Lessons Learned from Schooling in a Pandemic
June 15, 2021
Lessons Learned from Schooling in a Pandemic

When you look back on schools closing in March 2020, how have your perspectives, needs, and aspirations changed in such a challenging year? 

The pandemic has taught us all so much. As I reflect on the last year (plus), three major themes occur. On today’s podcast, I’m exploring the effect of the pandemic on equity, mental health, and the ever-changing educational system. 

With so much transition happening in schools, the time is right to evaluate what is working, what we can adapt, and what we can leave behind. Join our EdActive Collective to listen to and become one of the voices making an impact on systemic change in our schools.


Jump Through the Conversation:

  • [1:58] Examining equity in education 
  • [5:48] Bringing mental health to the forefront
  • [7:43] EdActive Collective and June 21-24 Summit
  • [10:13] Adjusting educational content and context
  • [14:02] Utilizing the tool of polarity thinking
  • [15:51] Maureen’s Magic Wand: Taking painful lessons and choosing to learn and grow from them.


Links and Resources:

Thanks for listening! Don’t forget to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Android. If you like what you heard, please leave a review on iTunes and share what you liked about the show.



Maureen O’Shaughnessy  0:03  

Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at education evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host and founder of education, evolution and the micro school coalition, where we are fiercely Committed to changing the narrative to reimagining the education landscape, and creating learning that serves all children and prepares them to thrive.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  0:50  

If you are new, welcome to the podcast, please subscribe on our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around a while, have you left a review?


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  1:08  

Hello, education evolution listeners. This year plus of school during a pandemic has taught our country our schools and lead prep a great deal. Let’s unpack what we’ve learned, and how we can use this knowledge to better serve all learners. As I look back on schools closing in March, a year ago, and then this full school year, operating during a pandemic, three big themes emerge, equity, mental health, and content and context. Let me explore each from a system lead prep and personal perspective. As a system, the whole conversation of equity goes beyond the classroom. A little over a year ago, George Floyd was murdered and our country erupted. This tragedy stoked looking at how our large institutions, diverse populations are not treated equally. Well, this is definitely true of the criminal justice system. It’s equally true of our schools. We know that students of color have a higher dropout rate than other students. And our students with learning differences have yet a higher dropout rate. So our system of schools has plenty of work to do so that all students can access education, and be future ready upon graduation. What does equity mean for LEED prep my micro school. It’s been a year of deep reflection for our parents and teachers. We’ve all taken a deep dive into white privilege, xenophobia, land rights, and the steps that we need to be taking. Our parent book study group has had powerful discussions and members have taken actions. Our teachers have stretched and woven the conversation of racism, privilege, and our current events into ongoing conversations. Our students have pulled together with student led no place for hate activities to embrace our school being a place for love and belonging. Baby steps in the right direction. What does equity mean for me? I’ve been struggling with ways to personally take authentic action. Studying Dr. Bettina loves work. I want to do more than be an ally, who reads the right books. I want to be a co conspirator and put myself on the line. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  3:58  

But Tina has a wonderful taped interview. in the show notes with a poignant and humorous example of the difference between ally and co conspirator. co conspirators are abolitionists like those in the Underground Railroad building on trust and love. They freed over 100,000 slaves at great risk to themselves. The Seattle protests are personal for me with my daughter and her friends as regular protesters. I grappled with what authentic action would look like for me. As pandemic pods became the Hot Topic last summer. I got a nanosecond of time on Good Morning America, and people started to contact me asking for help getting started with their own micro schools. A black nonprofit in New Jersey was one organization that connected with me as they pivoted to open a micro school to serve underprivileged children. I was on To be their guide. This led me to create an online class series based on my guidebook on how to create a micro school. As people signed up for this class, the money went directly to the Bullock garden project this new jersey nonprofit. After the class, the school leaders wanted to keep meeting so I created a weekly mastermind for leaders of small schools. Again, the sliding scale membership to this group was paid directly to the New Jersey nonprofit, baby steps for me in the right direction.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  5:38  

I wonder what steps others are living as they strive to create equity in their circles of influence. The second topic I want to unpack is mental health. This year has brought this topic to the forefront. And I say bringing it to the forefront because we had a youth mental health crisis in the United States before the pandemic began. For example, on the anonymous health survey that high school students take in Washington State, one in 10 high school students reported having attempted suicide, pre pandemic, and the numbers of students with anxiety and depression is skyrocketing. so confusing online classes and taking students away from their social connections and outside activities during this pandemic, has only exacerbated the crisis and extended it to younger students. And to those who have graduated. Schools are getting better at having assemblies and mental health awareness weeks. But as a system, I wonder if how we treat our students with so much conformity expected is a part of the problem. It makes me want to rethink these precious six hours of daily life that we provide our students. Could we do something to be a part of the solution? How can we in schools, foster mindfulness and well beings, our schools have a lot of resources, and they work for many students. But I can’t help but wish for more schools within schools, more hands on learning programs, and more real world learning experiences for our youth. If we could help each student find their niche, it seems like anxiety and depression would be replaced with hope and confidence. This school transformation. While we hold on to many parts of the system that work, or what I’m striving to address with a group of organizations from around the United States, we have formed the adaptive collective. And our first summit is June 21, through 24th. I’m excited to be getting voices from a variety of organizations that believe in the value of youth. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  7:56  

