The Future of Education After Covid-19

Virtual classroom on Zoom being led by engaged female instructor
Virtual classroom on Zoom being led by engaged female instructor

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It seems that in the past year-and-a-half, everything has changed, and the future of education is no exception. Physical classrooms have become online portals. Group study sessions moved from coffee shops to Zoom rooms. Access to education became easier for some people as flexible online programs grew in popularity and availability. For others, it became harder, as students who thrived on campus had to reimagine their educational success in circumstances they would have never expected.

As we walk into the first full school year since Covid-19, vaccinations have become available, and it is natural to hope that we are getting back to normal. But the truth is, some elements of our lives have changed forever, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. When it comes to pondering the future of education, we should notice the ways that the pandemic challenged educational leaders to expand their imaginations and foster innovation. Administrators, professors, teachers, and fellow educators clung to and engaged in best practices when it came to supporting students, teaching, and learning dynamics.

Let us take a look at five priorities to watch as we enter into the future of education after Covid-19.


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Reevaluating What Matters

The sudden shift from physical learning spaces to schooling from home revealed just how important a role our nation’s schools play in the day-to-day lives of millions of Americans. For some children, school was their safe place, providing stability, routine, and even food that they did not have at home. Parents faced tremendous stress as their children no longer had an educational community where they could spend 40 hours a week. Mothers left the workforce at an alarming rate, erasing decades of progress for women in the workforce.

These great challenges prompted many to reflect on the critical role of schools, and how difficult life can become when their services are limited. Daphna Bassok, a non-resident Senior Fellow in the Brown Center on Education Policy told the Brookings Institute that she hopes “the pandemic represents a turning point in how we invest in the care and education of young children — and, in turn, in families and society.”

Strong leaders will seize the opportunity to make a positive difference in their communities by reassessing what matters most when it comes to educating a generation of students who have had to endure the Covid-19 pandemic. Some questions to ask may include:

  • What does it look like to be forward-thinking right now? 
  • How can leaders be positioned for positive impact given the current cultural landscape?
  • What might the roles of innovation and collaboration be in the future, and how can one lead and be a part of it?

Overhead view of online student sitting at computer desk

Digital Citizenship Skills

Even in the most perfect of circumstances — a room of one’s own, a personal laptop with unfettered access to wifi, and a peaceful, stable home environment — many students struggled to keep up with online learning. Some college students felt as though homework never ended, because everything took place online, making everything feel like busy work. Young students were not able to move around their classrooms, but rather had to make sure they stayed still in front of the webcam so that their teachers could ensure their attendance.

Not all of these problems can be solved in online spaces, but the pressures and stresses can certainly be alleviated. Technological knowledge, skills, and confidence are collectively called digital citizenship, which can help students experience less frustration with technology, navigate online spaces more safely, and enjoy their online educational experiences more. From early education all the way through post-graduate programs, higher digital citizenship skills will help students connect with their instructors and peers. Digital citizenship skills can also help students be better able to transition, think critically, and self-regulate.

Leaders in education will prioritize not simply adapting to technology, but understanding the ways it interacts with educators and students well enough to recommend improvements. By cultivating digital citizenship skills in themselves, educational innovators can lead by example, bringing others into the future of education with confidence.

Emphasis on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education found that the pandemic likely increased disparities faced by students of color, English language learners, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ students. After detailing these disparities, the report states that “At all educational levels in schools throughout the country, we have tremendous strengths. And yet, we also have deep cracks in the foundation. As our nation’s schools take steps to emerge from the pandemic, we have an extraordinary opportunity to move forward with full awareness of these cracks and recognition of the essential need to address and repair them.”

The many racial injustices that came to the forefront during the pandemic revealed and also furthered a number of disparities. But innovation, commitment to best practices, and heightened prioritization of students at risk can make a critical difference toward moving forward. The future of education doesn’t just depend on academic skills. It depends upon a new way forward — one defined by highly valuing inclusion.

Transformative leaders in education will jump at the chance to make greater strides in diversity, equity, and inclusion. By developing the skills needed to engage with diverse audiences and stakeholders about organizational practices and theories, leaders can strategically collaborate with key partners to develop cultural intelligence, build global context, and provide support to the teachers, students, employees, and families who need it the most.

