What We’re Learning About Learning: Looking Back, Looking Forward

As we get ready to return to in-person teaching, we have to remember that we aren’t returning to the same landscape we left in 2020. In the words of author and activist Sonya Renee Taylor, “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was….We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment.” In the latest episode of the CNDLS podcast What We Are Learning About Learning, we look back at lessons learned from pandemic-era teaching in order to help us stitch that garment and start creating a new, better normal this fall.

With that goal in mind, we gathered ideas from two groups of educators: Georgetown University staff and administrators, whose experience with our students last year demonstrated what our continuing students are going through and what they’ll need; and a panel of high school educators who have a lot to teach us about the first-year students we’ll be welcoming into the community this year.

Thinking about our returning students, Director of Catholic Life Jim Wickman said, “Well, the experience [this fall, in-person] is going to be great. And the experience is going to be what they want. But the experience isn’t going to solve all their problems….I’m afraid that the hyperactivity and overextension that often accompanies student activity will become the answer.” 

Incoming first-year students may face even bigger challenges finding their footing at Georgetown. They’re coming to us from wildly uneven and often disappointing high school experiences. As we heard from Allyson Even, a history teacher at Kipp U Prep in San Antonio, Texas, “All of the sort of traditions and rites of passage have been removed. Those sorts of aspects of learning just did not exist this year, and so I think kids have a really sour taste in their mouth about what is school and what is education. And so they’ve experienced a lot of loss in that way too. And a lack of faith and trust in adults to know what to do. And a lack of security and trust in terms of the future.”

In the face of enormous challenges, these students showed amazing resilience—and our work this year is to help them learn from their experiences in order to push forward productively and healthily. This episode of What We’re Learning About Learning explores many strategies and ideas for making that happen. “Because,” said Georgetown College Assistant Dean Javier Jimenez Westerman, “I don’t want to get too Pollyanna about this, but I think if we can rescue something, a germ of positivity to give them and us to share and rebuild and regrow, I think that’s the way that I want to handle it.”