The collective will meet quarterly, and we are hoping our synergy across organizations will help us impact systemic change in our schools. in the show notes, I have the link to the collective and registration to this free summit. We would love to have youth, parents, teachers, business people, and anyone who comes in contact or cares deeply about our youth attend this summit. addressing mental health at lead prep has entailed building in much more time for the human dynamic, and letting content to be a lower priority. various national events have been scary for students this year. So taking time to unpack them, and listening to concerns has been very important. We’ve also personalized assignments, and the length of school day as needed. Parents and students have had a great deal of agency in this process. Together, we’ve been able to be very responsive to mental health needs. For me personally, I have been paying close attention to the mental health needs of our parents and teachers. The pressure of teachers teaching remotely or in a hybrid, while dealing with the variables of the pandemic in their own lives has been enormous. I am so impressed with our teachers and the amazing hard work they’ve done. And they’re also really aware of how fragile some of our students have been. And they’ve been weighing this in to everything they’ve been doing. Our parents who’ve been thrust into the role of teacher and tutor often while holding down jobs are also very frazzled. So I’ve worked hard to make sure that I’m taking care of my nutrition, exercise hydration, and rest so that my energy is full, and I can be a deep listener and responsive to our teachers and parents. Moving forward it would be wonderful for schools to make mental health as much of or A greater priority than course content. When our students are healthy, they’re much more able to learn and to apply that learning to make a positive difference in the world. content and context is the final topic. We’ve seen how dramatically our schools have pivoted to respond to the pandemic. This means that huge institutions can be responsive and make needed changes.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  10:30  

The next step for our institution of education is to look at the relevance of what we teach. It seems awfully similar to what I studied in high school in an era before the internet, and it seems to still be really focused on memorization. I’ve been very impressed with the organization such as its a clause gives an EC and mytho valleys independent learning center, which are both a part of the big picture learning schools here in Washington. I’ve been equally impressed with Iowa big and one stones many programs in Boise, Idaho. These public schools have pivoted to models that allow students to use their interests to determine which pieces of content they will study. For example, my niece recently graduated from college with a degree in food science, the chemistry she would have taken in high school would have been a deep dive related to food and nutrition. And the same for the biology. A student who is passionate about skateboarding might dive into physics to create the most aerodynamic skateboard possible. We all jump in and learn when we have a purpose. By adding context and relevance. And giving students agency, the students see the purpose and the greater learning happening. And then the learning sticks. This change doesn’t mean throwing out our existing school system, it might mean restructuring to have double blocks, so students can really unpack content, it would mean less of a focus on covering every topic in a textbook. And those of us who studied Understanding by Design in schools really get the difference between deep dives, and coverage. So this isn’t a new idea for many of us. And teachers, we get to shift into more of a coaching model, which will add more depth of relationships, something many teachers value. So what does this context versus content conversation mean for lead prep? 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  12:30  

We’ve been learning from the great examples I just mentioned, and I’ll share their details and podcast interviews in the show notes. These schools foster real world learning opportunities, passion projects, and internships. We’ve also been working with NSU and one stone to find more strategies to embed the exploration of student purpose and passion into our curriculum in an ongoing manner at LEED prep. This past spring, we’ve been piloting Basecamp advisories to create the space for students to be in community, and doing deep dives into their passion and purpose. In the fall, we’re adding time for passion projects, in mini courses offered by parents, students and community members. What does this mean for me personally, these days, a big part of my lifelong learning journey is looking at systemic change in a non dualistic manner. I had done that in the 90s in my doctorate program, looking at whateleys, organic systems of change and systems of being. So how can I take that, learn more and become a conduit? So that our conversations include a wide variety of voices? How can I use what I’m learning about interdependent dynamics? To see the upside of existing school models and of transformation? How can I facilitate conversations that don’t throw everything out, but rather focus on the best of what we have and the best that transformation could bring? Last week I had an interview with Lindsey Burr, she had been my introduction into the tool of polarity thinking, please listen in her podcast interview is in the show notes.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  14:14  

Since I want to be a compassionate and informed voice for school change, I need to understand the context of varying school models. I would be equally guilty of the either or thinking that doesn’t honor polarities. If I don’t listen and learn from the schools I’m working with. Both and thinking means we all agree on the common GPS, that we want all learners to be thriving and future ready. It also means acknowledging that we have the same deep fear. If our learners don’t thrive, they may not survive. We know that with the mental health statistics we’re seeing or they may just Have an unfocused future without passion and purpose. I hear way too many stories of college graduates in passionless jobs, trying to pay off college debt, and it breaks my heart. I want both and for our youth, I want schools that help them unlock their passions and purpose, and to give them real world skills in project management, communication, and lifelong learning. And I want these young people to go out and thrive and be powerful agents for change in our world. We’ve learned a lot from schooling through this pandemic, we have a huge opportunity to move forward in terms of equity, wellness, and relevant passion and purpose learning in context for our youth, my magic wand wish it’s that we are taking these painful lessons and choosing to learn and grow from them. Our youth are waiting. Thank you for being a part of the education evolution.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  16:14  

If you’re finding yourself thinking, I need to do this in my school. Let’s talk about it. I consult with schools to help them find new innovative solutions to reaching every student. Let’s put together an action plan. Visit educationevolution.org/consults to book a call and let’s get started.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  16:45  

Education evolution listeners, you are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen, heard, valued and thriving. We need you. Let’s go out and reach every student today. I’d be so grateful if you’d head over to your podcast app to give a great rating and review if you found this episode valuable. Don’t wait. Please do it right now before you forget. I really appreciate it. Thank you for listening, signing off. I am Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education.


Transcribed by https://otter.ai


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