In the past 18 months, millions of teachers and students across the U.S. had to adjust very quickly to teaching and learning virtually to ensure that learning could continue despite stay-at-home orders. What we learned during this time is that not only are teachers and students very resilient, but they can also be very innovative when adopting new instructional approaches and adapting to the uncertainty of changing parameters.

This innovation and adaptation must not stop. As students and educators begin the new school year, we must resist the urge to get “back to normal” and instead must ask ourselves if a return to normal is the best course of action for our students; or if our students need something different; something better aligned to the futures they want.

To do this, we need to take an honest look at many long-held traditions in the American school system and determine whether they still make sense today: Why do we start the school year in September? Does an “A” to “F” grading system tell us much about student learning? Is there a different way to use those summer months? Does quality learning need to be inside a brick-and-mortar building?

Right now, our country is in uncharted territory. We are still struggling with a pandemic that has shed light on numerous issues within our country’s school system. It is normal, especially in times of uncertainty, to idealize traditions. But, times of uncertainty may also present the best opportunities for changing the status quo, particularly when the status quo was not working for so many.

We need a major transformation of our educational system, but this can’t happen unless we first understand why we’re clinging to the “way it’s always been done” and are ready to venture into our uncomfortable zone of true change that’s centered on the students’  needs and not ours.

As we adjust to the new changes, this is an opportunity on a grand scale to teach in different ways. We know that all students learn differently. Let’s start to modify practices to meet all students where they’re at in their academic journey. How can we all work together to make this happen?

Embrace change. We need to honestly and openly discuss the lessons of the past and the possibilities of the future to determine what we want school to look like post-pandemic, and how we, as educators, parents, and administrators, make that a reality.

Encourage innovation. We must support teachers and encourage them to prepare students for their future and not our past. Let’s get comfortable with the uncomfortable and support teachers in taking more risks. Then, we’d see more teachers thinking innovatively.

Trust in our students and teachers. Third, and most importantly, we must believe in our educators and our kids – trusting in them to persevere and move forward. We’ve seen what teachers and students are capable of, and we must commit to innovation so they don’t lose that spirit.

This generation of teachers and students will be like no other. We have an unprecedented opportunity to move forward with the best interests of students in mind. It’s time to challenge what returning to normal means and ask, ‘What will it take to truly commit to the success of all kids?’”