Lessons Learned from Schools’ Responses to COVID-19

August 18, 2020

Source: eJewish Philanthropy 


As an organization that has served close to 200 Jewish day schools across North America and across religious denominations, Jewish New Teacher Project (JNTP) of New Teacher Center has been in a unique position throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Not only have we been able to facilitate collaboration and sharing of challenges and solutions among our schools, we’ve also gained insights that we would like to share with the Jewish day school field at large. What’s emerged from this crisis about how students learn and how schools educate has long-reaching implications for the field going forward, for both in-person and remote learning.

Lesson 1: The big picture – what successful schools did right

North American Jewish day schools have so much to be proud of for how they devised and implemented a Plan B almost overnight, working hard to provide instruction to our children despite the unfamiliar and stressful circumstances. Schools with ed tech competencies quickly established interactive remote learning environments, while schools without technology worked hard to adapt their curriculum for directed learning at home. All schools learned they needed to be flexible, agile, and willing to make changes in real time.
The most successful schools were committed to ongoing, frequent communication with parents, students, and teachers. Their approach was one of transparency about expectations, roles, structures, and schedules – and about how much was unknown and that plans could (and likely would) change as time went on. Schools that fostered a sense of community during these isolating times found greater buy-in and engagement from all of their constituencies as they built trust and a sense of caring. For example, SAR in Riverdale, NY conducted weekly online Town Hall meetings for parents and other stakeholders to share information and to ensure that their community felt heard and remained engaged.

Perhaps the single greatest factor in the success of online learning was the training and ongoing technological supportof teachers. Schools that devoted resources toward training teachers in available technology reaped significant rewards in the quality of the online learning experience and in teachers’ feelings of competency and satisfaction throughout this challenging period. Equally impactful was the availability of immediate tech support to trouble-shoot in real time as teachers ran into issues. YDE School in Brooklyn NY, for example, created a direct email system for teachers to reach a team of technology experts for on-the-spot help when needed.

Lesson 2: Social-emotional health is critical and will need to be at the forefront moving forward

Lesson 3: Students thrive when they have agency over their own learning

Lesson 4: Teaching will no longer look the same


There remain a number of big-picture questions which each school must address in order to navigate the future successfully:

  • How can schools support teachers and students when their place of learning may be in a constant state of flux, such as one day home, one day in school, some people (students and/or teachers) online, some people in the classroom?
  • How can schools build community remotely?
  • What is the role of parents in home-based learning?
  • How will schools plan for meeting the social-emotional needs of the entire school community during a time of crisis?
  • How can schools make remote learning work successfully for younger students and special needs students?

What we’ve learned from conversations across the field is that what we know about good teaching in a school environment also applies to good teaching in a remote learning environment. Nobody knows what this coming school year will bring, even as schools plan for multiple contingencies. While this unknown is disconcerting and uncomfortable, it also provides a unique opportunity to take a step back and “re-imagine school” — whether in person, remote, or a combination — in light of lessons learned. The good news is that this past year’s experience has already started to change mindsets around setting priorities, revising academic expectations, attending to the social and emotional needs of the school community, and allowing for flexibility and adaptation. More than anything, creative, out-of-the-box thinking will be necessary to meet the needs of this “new normal.” Our greatest achievements moving forward will come from the lessons we learned, from a commitment to our students, and from the conviction that we can and will be successful together.

Read the entire article at eJewish Philanthropy

Updated: Sep. 09, 2020