COVID-19 has taken us all on a crash course in infection control and personal planning considerations that range from learning how to thrive amidst an invisible threat to practicing greater compassion for each other. The curriculum this fall includes a mandatory new course requirement, in which earning a passing grade is a must. The subject? How we can best to adapt to a global paradigm that encompasses both scholastic and life lessons.
Teaching in Transition
“Teachable moment” is defined as “an event or experience that allows someone to learn something.”1 I’ve personally found that teachable moments often arise from major events and traumatic experiences. With the unique challenges facing students returning to school this fall amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems like we’re surrounded by teachable moments that are forcing us to learn more about ourselves, our communities, and the world at large on a regular basis.
Going to school used to be a relatively simple matter that involved a daily struggle to get out of bed followed by learning (and playing!) in an interactive, social environment. But what used to be simple is no longer easy now that teachers, parents, and students all must scramble to defend against the invisible COVID-19 enemy. Who is most at risk of becoming infected? Is learning even possible in 6-foot increments? And in the process of trying to protect our children, what are we really teaching them?
We all know that the more interpersonal interaction we have and the closer we get to each other, the greater the risk of infection. School strategies that reduce class sizes, stagger start/stop times, form groups of student “pods” that stay together throughout the school day, and rotate days of in-person instruction all can help protect students and teachers from viral transmission.2 From what we know so far, this “hybrid” model of virtual instruction combined with traditional classroom learning that’s layered on top of established safety measures (e.g., wearing a mask, hand washing, surface disinfection) seems to mitigate risk and result in relatively low rates of infection.3
However, what works well for one student may be impossible for another, and not all pupils will thrive under the same modes of instruction due to different learning styles and needs. As each family makes individualized decisions based on their child’s unique risks and benefits, we need to not only respect the decisions of others but also take personal responsibility to protect each other. Learning about Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations and following local and state government guidelines provides a good start, but we also need to think about the effect we are having on each other during this time of uncertainty.
Didactic Decision Making
Fortunately, children are affected by COVID-19 at low rates, with only 1.7% of children under age 5 and 6.2% of children between the ages of 5 and 17 in the United States testing positive.4 In cumulative data reported by 45 states and New York City, children usually exhibit mild or no symptoms, with only 0% to 0.6% of infected children dying from the virus.5 But many children are connected to multigenerational families and members of the community who have comorbidities, some of whom may be vulnerable to severe disease manifestations. And we also need to think about the risks that teachers face, as nearly one-third of K–12 educators in the United States are over the age of 50 years—a susceptible cohort.6 As a result, every family will need to consider the benefits and drawbacks of returning to school on both a personal and societal level.
As schools reopen, test/trace/isolate programs may result in rolling waves of school closures as infections arise. Individuals will need to learn and adapt to each new fact and circumstance with an unprecedented amount of flexibility. Minds will be made up and then changed as fresh discoveries about the virus come to light. But through it all, let’s periodically take a few moments to reflect on what we’re teaching our children during this historic time. Practice compassion for how others are feeling and recognize their concerns over how they choose to keep their own families safe. Show your children how wearing a mask may be considered an act of kindness and a responsibility to do no harm. And understand that learning provides an ongoing opportunity for conversation and growth. The COVID-19 crisis offers an abundance of teachable moments that go far beyond classroom instruction, and challenges us to learn valuable life lessons along the way. There is much to consider as we make our way through this core curriculum activity, but we’ll get through it together.
For further discussion on precautions in the classroom, see the ACOEM Practice Guideline on COVID-19 available for free, exclusively through MDGuidelines: (https://info.mdguidelines.com/covid-19/).
Information provided on this blog is intended for general educational use. It is not intended to provide medical advice. ReedGroup does not provide medical services. Consult a physician for medical advice on this or any other topic.
- “Teachable moment.” Macmillan Dictionary. 20 Aug. 2020. https://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/dictionary/american/teachable-moment
- “Communities, Schools, Workplaces, and Events: Information for Where You Live, Work, Learn, and Play.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 24 Jul. 2020. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. 20 Aug. 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/index.html
- Edmunds, W.J. “Finding a Path to Reopen Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Comment. 3 Aug. 2020. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. 20 Aug. 2020. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanchi/article/PIIS2352-4642(20)30249-2/fulltext
- “Demographic Trends of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths in the US Reported to CDC.” CDC COVID Data Tracker. 20 Aug. 2020. Centers for the Prevention of Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/index.html#demographics
- “Children and COVID-19: State Data Report.” A Joint Report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. 13 Aug. 2020. https://services.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/children-and-covid-19-state-level-data-report/
- “”Public School Teacher Data File.” National Center for Education Statistics, Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). 2011-2012. U.S. Department of Education. 20 Aug. 2020. https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/sass/tables/sass1112_2013314_t12n_002.asp