Learning Onward

Reshaping Teacher Focus for Meaningful Impact on Children's Well-Being & Learning

Deficit Based Terminology and a Reframing

The terms being used to name the challenge we face—loss, recovery, acceleration—take a deficit approach to the crisis we have all endured to various degrees. This is important to notice and unpack. Words matter, and they affect both the mindset we develop around an issue and the way we choose to respond to it.
These words focus on:
  • What was lost, instead of what of what was gained. In other words, how did we gain knowledge about the ways in which children learn, and about what really matters to their learning? What should we preserve and learn from as we work to change policies, structures, and systems in schools?
  • Our need to quickly “catch up” children who are now behind, instead of meeting children where they are.
  • Recovering the learning of skills and standards that they missed out on, instead of re-examining whether those skills and standards are what they really need in the first place. In addition to the cultural and linguistic expertise that they already bring to the classroom, children have learned a tremendous amount during this pandemic that should be both celebrated and built upon as they return to the classroom.

Let’s reframe the challenge as an opportunity for Learning Onward. “Onward” is a word we often use to communicate that we are committed to keep at it, to move forward, even when it feels hard. Learning, then, continues and moves forward by building upon the learning that children and the education community have done in the face of their challenges during this pandemic. During a time of tremendous stress and limitations, we have learned how to cope, to persevere, to be resourceful and creative, and to make the best of our time beyond school walls.

We have learned to plan and engage with technology in ways that make learning more dynamic, personal, and fun. If we shift our thinking in the education community toward the opportunity to authentically respond to who children are and what they know, and then rethink what and how they need to learn—how would that change our approach to the challenge before us?

Learn more about deficit language in schools and strategies on how to recognize them

Looking for more information on recognizing deficit language in your school? Take our brief quiz to learn more about common instances of deficit language and download a resource guide on how to combat them.

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