Podcast | How ‘grace’ became the word for some WA educators

Early in the pandemic, many teachers and administrators gave student well-being priority over academic performance. Some never stopped.

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Adar Abdi

Junior Adar Abdi, 16, poses for a photo outside of Evergreen High School, March 13, 2022. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)

When schools shut down early in the COVID-19 pandemic, it was unprecedented. The vast majority of teachers had never done school outside the school building before. The vast majority of students hadn’t, either. And no one knew from day to day how long the shutdown would last. Cases were on the rise and lots of parents were losing their jobs.

It was a collective trauma that affected students and teachers alike. And because schools were in survival mode, and everyone was going through it, standard operating procedure went out the door. Standards and rules were replaced by flexibility and emotional awareness and an approach anchored in the idea of grace. Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal took a “do no harm” approach and introduced a no-fail policy. 

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As schools reopened in 2021 in many places, the traditional measures of success were reintroduced. The results were troubling, with many students falling behind or even disappearing from the public education system entirely.  

For this episode of This Changes Everything, host Sara Bernard speaks with a number of teachers who believe the solution to flagging student achievement is a continuation of the practices adopted early in the pandemic. If they prioritize student happiness, well-being, and a sense of belonging at school, they say, the rest will follow.


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