What COVID-19 Taught Education in Texas

One year ago, COVID-19 drastically changed education in Texas. Dr. Catherine Robert wanted to learn more.

Thursday, Apr 08, 2021 • Collin Yoxall : patrick.yoxall@uta.edu

One year ago, Texas Governor Greg Abbott was working to re-open the state from its initial lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing that would not be returning, according to Abbott, was in-person schooling. "The team of doctors advising us have determined it would be unsafe to allow students to gather at schools for the foreseeable future," Abbott said in a press conference. Not long afterward, Dr. Catherine Robert, a professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, designed a series of panels with education leaders around Texas to discuss the pandemic's impact.

"My idea for the panel started in May 2020, as we started to see early impacts of the switch to online instruction," said Robert, who co-leads the College's Center for Educational Research, Policy and Practice (CERPP). "The pandemic showed us what we can easily do online, where we need to improve with online learning, and what functions need to remain in-person," she noted.

Starting in November 2020 and running through April 2021, the College of Education and CERPP have held four panels with education leaders across Texas, representing districts of all sizes. The series was called "The Role of Educational Leaders in the Post-COVID World."

Aside from the pandemic, other impactful events, such as extreme weather and social unrest, have also made their way into Robert's panel discussions. Panel topics have included how to build more equitable classrooms post-pandemic, socially distanced education, classroom safety and security, and how superintendents are faring in a period of extended crisis.

Reflecting on the panel series after the final discussion, Robert said schools moved quickly to reimagine education for all ages conducted primarily online. Still, economic disparities harmed students without access to technology and reliable internet service.

"It was inspiring to see the creativity of our teachers, such as an art teacher's online art gallery and a P.E. teacher's power point with video links for workout videos at appropriate age levels," Robert said. However, "equity advocates have spoken about disparities in technoliteracy for years…this year we learned just how critical this access is to our educational process. Unfortunately, we are not there yet and need to work harder to provide technological access for students across the state, regardless of their location and income level," Robert added.

Robert also said the impact of the pandemic and social unrest of the past year on students, faculty, and staff could not be understated.

"Our school employees and students have a great deal of healing to do after the trauma of the past year. Our employees are emotionally exhausted and continuously challenged to rethink their teaching methods," Robert explained. "It may seem simple, but as our panelists have explained over this last year, our students cannot learn if we have not yet met their basic needs for safety and security. The pandemic, extreme weather, and social discord have all tested our ability to provide that safety and security to our children," she went on.

Ultimately, Robert says, Texas educators "…have traveled the heroes' journey this year throughout all of these challenges. We will be singing of their feats for years to come."

By conducting the panels, Robert said she hopes ISD administrators, faculty, and staff benefit from the experiences shared at the discussions.

A playlist of all the panels can be found on the College of Education YouTube channel.