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Shifting Mindsets to Make School Work for All Families | Mike Andrews

By Mike Andrews

“What the???” was the collective outcry from parents across the country on or about March 13, when schools and districts closed their doors for the foreseeable future. Never did we imagine that two months later, we would experience not only closed schools but canceled graduations, international toilet paper shortages, and mandatory quarantines, all while peering through our windows at the world.

Like many families, my first thought was, “What are we going to do with these kids?” I reached out to my teacher friends for rubrics, had my 13-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter create daily schedules and routines (LOL @ myself), and even joined a Facebook group for Homeschooling. I took a practical and linear approach to a situation that seemed manageable and pseudo-normal at the time. As pundits and professionals force us to reconsider what our “new normal” will be, let me be crystal clear… ain’t none of this normal.

Before March 13, when were we ever still? Between daily commutes, school projects, sports practices, and the routines we blindly followed, we were all like P. Diddy: can’t stop, won’t stop. Now, COVID-19 has forcefully paused us all.

Though I’ve never been a traditional K-12 classroom teacher, my career has been dedicated to serving communities historically overlooked by public education. This pause forces me to think deeply about returning my kids to a failed school system: a system that prepared boys and girls for manufacturing, industrial, and secretarial positions in the 1920’s and 30’s and still requires kids to walk in single file lines in hollow cement hallways; still prefers order and quiet over creativity and expression; and still disproportionately suspends black and brown boys and girls. The way we were doing school doesn’t work for some students.

My sensibilities lead me to believe that somewhere here, there’s a blessing. There is so much we can shift and adjust to take advantage of this mandated pause. The first thing we need to change is our mindset. Let’s shift from “school doesn’t work for some students” to “schools can and should work for all students.” We are learning that “the way we used to do things” isn’t as important as we thought.

As an educator, parent, and life-long student, these are the questions I’m asking as I think about schooling after COVID:

  • How are districts, schools, educators, families, and students taking time to listen to one another’s needs, hopes, dreams, and fears?
  • We have fire, hurricane, tornado, and active shooter drills. What does a systemic pandemic preparation look like?
  • Why does school need to be 8am – 3pm every Monday – Friday?
  • How do we ensure that all students and families are sheltered, fed, safe, and nurtured while learning through crisis, while understanding that some students and families are always in crisis?
  • How can districts and schools create attendance policies that are reflective and aligned with the needs of all families, including students who may need to take care of siblings or family members?
  • How do we ensure that we don’t return to the old “normal”? How can we make sure that districts are paying teachers and educators what they deserve? How can we make sure that schools are flexible by design with families in mind?

As schools reopen, I plan to use my voice as a parent and educator to influence policy and programmatic change in the county where we live, and the districts with whom I work, all starting with the most critical question:

“How can we make this school, district, state, and country work for all students and families?”

Mike Andrews is Senior Director, Leadership Development and Capacity Building at Flamboyan Foundation. You can find him on Twitter @damadalpha.