What Do Students Miss Most? Connection.

What Do Students Miss Most? Connection.

If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and go look at this short video of Adele reconnecting with her 8th grade English teacher. The rest of this post will be here when you’re done, once you’ve dried your eyes.

When people talk about the importance of school as a social space, I think this is the kind of effect we are thinking about, the experience of having relationships (with teachers or peers or what have you) that have profound impacts on the entire trajectory of your life. 

Yes, Miss McDonald helped fire up Adele about English as a subject, but the experience of the school curriculum is not the chief takeaway from her time in Miss McDonald’s class.

If you watch the video closely, you’ll see that the first time Adele gets visibly emotional reflecting on Miss McDonald is when she says, “She really made us care and we knew that she cared about us.”

Miss McDonald’s first remark struck me as well: “I’m so proud of you.”

I have to think that if school should be about anything it should be about this. Yes, we should learn our reading, writing, and arithmetic, but even as someone who puts great stock in the importance of those things, whatever curriculum Adele experienced as Miss McDonald’s student is secondary to the impact she had on Adele’s spirit and sense of possibility.

Hopefully, all of us can conjure something meaningful that happened at school that wasn’t on the lesson plan for that day, but still had a profound impact on our lives. I have almost too many to name, but one I’ll point out now is the reason I’m writing these words on this page — Stephen Weber (the director of Educational Endeavors) and I went to school together from preschool through high school, and we remain friends to this day. 

(He doesn’t like when I point this stuff out, but this time I’m going to make him leave it in.)

There is a lot of justified concern about what students have “missed” in the pandemic, with seemingly daily articles about the “learning loss” students have experienced, some even claiming to quantify how many semesters (or more!) students have fallen behind.

I do not doubt that student test scores are lower as a consequence of pandemic schooling. And I would not say this is nothing to worry about. In fact, I’m worried about a lot of the effects of the pandemic and how we are going to emerge from this era into whatever is next.

But when we consider what students may have lost, I think we should ask students to help us answer the question. 

This has been the work of a project called “100 Days of Conversations,” which brought together hundreds of students across more than 37 states in a series of small group conversations where students could articulate what they felt they’d lost during schooling in the COVID era.

The most frequently named thing that students said they missed was, not surprisingly, social connections.

They missed their friends. They missed their teachers. They missed working in physical proximity to others and collaborating in real time. 

That time cannot be returned to students, just as none of the things that were disrupted during the pandemic can be recaptured for any of us.

I don’t know what the best course is to help students make up for what was lost — that will take many more shared conversations — but I feel confident that it would be a mistake to focus only on the schooling part of school simply because we have tests that can provide a measurement for that loss.

Some of the greatest benefits of attending school are beyond measuring.