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Inclusion Column

Inclusion in a post-pandemic world

By Juanjo Moreno

I’ll start with a disclaimer. I know and understand that the pandemic is not over, and now more than ever we need to follow the health protocols to ensure we keep moving forward. However, slowly we are getting “back to normal”, for example being back to school, and that brings a different set of situations.

Before the pandemic, teachers at ASFM were prepared to promote an inclusive environment in their classrooms. We were already very good at providing accommodations and modifications so the needs of every student could be met. We were excelling at planning for interventions when students were exceeding the expectations or needed extra support to meet them. Teachers at ASFM were excellent in the normal before the pandemic.

Then, COVID-19 arrived, and we were all sent to our homes… for the longest 18 months I have ever experienced. We were isolated, working on our own, communicating through a screen using a system that allowed us to mute ourselves so we could not distract others. Collaboration and side conversations took a back seat and we became pros in educational technology and online teaching. As a school, not only did we thrive during Distance Learning, but we succeeded and set new standards as the role model school that we are. However, it did have some repercussions that we just noticed as we came back to the classroom.

Learning in a classroom with 20+ other students means we need to know how to belong and respect a community. Even though ASFM students were very good at that, spending 18 months at home on their own has taken a toll on this area. We, as teachers, also experienced this phenomenon and we did not face behavioral issues for 18 months. We need to constantly remind ourselves that our students are still children or teens that have forgotten what it means to learn in a community; they are eager to learn, collaborate, talk, be with their friends, and create relationships with their teachers but they have forgotten how. They lost practice in the art of socializing while being respectful of others’ time and efforts to learn. As educators, we need to remember what made us exceptional before the pandemic and go back to basics; we need to make sure to model expectations and repeat our procedures so students understand what they are important, doesn’t matter if we teach first or twelfth grade. Inclusion at this time is not only meeting the academic needs of every student but also helping each student to successfully reincorporate back to a community of learners; to remind ourselves that the students we have in front of us were almost 2 years younger the last time they were immersed in a room with 20+ other humans. Being a student at home has a whole different set of challenges, ones that teachers worked hard to help students overcome. Let’s not forget, now that we are back to “normal” that we still need to reteach our students, with all kindness and love that is so characteristic of ASFM teachers, how to be a learning community when we are all back in the same physical space.