Dr. Damian Bebell and Dr. Steven Stemler

Dr. Damian Bebell, for over 20 years, has helped schools and policymakers use data, technology, and empirical research to study and support a wide variety of educational initiatives. As an Assistant Research Professor at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development, Damian provides research and evaluation services to help schools evolve their teaching and learning practices, improve formative and summative assessment practices, and better align outcome measures to their broader mission. Damian is a frequent speaker and author of numerous articles, book chapters, as well as The School Mission Statement (Routledge Press), with Dr. Steven Stemler.

Dr. Steven E. Stemler is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Education Studies and Co-Chair of the College of Education Studies at Wesleyan University. Steve’s research focuses on the development of innovative methods for assessing and measuring core purposes of schooling such as creativity, ethical reasoning, citizenship, and practical intelligence. Steve has developed a number of tools for measuring creativity, cultural competence, practical intelligence, and ethical reasoning. Steve has published numerous articles and chapters that have appeared in outlets such as the Journal of Educational Psychology, Educational Psychologist, Contemporary Educational Psychology, and Intelligence.

 

As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted nearly the entire global population of 1.5 billion K-12 students, communities have struggled to create and maintain “school” without physical campuses. Since March 2020, nearly every teacher, student, and parent has found themselves unwilling participants in the world’s largest experiment of educational technology and distance/home learning.

Although this new reality is still unfolding in many communities, early reports suggest several well-resourced and effectively managed schools have used their existing technology to successfully transition into various forms of home-based teaching and learning. As we would expect, school communities and classrooms with lesser resources and leadership have struggled to pivot and keep pace during this sudden and unprecedented challenge.

For generation, inequities in resources and experiences have posed major problems within and across all educational systems. The variety of educational approaches and outcomes long reported in international research studies (Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Hooper, 2016; OECD, 2016) has traditionally been the domain of policymakers, educational leaders, and academics. With the world’s entire K12 student population no longer attending physical school, these topics and discussions have entered our quarantined homes, literally. Parents are seeing first-hand the wide range of expectations and experiences in materials, communication, resources, and support their local teachers and schools have been able to provide in this challenging time. And of course, parents are freely sharing their frustrations and satisfaction alike via social media.

For most stakeholders, this experience has been difficult and stressful. Emerging research suggests that home-based learning results in teachers working longer hours with only a fraction of the emotional and professional rewards. Without daily affirmative connections to their students, many teachers feel disconnected and unsatisfied. Similarly, students are also experiencing a range of emotions and feelings that may be hard for them to verbalize or express. Researchers are only beginning to examine how this extraordinary public health, economic, and educational fallout will impact this entire generation of students, especially those in at-risk and other high-needs populations.

As households and school communities alike come to terms with our new educational reality and struggle to replicate a meaningful school experience at home, many find themselves asking: What exactly is the purpose of school? How can newly deputized parents better align their home efforts with the objectives and ideals of their children’s classroom?

In over two decades of educational research, we have found that school mission statements often provide an accessible signpost to the values, priorities, and commitments of a school to its constituents. As researchers, we have identified, categorized, and even quantified a number of distinct themes from a school’s mission statement. Through this work examining thousands of K12 school mission statements, we developed a rubric cataloguing 12 distinct themes and various sub-themes typically found across school mission statements.

As parents and educators continue to curate educational experiences without classrooms, the concepts and themes from their local school mission statements provide an important touchpoint. As such, parents, teachers, and school leaders may wish to consider and frame home learning experiences by asking:

What themes are present in your child’s school mission statement? How can each theme be cultivated in home-based learning?

Repeatedly, our research has shown that schools typically include four to six distinct themes in their mission statement. This means that nearly every school espouses an array of broadly constructed themes and goals. So, even in the most academically rigorous communities, school almost always means more than just curricular content and academic/cognitive learning. Below, we highlight the four most common themes articulated in K12 mission statements and offer a few connections and suggestions about how different themes may relate to current home learning.

Academic/Cognitive Development

Within days of campus closures, many schools sought to provide students access to class materials in subjects like reading, mathematics, arts, and science. With countless books, worksheets, websites, and entire learning management systems, there is no shortage of resources designed to strengthen students’ academic/cognitive development and provide subject-specific content. Effective school leaders and teachers must help parents navigate this maze of resources to ensure congruence with the objectives and approaches most familiar to students. Clear communication between school and home on the most appropriate books, websites, Apps, and other resources will help to ensure academic pursuits at home will be most helpful and applicable when campus life resumes.

Emotional Development

Emotional development is the most common theme we have found across different types of schools’ mission statements. Policymakers and school leaders nearly all universally recognize the importance of students’ learning to recognize and express their emotions and their ability to manage relations across all stages of child development. Emotional learning in school often focuses on the development of self-discipline, confidence, respect, and cultivating positive attitudes and habits to foster student’s capacity for life-long learning and a joyful life. During this time of global uncertainty, we can easily imagine the difficulty for many children suddenly losing contact with teachers, friends, and the extended school community and routine developed expressly to support them. Now more than ever, parents must set aside their own worries and challenges to prioritize and support their children’s mental and emotional health. Again, effective schools and teachers will help parents identify appropriate stories, films, games, and other activities and opportunities to foster emotional development at home. In addition, many schools have introduced simple reflection procedures like surveys to help track students’ emotional wellbeing (and other experiences) over the pandemic.

Social Development

The real-world importance of collaboration, communication, and teamwork is reflected in many K12 mission statements and globally recognized across professions and industries. Like emotional development, many K12 activities and structures have been intentionally designed to cultivate students’ social development. As digital natives, we know most students can easily leverage technology and social media platforms to maintain connections with their friends and family. Parents should recognize that positive social activities play an important role in child development, however, collaboration and teamwork in school activities and assignments should also be encouraged as much as possible given current circumstances.

Civic Development

Our research has shown the majority of secondary schools (and many primary schools) also include civic development as a central theme in their mission statement. Schools often work to cultivate students’ civic engagement and create responsible citizens through resources and programs like community service projects. Given the likely interruption of these school-based efforts as well as the critical role of civic responsibility in public health, the current health pandemic provides an especially salient time for parents, teachers, and students to discuss and develop activities around such themes.

Looking back at the first months of 2020, each and every educational institution and stakeholder has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as school-life resumes and economic and social impacts begin receding in some locales, there is little certainty for students, parents, and schools in the months and years ahead. As parents and schools continue to support our displaced students in the uncertain future, it becomes increasingly critical to ensure our home-based resources and efforts fully represent and align to those same themes, qualities, and domains that provide your child’s schools inspiration and foundation.

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