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Striking a Balance: Redefining Tier 1 Instruction for the Post-Pandemic World

The Impact of Covid-19 on Tier 1 Instruction

Covid-19 has been an absolute whirlwind of an experience for humans across the globe, with lasting impacts that we’re only scratching the surface of recognizing. The necessity to switch instruction from in-person to web-based was an unprecedented adjustment, forcing teachers to change their approach quickly and drastically in order to maintain children’s’ public education in any capacity.

The Shift to Predominantly Online Learning

Though I’ve witnessed many changes in Tier 1 instruction since Covid-19 began, I’m most concerned about the transition to predominantly online learning, which has not fully transitioned back to the extent necessary for our students to receive a comprehensive and high-quality education. I can fully appreciate that our pivot to online learning needed to be done to keep students learning during lockdown (and really, what a privilege it is to have advancements in technology to be able to do this as a widespread approach). We also needed to accommodate for the students who either couldn’t or didn’t want to come back to in-person school. We had to do what we had to do to maintain education and I humbly think we did a great job given the

circumstances! However, since going back to in-person instruction I’m seeing many teachers continuing to lean on online learning as the basis of Tier 1 instruction, furthering educational gaps that we’re not creating opportunities to bridge.

Let me give you an example: Remember the gradual release model? We would typically use manipulatives like a clock, counting blocks, beakers, etc. We invested a ton of money in objects that could be touched, counted, and manipulated so that the kids could see it, feel it, understand it. Gradually we would move to the paper/pencil assessment before moving on to the next concept.

Concerns and Challenges with Online Learning

Now I’m seeing ALL students are using some type of device to watch videos, using a mouse or trackpad to manipulate simulated 3-D models, and read or listen to descriptions before getting assessed and moving on to the next concept. Student engagement looks more robotic than ever, which feels frightening. I was recently walking through a school with a principal, and classroom after classroom was filled with seated students working on their individual devices. No conversation, no interaction whatsoever… I just can’t see this being the best approach to quality Tier 1 education.

Finding a Balance: The Need for Social Interaction

So where should we go from here? I can imagine teachers are torn between transitioning back to more social, interactive in-person instruction and maintaining the technologically dependent approach they’ve had to learn and rely on so heavily during the pandemic. However, I think it’s vital that we either address the gaps being created through an online learning model or fully transition back to in-person instruction.

It's also important that I recognize: software is needed, beneficial, and appeals to some of our students, just not all. If you know me, you know that I’m a strong advocate for creative uses of technology as accommodation tools that can be seamlessly integrated into instruction. However, I think there are major deficiencies in using mostly online software as a standard practice, as it heavily limits opportunities for social interaction. More than ever, our students need social development- to learn appropriate social skills, to foster connections and friendships with classmates, to learn what it means to be part of a team.

Addressing the Gap in Re-teaching Opportunities

Another frustrating gap is the limited opportunities to re-teach when relying heavily on online software. Typically, if a student does not show proficiency in the unit, they are redirected back through the same software. To me, if a student didn’t learn the concept the first time with the online software (or any type of teaching for that matter), they typically will not learn the concept the second time around with the same type of delivery. We have lost the art of investigating why a child didn’t learn the concept and creatively using different approaches or resources more tailored toward their individual learning needs in order to master a concept.

Moving Forward: Solutions for Quality Tier 1 Instruction

So what can we do?

#1: Own the problem and commit to providing our students what they need, not just what feels easiest right now. While they can utilize online learning, they also need different methods of teaching/learning for a well-rounded Tier 1 education. According to edX, a platform founded by Harvard and MIT to provide thousands of free courses and certification programs to connect learners with resources to achieve their goals, “Here are some examples of low technology usage in different teaching methodologies: Kinesthetic learners have a need for movement when learning. Teachers should allow students to move around, speak with hands and gestures. Expeditionary learning involves 'learning by doing' and participating in a hands-on experience. Students may participate in fieldwork, learning expeditions, projects or case studies to be able to apply knowledge learned in the classroom to the real world, rather than learning through the virtual world. Many types of vocational or practical training cannot be learned virtually, whether it be a laboratory experiment or woodworking.”

#2: Regroup and start fostering a dialogue with our teachers about what quality Tier 1 instruction looks like. I highly recommend starting with Lead4ward’s “Instructional Strategies” playlist. This was designed before Covid-19 to encourage more engagement in learning. Communication and vocabulary are two of the pillars used in each strategy.

#3: Re-evaluate our teaching resources and the Year-at-a-Glance (YAG). We don’t have to be on autopilot anymore -- just putting students on the software program and letting them work at their own pace. We can be more intentional in what and how we teach.


It will require effort, time, and collaboration, but supporting our dedicated educators in making these adjustments is essential in delivering the high-quality education our students deserve. By finding the right balance between technology and traditional teaching methods, we can shape a future where Tier 1 instruction meets the needs of all learners, both online and in-person.

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