Dr. Devin Dillon currently serves as Superintendent of PreK-12 Operations for the University California Los Angeles. In this role, she oversees five schools located on the UCLA campus, including three early childhood centers, UCLA Lab School, and Geffen Academy. From 2014 to 2017, she held leadership positions in Oakland Unified School District as Interim Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent, and Chief Academic Officer. Dr. Devin Dillon also serves on Springboard Collaborative’s national board of directors.
In this interview, Dr. Dillon shared her thoughts about the unprecedented educational shifts in the wake of COVID-19 and considered potential ripple effects for the future of PreK-12 education.
How do you predict that teacher training programs will be impacted by COVID-19? Will it shift the way teachers are trained?
Teachers are coming into the field in many different ways these days. Teacher credentialing programs are one important pipeline for developing new teachers. These programs will shift their approaches for teachers in light of the pandemic, ensuring they are preparing teachers to teach utilizing remote learning methods as well as in person ones.
Additionally, teacher training is an ongoing endeavor, with continuous learning happening throughout a teacher’s career. One of the exciting things I have seen come out of the current crisis is the way that teachers are teaching other teachers about new ways to leverage technology in their practice. Teachers are setting up informal opportunities to share tools and tips with each other. In this way teachers are learning new tools for their practice and are immediately able to apply what they’ve learned to the work they are doing. This is exciting and has the potential to transform the way we think about teacher training. Rather than being a workshop where everyone gets the same content, it can be more dynamic and fluid and provided in real time by the true experts-the practitioners.
How prepared are district leaders to tackle the challenge of delivering instruction remotely? How are district leaders approaching this challenge?
The best district leaders thrive in the midst of change. They understand that we have to seek ways to continuously improve practice and focus on learning and teaching. The transition to delivering instruction remotely was not one that most leaders planned ahead for, but rather it was thrust upon them by the current crisis. It’s been exciting to see how districts across the state and county have risen to the occasion and used this as a time to reinvent the way we think about learning. District leaders have worked to create plans for remote learning that include synchronous and asynchronous experiences with technology. In a short time, districts have revised their strategic plans, created new roadmaps for remote learning and moved learning from the classroom to the living rooms in their communities. It’s been a heavy lift, but I have been impressed with how responsive district leaders are approaching this challenge.
Finally, it feels like there is a larger recognition for parents as partners in the midst of this shift too, since we are now asking parents to take on the role of teacher while they are also working from home and taking care of other children. Parents have a lot to share about how remote learning is working for their children and now have a seat in the classroom like they didn’t before. This creates an opportunity for dialogue between teachers, parents and leaders to ensure the needs of the children are held at the center of the conversation.
How do you think educational systems will be impacted by this crisis in the long-term? Do you predict any permanent changes as a result of this pretty dramatic disruption to how education is delivered? What new opportunities or shifts to the field might be an unintentional, but happy result?
The thing that keeps me up at night is the long-term impact on children of social isolation. School is so much more than content and children learn in social contexts. If I had to predict a permanent change to the educational field, it may be a greater appreciation for the critical function that teachers and schools play in our society. Teachers continue to be underpaid and underappreciated. My hope is that this crisis provides an opportunity to see the tremendous value that our schools and our teachers play in our society. I can imagine when our children are finally able to go back to school, they will appreciate the social aspect of schooling the most and look forward to interacting with others in person, playing outside together and working with their peers on projects, hands-on science learning and other ways of interacting.
If kids don’t return to their classrooms until fall, how might districts treat summer instruction as a possible way to stem additional learning losses? How would districts fund any summer initiative at scale?
Summer learning is critical to ensure students have opportunities to catch up when they fall behind. Children fall behind with learning for all sorts of reasons- learning in a new language, learning difficulties, family issues, extended teacher absences and so many more. The COVID-19 crisis is another reason that many children may find themselves behind academically. I remain hopeful that schools can offer robust learning opportunities for children this summer. Summer school will allow children and families to adjust back to the routines of school and transition smoothly into the next school year.
While all the new COVID funding options for PreK-12 are not fully understood, there will be funding available and districts should take full advantage of it to ensure they are maximizing summer opportunities for families. I would suggest doubling down on summer learning-investing in twice the amount of seats you might normally plan for- families will be ready to have their children back in school as soon as possible and children will be excited to be back too. In the short-term, districts can look to any unspent funding for the current school year to allocate for summer school, ensuring the budget for this school year is spent on this year’s students.