Perspective: The New “Back to School”

Supporting Teachers as they Return to the (Virtual) Classroom

August 28, 2020 – At this time of year, I’m always thinking about the dedication of our nation’s teachers. So many teachers go above and beyond in the classroom, but I am especially grateful to those that lend their valuable time as coaches and mentors to the students that NAUDL’s leagues serve. As the summer of 2020 winds down and schools look to safely re-open, we at NAUDL recognize the uphill battle that teachers face in this uncertain environment. Whether they are teaching via new online platforms, inside traditional classrooms, or leveraging a hybrid approach, teachers will experience more adversity than ever this fall.

As teachers return to the classroom, they must simultaneously combat learning loss stemming from last year’s shutdowns,  digital fatigue and equity concerns. They are also working to prioritize their students’ social and emotional well-being, as many families have been impacted by harsh economic conditions as well as the harmful and deadly effects of Covid-19 itself.

For NAUDL, this is personal. With over 700 schools in our network, we challenged ourselves this summer to create resources that coaches will need to teach debate this fall. In June, we convened nearly 40 professionals, representing 20 of our 22 league partners, from the Urban Debate Network for what would be three collaborative sessions. Formed into four working groups, these teams sought to brainstorm innovative ideas expected to help ensure: effective recruitment for debate teams in a virtual environment, successful virtual debate camps, engaging virtual tournaments, and safe and supportive virtual climates for instruction.

We are proud of the resources developed from this collective effort and it is our sincere hope that these tools help promote outreach, expectation-setting, synchronous and asynchronous learning, effective volunteer and coach training, appropriate tournament staffing, and, most importantly, student support. While we know we are unable to plan for every potential hurdle, we also know what our debate community consistently rises to meet unexpected challenges. We will continue to innovate and provide support for our teachers as their limits, energy, and resources are stretched in unimaginable ways.

We value the important work of our teachers and students and we are continuously impressed with their dedication to the power of debate. Over the next several months, we will remain committed to being adaptable and nimble as a network, so that we can all serve all our students in the best way possible. More, we’ll continue to celebrate the successes of coaches and students as they navigate new platforms in a shifting environment.

If you are interested in helping to supplement necessary resources for our teachers and students — many of whom lack sufficient technical tools (e.g. tablets, hotspots, headsets, etc.) for distance learning or online debate competition, you may donate to the Urban Debate Virtual Resource fund. Every dollar raised will be earmarked to meet these needs. Many thanks in advance for your continued support!

Rhonda Haynes
Executive Director

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