Educators are welcoming back students, families, and community members after a traumatic pandemic that has left many communities struggling to determine the right moves to make in order to support children in their development. Many parents and caregivers are concerned about sending their children back to an in-person model of instruction (Esquivel, 2021). Conversely, many are concerned that schools are not opening fast enough (Johnson, 2021). Systems are faced with addressing this dichotomy while focusing on meeting the needs of all children.

Returning to school as it was pre-COVID, is not an option. For the first time school has been placed into the family and caregiver’s homes, and through this experience, families have seen educational alternatives provided through an online environment. If the school system serves its community, then the educational community should respond with options that meet the context in which the system is located.

However, a district’s determination of the instructional model moving forward is not the primary decision. Children, who have experienced various degrees of trauma, will be attending to learning in whatever educational delivery model is chosen. This reality must move educational communities to consider how to provide for the whole child. Coming back to school requires systems to develop a culture based on what matters most. Post-COVID what matters most is that we are all human beings. If educators take care of people in order to take care of learning, then the work of cultivating a culture of care can ensue. In whatever model is chosen: fully online, hybrid, or full in-person, district educators should double down on key strategies to cultivate a culture of care in order to meet the discrete needs of all students.

There are three components to cultivating a culture of care.

  1. Care for Learning
  2. Care for Community
  3. Care for Educational Excellence

Care for Learning

According to the World Economic Forum, some of the top 10 skills which will be needed by 2025 include:

  • critical thinking and analysis
  • complex problem solving
  • active learning and learning strategies
  • resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility

With these skills being in demand, education must address how to ensure youth are experiencing opportunities to build these skills. Further, these skills are more than just the academic ability to perform; they are also socioemotional dispositions that are required. The mastery of these skills can be realized through actions made by educators who have clarity in what they are teaching and how they teach it.

Have you ever found yourself challenged by what was being taught? Working through productive struggle while in the “Learning Pit” (Nottingham, 1999) requires skills and literacies students will need to develop in order to attain future workforce skills. These skills and literacies, however, cannot be attained without having attitudes and dispositions to persevere in the pursuit to acquire knowledge (Claxton, 2018).

Creating a culture of care for learning is when educators embrace their role in facilitating personalized learning relevant to the learner, building experiences that develop perseverance leading to student self-efficacy and creating a safe space for risk-taking where everyone belongs. These attributes can be realized through teachers intentionally using strategies that accelerate both socioemotional and academic learning. Care for learning, then, is the connection between student-teacher partnerships through the formative assessment process (Bloomberg and Pitchford, 2016), and developing dispositions that lead to self-regulation and resilience ( in a learning environment centered on honoring each person’s dignity (Cobb and Krownapple, 2019).

Care for Community

Each year schools that receive Title I funding send home a compact that outlines the responsibilities of the student, parent, and school. This compact is signed by all parties and filed for compliance with Title I funding regulations. The letter of the law has been met, but has the spirit? Some groups say no.

The National Parent’s Union stands firm that education must be transformed. The call to create institutions in which liberation, justice, and equity are realized for all children has been made. Through the support of the National Parents Union, parents will have a voice influencing policy and practices at the local, state, and national levels.

Creating care for the community requires educators to put words into action. Community involvement in the educational setting has always been touted to be important. Post-COVID, involvement is critical. With the school taking an active role in developing socio-emotional dispositions, co-construction of those efforts through developing a shared vision with two-way communication is essential (Schlund, Jagers, & Schlinger, 2020). Through deliberate partnerships, the school system can create a culture of care expanding student learning.

Parents, caregivers, the community, educators, and the students themselves are essential in the development of children. It takes all parties to develop young adults who enter society prepared to transfer their learning to the context in which they will find themselves. To that end, three critical strategies for focusing on care for the community include two-way communication, giving voice to all stakeholders resulting in co-constructed actions for moving the needle in identified areas, and creating school systems that are hubs to community services such as public mental and physical health and welfare, opportunities for adult learning, and enrichment for learners (Learning Policy Institute).

Care for Educational Excellence

The Education Commission predicts that in 2030 if trends continue as they are, only 8%, 49%, and 70% of students in low-income countries, middle-income countries, and high-income countries, respectively, will learn minimum secondary-level skills. This is a global crisis, however, there is hope. Now is the time in American educational history where the general population clearly sees education’s central role in contributing to the prosperity and stability of our nation (Vegas and Winthrop, 2020). The time for systems to look within and transform practices is now.

Using the formative process as a frame for systemic continuous improvement, similar steps can be utilized by educational communities to determine the growth of a school.

  • Organizational clarity of the system’s mission, vision, and focus areas
  • Co-constructing goals with clear actions articulated as success criteria
  • Developing key performance indicators resulting in measurable outcomes
  • Collecting qualitative and quantitative data from all members of the educational community
  • Reflect and revise the goals to keep moving the needle within the focus area.

This process will result in a high degree of relational trust based upon shared core beliefs of all educational community members. The process honors the dignity of each unique individual who contributes to the system. The expansion of ownership of a school system’s success is now shared among all.

Call to Action

Cultivating a culture of care is intentionally using those practices which provide opportunities for educational community members to feel valued, to have ownership, and to contribute toward the development of youth with the tools necessary to make a profound difference in their future communities. This overview of the framework will be followed by deepened learning and discussions because many of these ideas are complex. As educators continue to learn and employ the strategies within each of the components of Cultivating a Culture of Care, the result will be educational systems meeting the unique needs of every learner.

You may be wondering where the entry point is to all of this work. Various entry points exist based upon the context of your community. When designing your approach, choose an area of the framework on which to focus and explore what concrete action steps can be taken to begin the process.

As you are building your plans for the return of students to campus for the 2021-2022 school year, in what ways are you being intentional in developing this culture of care? Please share