Author: Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, Professor at Harvard University, Extension School

My name is Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa and a month back I recorded a podcast on Taking your Courses Online in which I highlighted some of the benefits of remote learning.

Today, I want to extend the moving metaphor to call attention to the ways the Coronavirus has catalyzed some important changes in Education.

The Move

Moving can be a stressful time. You have to decide what’s really important and assign values to different parts of your life. Things we took for granted now have to be evaluated. (Do I bring Grandma’s gravy bowl, which I have never used, across country and risk breaking it, or do I leave it in storage? Do I give away the kids’ baby clothes or do they come with us? Does the dining table I love even fit in the new place?) Both scaling up to a bigger place or scaling down to a smaller space create challenges. And even after you decide, you then need to negotiate this with the people who have to live with you. In short, you have to return to your roots and prioritize what is really needed.

What do I keep?

What do I throw away?

What do I give away?

What do I store?

What do I replace?

Moving can also be an exciting time. It can be an opportunity to prioritize and return to your core, and to dust off old, but important things of value; to decide what really matters and to save it a space and give it prominence in the new home.

Moving Online

We are moving. To online education. And we have to make many of the same choices as in a physical move.

What do I keep?

What do I throw away?

What do I give away?

What do I store?

What do I replace?

Yesterday I spoke with a friend and colleague about the opportunities created by our current situation. He said no amount of professional development money could have thrust such a change on us. And I agree. And no amount of lobbying could have slammed the inadequacies of one-size-fits-all testing; or called attention to the inequities of access to good teachers and neighborhoods with Internet; or the importance of social-emotional learning.

And no amount of advertising could have brought attention to the myriad of options available, often for free, to help reach learning objectives.

…Or to the mindless way curriculum has short-changed so many topics in education, including indigenous knowledge and low-tech solutions to teaching core concepts in math and science; how star-gazing and leaf-counting could replace the unauthentic textbook.

…Or the amazing amount of resources that are available to help our kids achieve, for free, beginning at their starting points, not where the school calendar says they should be.

…Or, perhaps most importantly, to the vitally important role teachers play in society beyond educating in school subjects, but also as models of values, and as patient and loving caregivers.

Nothing Will Be the Same Again

As the Coronavirus makes these changes inevitable, we hear people begin to chant that “nothing will be the same again” and that’s OK. Change is good, so long as its planned. Like a good move. So as we move to a new kind of Education, we should plan. We should ask:

What do I keep?

What do I throw away?

What do I give away?

What do I store?

What do I replace?

So what do we keep?

We keep the humanity and personalization many of our teachers use to lift up all of our students and to motivate them.

We keep detailed, formative feedback that develops metacognitive skills and guides kids in learning how to learn.

We keep the deep, rich vocabulary-abundant exchanges in as many language as possible, with as many people as possible, for as long as possible, in as many contexts as possible.

What do we throw away?

We throw away a twisted evaluation system that teaches to the test.

We throw away timed exams except for those things that depend on time –(like learning CPR to save a life).

We throw away self- and societal-perceptions that teachers are low on the totem pole of prestige in a community.

What do we give away?

We give away the rows of chair and send them to places of worship. Education is an exchange, not a dictation.

We give away budget-driven decisions to businesses whose focus is on the bottom line.

What do we store?

We store away the textbooks which will someday be studied by historians as a testament to what publishers valued in 2020.

And finally, what do we replace?


We replace summative evaluation systems for formative ones.

We replace performance-based grading for mastery.

We replace age-related cut-offs for achievement for experienced-based milestones.


We replace curriculum based on subjects to real-world, inter- and transdisciplinary thinking.

We replace K-12 curriculum for transgenerational, life-long learning.

We replace Western-centric topics to world gifts, including indigenous teachings.

We replace lip-service to social-emotional learning for development of the whole child.


We replace textbooks for bundles of individually curated free, and open resources on each topic.


We replace busy work with time for reflection.


We replace teacher-student dependency to community-dependent upbringings.

We replace decisions by politicians with decisions by all stakeholders, including students, parents, civil society and entrepreneurs.


We replace face-to-face alone with multi-modalities, including the Internet, radio and television.


We replace the idea that education is a privilege with the idea that education is a right, and that it can be delivered in cookie-cutter fashion with the idea that it should be differentiated and meet each student at their starting point.

In Summary, Nothing Will Be the Same Again

After you move, nothing is the same again. But that’s alright. Moving is a little like death, except you get to plan. To deal with death, you have to traverse stages of grief:

  1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance.

Once we reach acceptance, we have a choice. We can be resigned or we can be empowered. We can try and return to the old ways, or we can seize an opportunity.

As educators, now is the time to ask ourselves,

What do I keep?

What do I throw away?

What do I give away?

What do I store?

What do I replace?