, we are developing strategies to build connections at a time where school is no longer a building, but a room or a spot in your home, when recess can’t be tag, and where there is an uncertainty of what the world will look like tomorrow, next month or even next year,” said Jamita Horton, a kindergarten teacher at Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest in Denver and Teach Plus Senior Research Fellow and one of the authors of the report.

“The insight and analysis in the report are made possible because the research was conducted and led by teachers. With over 60 teacher leaders facilitating focus group conversations, Barriers to Bridges provides an in-depth look into what teachers are experiencing and their ideas for meeting and overcoming the unprecedented challenges facing our schools,” said Mark Teoh, Teach Plus Senior Director of Research and Knowledge and one of the report’s authors.

About Teach Plus
Teach Plus is dedicated to the mission of empowering excellent, experienced, and diverse teachers to take leadership over key policy and practice issues that advance equity, opportunity, and student success. Since 2009, Teach Plus has developed thousands of teacher leaders across the country to exercise their leadership in shaping education policy and improving teaching and learning, to create an education system driven by access and excellence for all. teachplus.org