Emerging from two years of unprecedented challenges, school leaders are now eager to prepare for strong educational programs in the 2022-23 school year. Those leaders with vision know that they can leverage changes that by necessity occurred over the past two years, in order to create learning environments that foster student success surpassing that achieved in the past.
The key to this success is to build systems based upon two major changes: an increased acceptance of and infrastructure for technology, and strengthened relationships with families. The need for remote learning resulted in state and federal funds providing equipment, hot spots and training that now make technology available for teaching and learning in locations that were previously inaccessible and/or that had educators who were not skilled in using technology. In addition, schools needed to work closely with families in order to continue to offer educational programs and special services, thus creating stronger school-family relationships. As a result, we are now well-positioned for new innovations that can redefine our schools.
This vision for a strong educational system is particularly critical for mitigating the long-standing damaging personal and societal costs of speech-language impairments and reading disorders. These disabilities in students have been associated with lower academic achievement, behavioral and emotional difficulties, mental health issues, and poor relationships. The long-term impacts into adulthood include unemployment or underemployment with lower wages, continued mental health challenges and relationship problems, and criminal behavior and incarceration. The societal impact includes not only the direct costs of welfare, social services and imprisonment but also lost income from potential taxes and reduced economic output, the latter of which is estimated to be as much as $186 billion per year in the US.
Here are just a few ways our schools can be redefined by seeing the opportunities now available:
- Student practice of newly-established skills leads to mastery, which results in attainment of IEP goals and improved educational performance. However, therapy sessions traditionally provide little time for practice, resulting in slow student progress. Technology can now offer engaging AI-driven self-practice on student devices via motivating gamification formats. The expanded infrastructure and available devices now make this available for all students making it possible for students to attain goals and be dismissed from costly special services at a much faster rate.
- The expanded technology infrastructures and strengthened school-family relationships discussed above can result in time available for students to progress beyond the school day. Families’ increased involvement in and understanding of their children’s educational programs can make practice in home settings more accepted. Families now see themselves as partners in their children’s progress, playing a supportive role in encouraging home-based practice that leads to faster mastery of needed skills that are established in school.
- Staff shortages and turnover have plagued schools for decades, with some of the most challenging students being served by the least experienced educators. Platforms can now capture student data that help identify those educators who need additional supervision and mentoring that can be tailored to specific areas of need. Better teaching means better learning.
- Connections between speech-language and reading services and the student’s classroom are essential for supporting the student in applying mastered skills to settings outside of the therapy room. This is where true impact occurs. However, collaboration between therapists and classroom teachers has been thwarted in the past by lack of time to meet and share student information, materials and strategies. Today, improved modes of communication using various technologies have made communication significantly more efficient, facilitating the sharing that is needed to bring relevance and support to the student’s program.
This is the moment to act, to take advantage of the potential offered by the recent shifts in our nation’s schools. Innovations in technology and strategic partnerships can help our students experience unprecedented success, leading to positive impacts at the individual and societal levels.