Understanding the experiences of students and teachers during pandemic schooling is vital to educational recovery and building back better. In the spring of 2021 as the school year was coming to close, we conducted three research exercises: 1) we invited 200 teachers to interview their students about the past year and share their findings, 2) we interviewed 50 classroom teachers, and 3) we conducted ten multistakeholder design charrettes with students, teachers, school leaders, and family members to begin planning for the 2021-2022 recovery year. Rather than a “return to normal” or the targeting of a narrowly-conceived “learning loss,” the students and educators in our study emphasized themes of healing, community, and humanity as key learnings from the pandemic year and essential values to rebuilding schools. We recommend that in the 2021-2022 year, schools create structures for community members to reflect on the pandemic year, celebrate resilience, grieve what has been lost, and imagine how the lessons learned from a tumultuous year can inform more equitable, resilient school systems for the future. We provide guidance on four reflection protocols to use in school communities to advance this work.
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