Advice to Pods from a Former Teacher: Succeed Where the Public School System has Failed

In the last few weeks as response to virtual learning announcements from many public school systems, parents from around the country have started to organize into pods or micro-schools to support their children's educational needs for the 20-21 school year. These are groups of around 2-4 families who group together to share in supporting the educational needs of their children. This massive grassroots movement is a pivotal point in education and not only has the potential to revolutionize the education system but also fundamentally change the way in which we exist in community with each other.

Many educational advocates rightly fear that the pod movement could create more educational disparity if affluent families self-segregate, hire private tutors, and disenroll their children from the public school system (thus defunding schools that receive funding based on per pupil enrollment). However, if families succeed in creating culturally-responsive educational structures that center around the needs of marginalized children such as children with disabilities and BIPOC children this would put a tremendous amount of pressure on the public school system to reform. Ultimately this is can be an opportunity to create more just and equitable community structures and reimagine what children need to create a world that is better than the one we have created for them.

Advocate for equity

Education is a human right. Think not only about what's best for your children but also about the collective educational needs in your community . Commit to co-creating pods with families that are racially, economically, and ability diverse. For affluent, white families, it's not enough to "invite" families of diversity into your pod. Pods must be designed by all voices at the table. This is a messy, iterative process that must not be given up on when conflicts and mistakes occur. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable but keep you commitment to equitable access. If you want a better world for your children, you must commit now to the education of all children.

Prioritize relationship building, mindfulness, and mental health

Release the idea of "academic achievement." We are in the midst of a MASSIVE transition. The global pandemic as well as social revolutions taking place around the world have resulted in an unprecedented amount of uncertainty. The most impactful thing we can do for children right now is to teach them how to navigate this uncertainty with resiliency and grace.

Pods must be responsive to the emotional needs of children before any academic learning can occur. Daily relationship building activities and mindfulness practices will be crucial to supporting these needs.

Allow time for play

Play is the most natural vehicle for learning. The public school system has denied children play opportunities in an effort to increase time spent in instruction with the sole purpose of that instruction being performance on standardized tests. This is counter-intuitive to all research on brain development. The child's brain is primed to learn through play and the countless skills children learn through play leads to success in complex academic learning later in adolescence and adulthood.

When children play with each other they learn to negotiate and cooperate. When children are engaged in play they develop cognitive skills such as attention, memory, and problem solving. Pretend/imaginative play is the driving force for the development of symbolic thinking skills critical for complex literacy and math learning. Outdoor play promotes physical health and science/nature learning. Block and other constructive play helps children develop foundational skills in math, physics, and spatial awareness. The power of play cannot be underestimated.

Take children's lead

Children will be engaged and invested in their learning when they have agency over it. Give children choice when making decisions regarding curriculum choice, methods of instruction, ect. Teach academic skills within the context of everyday life and through the activities that children have passion for.

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