The Illinois P-20 Network hosted its Spring 2021 Meeting online on Thursday, April 29, 2021. The Spring 2021 Meeting, Lessons for our journey forward: Putting lessons from COVID-19 into practice for all students, was free and open to educators across Illinois. The purpose of this year’s Spring 2021 Illinois P-20 Network Meeting was to bring educational leaders together from all levels of education across Illinois and to identify the most effective practices and strategies that have been implemented over the past year.
While this was the third consecutive Illinois P-20 Network Meeting that was held online, this was the first meeting that was held live (synchronously) rather than as an asynchronous series of videos posted as a YouTube Playlist (Check out the Fall 2020 Meeting Playlist and the Spring 2020 Meeting Playlist). Taking advantage of the meeting’s online format, a wide range of attendees participated, stretching geographically across Illinois from north to south and from east to west, and representing the full range of organizations that make-up the Illinois P-20 Network.
Following introductions and remarks from Northern Illinois University President Lisa Freeman and Dean of the NIU College of Education Laurie Elish-Piper, the Spring Meeting featured a keynote presentation from Stephanie Malia Krauss, who has authored the newly published book, Making It: What Today’s Kids Need for Tomorrow’s World. Stephanie has served as a Senior Advisor at JFF as well as a former teacher and school leader. Today, she is also the parent of school-age children. Learn more about Stephanie, including being able to purchase her book, on her website. In her keynote presentation, Stephanie describes the environment in which today’s school-age learners have lived throughout their lives, including everything from current events to modern technology, and how these factors have influenced students’ lives and learning. Stephanie also discusses the changing nature of the workplace and careers, and Stephanie challenges schools to consider specific changes that must take place in order to meet these different realities than those on which modern schools were originally built.
One key feature of the Spring 2021 Illinois P-20 Network Meeting was our Student Panel, which included students ranging from middle school through undergraduates and from one end of Illinois to the other. The students on the panel shared their reflections about their experiences during this unique 2020-2021 school year and what suggestions they have for schools and learning moving forward. As is always the case with listening to our students, nothing can replace watching the full video below, but key elements highlighted by students included:
- Remote learning had key benefits including increased participation among a wider range of students and a greater ability to focus on learning rather than the performative social aspects of schooling
- Flexible approaches to scheduling are important
- Relationships between and among students and teachers remain important regardless of the format of the learning environment
Following the Student Panel, participants had the opportunity to engage in two different Breakout Room discussions from among five different categorical topics:
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- Learning & Time & Space
- Teacher Workforce
- Assessment & Data
- Community Engagement
Each of these was facilitated by a leader in the particular space, and discussion focused around the following questions:
- What were the lessons we’ve learned over the past year during COVID-19 related to (The Breakout Room Topic)?
- Based on this year’s experiences, what practices and/or structures should we implement to improve learning for all students moving forward?
- What resources and policies do we need to be in place in order to make these changes effective, lasting, and sustainable?
During each Breakout Room discussion, NIU STEAM team members assisted by taking detailed notes. These notes are currently being coded and analyzed and will be used in conjunction with the exit slip survey data in order to determine priority areas of focus for the Illinois P-20 Network and for us collectively as a state in order to further improve learning for all students and for each student across Illinois from early childhood through ongoing adult education. The results of this work will, of course, be shared broadly with the Illinois P-20 Network, the state agencies, and beyond.