Young girl at school with head down feeling depressed

Prioritizing Mental Health

The Covid-19 pandemic led to an increase in mental health struggles for people of all ages. Dr. Jennifer Katzenstein, the co-director of the Center for Behavioral Health at Johns Hopkins Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, told ABC that her facility was seeing increased anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts. She noted signs of mental health issues in children as young as toddlers, such as changes in appetite or sleep regressions. In older children, she encouraged parents to look out for changes in agitation or frustration levels.

The Brookings Institute has identified three things educators, school counselors, executives, and employees can do to help find the mental health support needed:

  • Know the warning signs of distress: look for abrupt refusals to participate including any kind of social discomfort. Technological risk-assessment tools can help identify signs that may have otherwise been missed. 
  • Connect with resources to help: leaders can improve well-being and success by proactively sharing information about mental health support opportunities. 
  • Build social connections: creative innovations for encouraging peer-to-peer connections raise morale and can literally save lives. Small group interactions, and one-on-one connections can help build lasting friendships and experience greater mental health.

Responses to mental health crises are never easy, but they can often be found and implemented with confidence. Leaders who apply their vision casting, innovating, and organizational skills to finding mental health solutions for their teams and students will benefit individuals, whole institutions, and systems alike.

Fewer Silos, More Collaboration

While the Covid-19 pandemic isolated and separated us in many ways, it also pushed us to find new ways to communicate with one another. In some ways, communication equalized as most everyone seemed to become “a Zoom call away”. Rather than entering our offices and shutting the doors, emerging for meetings, we stayed in one place but entered many “rooms” throughout the day.

Many of us have returned to in-person work environments, but we shouldn’t leave our accessibility behind as we enter the future of the workplace. In a publication entitled States and School Systems Can Act Now to Dismantle Silos Between High School, College, and Career, Georgia Heyward, Sarah McCann, and Betheny Gross identified several ways that the pandemic prompted higher education and industry to eliminate unnecessary barriers, promote greater collaboration, and make connections:

  • As schools and workplaces went online, states built virtual college and career counseling tools that were accessible to anyone with an internet connection — not just students currently enrolled in K–12 or higher education institutions.
  • The pandemic brought on widespread experimentation with the five-day school schedule, new familiarity with virtual learning models, and a desire to wait on attending college. This created opportunities to innovate on how learners connect with industry during and beyond high school.
  • Postsecondary institutions have demonstrated renewed interest in microcredentials to help people rapidly enter or re-enter the workforce.

Lanner Medlin of APPA told Inside Higher Ed, “something we learned during the pandemic, one of the best practices was around collaboration. The silos were broken — facilities talking to academics, talking to student affairs, to finance. Everybody was part of the team. We had a purpose — get students back. Now we have to rally around that next purpose, and that is, we are going to collaborate to actually reduce the physical footprint of these institutions.”

Heyward, McCann, and Gross point out that, while the pandemic encouraged a lot of collaboration in organizations and the workforce, there is still a lot of room for innovation. They recommend that education leaders:

  • Invest in virtual platforms that support education, professional development, and career navigation.
  • Incentivize bold experimentation with hybrid learning to design new models that blend school and workplace learning. 
  • Step in to encourage and regulate high-quality, postsecondary microcredentials that stack toward associate and bachelor degrees.
  • Combine policy with technical assistance to help districts credit out-of-school learning.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to collaboration, better communication, and partnerships that celebrate diversity, equity, and meaningful answers to real-world questions. Leaders won’t try to forget the difficulties of the past 18 months. Rather, they will mine those complex problems for positive solutions that take all of us further ahead than ever before. 

Shape the Future with an EdD

Times of transition call for strong leaders with big ideas, a collaborative spirit, and the drive to get things done on behalf of others. The online Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership and Organizational Innovation at Marymount University will help you become just such a leader. Whether you want to lead a school system or teach in a physical classroom, help design digital education platforms that meet best practices, or work at the executive level at your organization, an EdD will prepare you to lead and innovate in your field.

Marymount’s online EdD program does not require a GRE, can be completed in less than three years, and is designed for working professionals. Our faculty members leverage top-notch technology to facilitate meaningful communication with their students, and to encourage student collaboration.

Are you ready to shape the future as a change agent after Covid-19? Take your first step by learning more about the Marymount University online Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership and Organizational Innovation here.


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