As we gear up for yet another school year, we in education have a choice to make on what we will value going forward. The past year has been one of loss, of course, but it has also been a year of gain. And what we decide to focus on will go a long way toward determining how we, and our students, approach yet another unprecedented school year.

First, it may be helpful to reframe the recent past. Has it been a time marked by the absence of school, or, rather, a transitional period where we began the difficult process of transforming what school might be in the future? Was it a year-and-a-half framed by so-called “learning-loss,” or will it be seen as a time when we made gains in areas that are desperately needed but often overlooked or divorced from the curriculum and benchmarks we typically use to measure progress.

The answers to these questions are difficult to wrestle with. Sometimes they take a complete mind shift. But they are necessary if we want to truly reprioritize what students should be taking away from school.

The lessons our students take from the last year, and how we refer to it, will be framed by the way we speak about it, the words we use, and most importantly our actions in the first few weeks of the new school year. We can either take a deficit approach and focus on what has been termed learning-loss, or we can take a strengths-based approach and appreciate and acknowledge what has been learned and gained.

A deficit approach would see us focusing on what didn’t happen. What classes were missed, which tests weren’t taken, what foundational skills have been bypassed. This isn’t to say that—as with every year—some learning won’t need to be revisited. But if we take a primarily deficit approach we focus on what wasn’t and ignore what was.

The alternative is to take a strengths-based approach where we acknowledge and respect the myriad skills, aptitudes, and attitudes that have been developed and honed over the past year. Our students have experienced, tested and trialed self-efficacy, agency and decision-making. They have solved problems creatively to get access to Wi-Fi, quiet spaces to learn, and hard-to-find information. They have collaborated with peers and expanded their networks of support. They have discovered more about how each of them learn and they are better set to use this understanding in the future.

Read the full article about learning losses by Sean Slade at EdSurge.