Taking it in our stride

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

In my previous post titled ‘caught by surprise‘ I reflected on how, despite all of the signals, so many schools and businesses appear not to have been as prepared as they might be for the eventuality of another lockdown. I received a significant amount of feedback in the various forums I shared my post on – many giving personal anecdotes to illustrate agreement with what I was saying, but several pointing out that there were also schools and students who had a far better experience, and who were better prepared for the current lockdown.

In my post I did acknowledge that there are schools out there that have been working strategically to be prepared, and so in this post I thought I’d reflect a little more on what it means to be able to take the eventuality of another school closure ‘in our stride’ – for whatever the reason, be it another pandemic response, or a natural disaster, or a significant weather event.

This post is also prompted, in part, by another conversation I had this week with a colleague who’d been asked to gather together some advice for schools and teachers on how to cope during periods of remote teaching. It wasn’t hard to find online a slew of pages offering tips and tricks for teachers during periods of remote learning. Here are just a few I found in a brief ten minute search…

If you dig a little deeper you’ll find some gems in there – ideas for how to keep your students engaged, making sure you maintain a focus on wellbeing, consider ways to involve parents etc.

But I couldn’t help thinking that, for the schools I’m aware of that were able to take things in their stride with this lockdown, these lists of “tips and tricks” wouldn’t really be all that helpful. They’d be unlikely to be looking for ideas to implement that weren’t already an established part of their practice.

This is because so many of the strategies that work are already in place and are a part of ‘how they operate’ on a day to day basis, meaning, that when the lockdown was announced, learners and teachers didn’t have to make such a huge adjustment in the way they engaged in their learning – and with each other.

This was what I was getting at with my list of suggestions at the end of my caught by surprise post. Those weren’t a list of tips and tricks, rather, they were a set of suggestions for how individual teachers or whole schools might transform the way teaching and learning occurs, making use of the affordances of digital technologies to enable, enhance and accelerate learning regardless of location.

Over the weekend I reviewed an article from the McKinsey Institute that provides their perspective on this. Titled Reimagining a more equitable and resilient K-12 education system, the authors suggest that school systems recommit to four basic principles and consider eight ideas for innovation. Although it may seem overwhelming, the time to start reimagining the future of education is now.

Their list of priorities is:

  1. Recommit to what works: Get the basics right – a reminder not to get distracted with lots of things to simply keep kids occupied. That may be OK as a stop-gap, but when faced with the prospect of regular periods of school closure, we must ensure we are addressing the things that, as educational providers, we are charged with doing.
  2. Harness technology to scale access – reminding us that simply handing out devices doesn’t improve learning. The patterns and expectations of use must be in place and well established well before the sudden lockdown, otherwise you’re simply adding to the complexity of the change that needs to happen.
  3. Move towards mastery based learning – this isn’t advocating for lots of online quizzes and ‘drill and fill’ types of activities. It’s about using technology to create compelling, enabling personalisation at a level not previously possible in a traditional classroom.
  4. Support children holistically – while there’s been plenty of research and insights about the importance of a well-being focus during lockdown, in the longer term we can serve our learners much better by helping them become “inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced, and reflective.” Learners who are capable of this are less likely to fall prey to the sorts of self-doubt and anxiety reported by some during lockdown as they are more likely to feel in control and empowered in how they respond
  5. Help students adapt to the future of work – a focus on preparation for the world of work has always been an important part of our education system, particularly at senior levels. But it’s important to understand just how significantly that world is changing, and how we need to be reflecting this in our curriculum as well as the way we teach and interact with our students.
  6. Invest in new models of teacher preparation and development – this one concerns me greatly as someone who has devoted a significant part of my career to both areas. There’s no shortage of people with strong ideas about how to solve this problem, but few have the breadth or depth of understanding of what is involved. As a result we’ve seen a plethora of small-scale programmes emerge, some last, some don’t, but none are capable of being scaled and accelerated to the extent that is required. In addition, there’s the issue of what is considered important for a teacher to know and do. For example, in the digital era, educators need to expand their understanding of what it means to be literate in the 21st century: not replacing traditional learning but complementing it.
  7. Unbundle the role of the teacher – teacher stress and workload become issues as we perpetuate the one-teacher-one-class model, placing unrealistic burdens of expectation on individual teachers to take responsibility for an every increasing number of tasks. We need to free them to focus time on high-value activities that require deep teaching expertise and relationships. Making better use of and expanding the number of ancillary staff is one way of achieving this. Another is to work more in teams, make best use of differentiated sills and abilities, and incorporate a greater focus on student agency in the classroom, utilise peer support models, and access to multiple forms of support (including online).
  8. Allocate resources equitably to support every student – remote learning simply fails to kick in if teachers and learners don’t have what’s required of them to work from their home contexts. I’ve covered a lot of this in my closing the divide post and elsewhere on my blog. There’s no quick fix, but it cannot be left to chance either. A determined effort with everyone playing their part is required.
  9. Rethink school structures and policies – another area I’ve blogged about repeatedly. As long as we remain committed to the current structures in our schooling system we’re under-serving so many of our learners – and teachers. Sure, these structures have served us well int eh past, and some may well serve us well in the present when in-person learning takes place. But what we need more of is the ability to experiment with more agile, research-informed approaches that will allow us to cope better in times of change. Instead of being focused exclusively on the notion of school as a physical place, on seat-time and attendance, on the timing of the school day or the school year etc. we need to be able to accommodate different ways of thinking and working where these models are no longer fit for purpose.

I’m sure that if those teachers and schools that were able to transition more seamlessly to working remotely were to reflect on these things they’d find they are exactly what they’ve been focusing on – to some extent or another. The challenge is for us as a system to find ways of achieving this, so that it isn’t just the privileged few in the schools fortunate enough to have great leadership, innovative teachers and the resources to achieve this – but that it is happening everywhere, in every school and for every learner.

Imagine if, when faced with the next event that forces the closure of schools we’re able to look back and say, “No sweat, we’ve got this. We’ll take it in our stride!”

We simply have to do this.

2 thoughts on “Taking it in our stride

  1. I think we can get to a point or position were formal compulsory education in NZ where students can legitimately learn from home and then spend time at school and this is seen as a normal part of the ones educational journey. The investment by central government needs to be in strengthening the fiber network around the country.

  2. Kia ora Derek
    Great post. You have many times heard my cry for pedagogy rather than technology. Our Manaiakalani kaupapa epitomises all that you are saying. Manaiakalani schools adapted to the Alert Level 4 environment very quickly and easily, because we have a pedagogy focus that uses technology to amplify that pedagogy.

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