Turning Chaos into Opportunity

By Phil Kitchel posted 06-05-2023 06:00 AM


By Michael G. Ryan

Michael Ryan and co-authors Megan CzirakyKristen KainHelena McKendrick, and Meredith Miller published the article “Learning, Growing, Embracing, Transitioning, and Changing: Exploring Resilient Teaching and Learning during the Covid-19 Shutdown,” in Volume 87, Number 2, of KDP’s Educational Forum. The article is available free in the month of June.

It’s easy to point out all the pain, sorrow, and challenges that COVID 19 wrought. This is especially true when thinking about the impact that the pandemic had on education. Zoom classes, isolation, and learning loss are some of the terms that come to mind. These are sad realities; however, during this time I have also witnessed a tremendous amount of innovation and creativity amongst educators, something that has not happened even with the many change initiatives brought to K-12 schools and higher education. Most of these initiatives have failed due to forced implementation, lack of engagement with stakeholders, and the static culture of educational systems that reinforces the status quo. COVID-19 fractured this culture, if only for a moment, bringing about an opportunity for new connections and creativity.

The initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic caused seismic changes to teaching and learning for all students and teachers. Whether working with preschoolers or juniors in college, teachers needed to learn fast and cultivate an understanding of new teaching practices. I lived this firsthand as a teacher–educator, struggling to keep my classes afloat while also supporting preservice teachers in the midst of their student teaching, now happening virtually. Although nothing about this was perfect, I came to see that these changes created an environment that forced innovations and promoted a tinkering mindset towards teaching and learning.

The COVID-19 shutdown forced educators to play with their practices, think of new ways to support students, and find different approaches to our daily work. Although this was extremely challenging, it also produced some novel ideas, something that interested me as a researcher. I’ve taken the opportunity to engage in self-study during this time, as well as examine the work and attitudes of K-12 practitioners. Based on my experiences and work with other educators from across grade levels, I’ve noticed that we all came to see this as an opportunity for freedom, creativity, and taking chances. This forced us to think more critically about our work, what was vital for learning, and what was needed to support the wellbeing of each student. Often these essentials are overlooked by typical, top down, mandated change initiatives.

The pandemic also strangely also provided educators with an opportunity to connect and expand their professional networks. These networks crossed school, district, state, and national boundaries. Teachers at all levels connected in different ways online, from Zoom meetings and happy hours to Instagram. Here teachers asked questions and shared tips, strategies, and resources. This spurred new dialogues about education, curriculum, assessment, supporting social emotional learning, and self-care. Teaching became engaging intellectual work, something that I hope lives beyond the lockdowns and restrictions of COVID-19.

Dr. Ryan is an associate professor of education and coordinator of the elementary education program at Delaware State University. His research focuses on ways educators make sense of their practices through inquiry and collective engagement.