An Open Letter to Our Community during COVID-19

Dear CSET Community:
As we all grapple with the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, your partners at the Center to Support Excellence in Teaching want to share our principles about what is essential to foreground excellence in teaching for all students. These principles guide us as we work together to define what an equitable education looks like in the coming days, weeks, and months.



The foundation of excellence in teaching rests on a base of research confirming that knowing who we teach and being clear what we want students to learn are essential starting points. Then how we teach gets synthesized into those starting points. As you adapt your teaching to new circumstances, we encourage thoughtful consideration of the following:

  • As teachers in this time of crisis, reflect first on how you can find out about the needs of your students and their families in this moment. We know that students can’t learn if they don’t feel safe.
  • Creatively consider how you can prioritize building and re-building community with your students, especially if you are now teaching in this new remote learning environment. Along with personal safety, a sense of community in the classroom is an essential prerequisite to learning.
  • As you design and adapt your lessons, focus on the fundamentals. Identify key learning goals and objectives up front, then decide how to adjust your lesson plans in ways that leverage the affordances of technology, which are not the same as teaching in person. 

CSET will use the term Remote Learning as we give guidance to educators we serve. Online learning does not, and should not mean, literally online all the time. Technology is certainly a tool that can greatly enhance learning experiences and does provide opportunities for students to learn virtually when schools close. However, online learning, particularly when entered into suddenly, presents us with serious equity issues. There are necessary conditions that need to be met in order to fully engage in quality online learning and not all families and students have access to these conditions. Therefore, as educators we need to become well-versed with the idea that learning can happen remotely, a concept that includes the use of technology, but is not limited to online experiences.  

As you transition to remote teaching, we strongly encourage a “do a few things well” stance and to resist the pressure of having to get kids immediately learning according to what your state standards define as learning.

The critical work of CSET moving forward is to equip educators with sustainableequitable, and research-based remote learning practices and to develop professional learning experiences that reflect these practices. We are working to create a set of research-based lesson planning tools and exemplars that model a path forward. We will share these tools through the Resources section of our website as soon as they are available.

Finally, we encourage everyone to consider the ways in which the COVID-19 crisis has presented an unprecedented opportunity for public education to be fundamentally disrupted. Our collective work takes on a new sense of urgency as we must be ready and prepared to seize the unexpected opportunities that disruption gives us to actually create a more equitable system for all learners instead of tinkering around the edges.


Janet Carlson, Faculty Director

Suzanne Burrows, Executive Director