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Superintendent's News

Posted: May 14, 2021

Unfinished Learning

In his weekly message, Supt. Elder writes about helping students prioritize, adjust, and let go.

As this school year winds to a close, do you feel like maybe you didn’t accomplish as much as you have in the past? That all of the pandemic shifts disrupted your rhythm, forcing you to constantly reset and restart and leaving you with a sense that you have unfinished business to take care of.

That’s not to say this wasn’t a busy, productive year. You worked hard, we all did, maybe harder than ever before. We learned many life lessons along the way and gained skills and attitudes that will take us well into the future.

As to that unfinished business, we will need to readjust our priorities, make time for what truly matters, and let go of the rest.

That’s how it goes for our students, too. They have unfinished learning to take care of, and it’s our job to help them prioritize, adjust, and let go.  

You may have heard the term “learning loss” used by educators and lawmakers concerned about the effects remote and hybrid learning may have had on academics over the past year or so. I have chosen not to use that term because it points to deficits rather than acknowledging gains and focusing on possibilities. So instead, we are addressing unfinished learning in our schools, emphasizing acceleration, enrichment, and – dare I say – interesting, enjoyable and pertinent content.

As I’ve noted before, the pandemic forced us to emphasize mastery of the essential skills, habits, and knowledge our students need most to succeed. Being back in school buildings shouldn’t change that attention. There’s a lot to be said for sticking to content and instructional rigor, focusing on depth of instruction instead of pace. We can identify and address gaps in learning, ensuring the inclusion of all learners. 

Those are principles for supporting students with unfinished learning as outlined in a report by the Council of the Great City Schools, “Addressing Unfinished Learning after COVID-19 School Closures,” which notes that unfinished learning is nothing new.

“Addressing skill gaps, incomplete learning, and misconceptions is a necessary and natural part of the teaching (and learning) process, although it is one with which educators have traditionally struggled,” the report states. “All too often, unfinished learning leads to remediation or pull-out interventions that serve to further isolate students and impede their access to rigorous, engaging grade-level content—this is how something as natural as unfinished learning leads to intractable achievement and opportunity gaps. Addressing unfinished learning in a constructive manner is therefore essential not only to a district’s short-term response to the current pandemic, but long-term commitment to educational equity and excellence.”

Let’s be honest, we probably won’t be able to teach every missed concept or skill, nor is it fair to expect our students to learn everything we didn’t have time to cover during this tumultuous year. So, where can we best invest our time, resources and energy? And what can we let go of? 

To help guide us in this decision-making, I turn to you.

Before you leave for summer break, we will be sending an interactive survey to all APS employees, asking them to help us envision a student-centered, 21st-century classroom.  What does it look like?  What changes need to be made to achieve that ideal? What did we learn during the pandemic that we can use as we return to more normalcy?  

The anonymous survey asks one broad, over-arching question so you can respond with honest and thoughtful ideas. I know you are busy as you wrap up the school year, but I hope you will take the time to fill out the survey, which will be available for a couple of weeks. As a member of the APS team, your input is valuable as we move forward as a school district. Thanks for your time and for all you do.