Schools across the nation are poised to adopt either full- or partial-distance learning environments this fall, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and safety precautions. But a virtual environment doesn’t mean we should lessen our expectations for children – or lower the bar for students in need.

Ensuring educators have professional development and support is essential to ensuring all students have access to the highest quality instruction possible during this unprecedented and uncertain time.

A recent effort in Kent County brought together over 100 educators from across the region to build capacity around instruction and equity. Specifically, participants attended the UnboundEd Virtual Summit to examine the intersection of standards, content, instruction and equity.

In an effort to help educators translate this important learning to the unique context of their district and school, The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, which is the practice team of The Education Trust-Midwest, led a follow-up session for educators about how to support literacy instruction, regardless of where the learning takes place in the fall, be it in-person or distance-learning. The session was one of three follow-ups held in partnership with Leading Educators and West Michigan Leadership Academy (WMLA) to help teachers further their learning and identify the most promising strategies for supporting students to accelerate learning after months of missed learning opportunities.

This effort is part of the ongoing work that our practice team does each day — working shoulder to shoulder with teachers throughout the area with a focus on teacher leadership, equity and sustainable school improvement.  We are a passionate group of educators committed to the high academic achievement of all students – particularly those of color or living in poverty.

One of the goals of the Summit and follow-up sessions was to support participating educators to create actionable plans for what awaits us this year – an unprecedented time of unfinished learning for our students.  Our work together aimed to set a foundation of learning expectations that produce more equitable results, which for many, require a shift in thinking away from the old adage of meeting students where they are. For too long, that strategy meant lessening the rigor of assignments. By doing that, we cause kids to miss out on mastering the standards and opportunities for rigorous and advanced coursework.

For instance, research shows that classrooms in which the majority of the students come from higher-income families spend double the time on grade-appropriate assignments and five times as much time on strong instruction, when compared to classrooms with mostly low-income students.

This is not an effective or equitable approach to accelerating learning. In fact, a more effective and equitable approach to raising education outcomes for students in poverty and other vulnerable students is ensuring educators are equipped to provide access to strong and rigorous instruction and support every student to reach grade-level expectations, or higher, instead of focusing on remediating.

We have to change our instructional mindset and our practice to ensure this is not the case and that all students are held to high expectations – even in a distance learning environment.

Below are four key equity practices that are fundamental to students’ success.

  • Standards-aligned curriculum
  • Strong instruction with deep student engagement
  • Grade-level text, assignments and assessment
  • High expectations for all

This work will not be easy in the fall, but it can and should be done. Committing to these equity practices in a virtual environment can translate in this way:

  • All students doing better in school!
  • Students rising to this higher bar – even with barriers.
  • Closing gaps between students who start the year below grade level and their higher-achieving peers.

We know longstanding historic inequities exist in our schools and classrooms. It’s up to us – as educators with support from our state leaders – to ensure all students have equal opportunities to achieve at high levels, whether learning is in-person or at a distance.


The work of the The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning is generously sponsored by the Steelcase Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, the Frey Foundation and the Bosch Community Fund.