By Dylan Huisken and Linda Rost 

COVID-19 has upended lives across Montana, making many of us rethink the future of our world.  One uncharted territory is education. Montana has closed schools to families physically while maintaining education and nutrition services.  Many are tackling distance learning. Some Montana students do not have internet access, and at the same time, many schools are completely closed and can’t distribute or collect paper packets. Montana is as diverse as its teachers’ approaches to this issue, but this diversity is sharply contrasted with our concerted efforts to lean on each other and collaborate.

As we make this leap together, we need to remind ourselves and our students that this shift will be different, messy, time-consuming, and challenging, and that above all we need to afford each other grace.

Indeed, we will all have a different workload. Students (and teachers) may be caring for younger children or facilitating home learning at different grade levels. Some students may not have family members to guide them. A framework for daily time spent on school work is 1-2 hours for K-5, 2-3 hours for 6-8, and 3-4 hours for 9-12, or 20-30 minutes per class. So, we must ask, how can we, regardless of student access to resources, provide equitable learning?

Students may benefit more from project-based learning and qualitative feedback, rather than quantitative grades. Learning opportunities should be streamlined to focus on meaningful and relevant “big ideas” and skills.  We should be responsive to our students’ needs and check in with them frequently while providing choices on how to showcase their learning in a variety of formats: op-eds, presentations, vlogs or a stop motion video; perhaps an infographic or meme, or even interviews, debates, and letters.

Although we wish the catalyst was different, the stay-at-home movement is our chance to revolutionize education.  Inspiringly, teachers across our state have, within a matter of days, completely re-educated themselves in the name of supporting students.  Yet in the midst of this, let’s maintain balance and prioritize family. Navigating a pandemic is stressful.  For those of us who are parents, adjusting to the challenges of working from home and facilitating home learning is daunting. These hurdles are novel, exciting, and intimidating. Let us focus on learning, growth, and equity in this time of change and let this time inspire education’s future.

Dylan Huisken teaches in Bonner and is Montana’s 2019 Teacher of the Year

Linda Rost teaches in Baker and is Montana’s 2020 Teacher of the Year

Follow them on Twitter @2020MontanaTOY and @2019MTTOY