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“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”

Peter Druker

The announcement of the closure of the Ministry of Education’s head office in Wellington, Mātauranga House, due to earthquake risk came as a big surprise to everyone – in particular, the 1000 employees for whom that is their regular place of work. They were given just a few days to retrieve what they need and prepare to work from home for an unspecified period of time.

Déjà vu the 2020 lockdown! We all remember the sudden changes in our lives at that time which required us all to immediately find new ways of working. A new word was added to our vocabulary as we learned to pivot from one way of doing things to another.

The idea of pivoting isn’t unfamiliar – it’s likely that most of us have had some sort of experience in life that has caused us to do so, a change in career, a redundancy, birth of a first child etc. Each of these experiences forces us to ‘change direction’ in at least some way as we adapt to and embrace the change we’re in.

The sudden closure of Mātauranga House is a salient reminder that disruptive events are increasingly likely to impact our ability to continue as we have. The OECD identified this in a table titled Potential future shocks and surprises, plausibility and impact taken from their Trends Shaping Education 2019 document (pre-COVID!) as illustrated below (cited in their more recent publication on scenarios for the future of education).

More recently McKinsey published an article titled The resilience imperative: Succeeding in uncertain times, in which they demonstrate a number of ways in which disruption is becoming more frequent and more severe, including a dramatic 300% increase in reported natural disasters over the past 40 years.

Such evidence must inform the thinking we are doing about how best we prepared ourselves for this highly disrupted future. Being unprepared is without doubt a significant cause of stress and decline in wellbeing as we continually find ourselves ‘reacting’ to what is happening rather than having a resilience plan in place for the increasingly likelihood of such events occurring. A pro-active response is always best.

Which has me reflecting on the current situation as we navigate our way through the uncharted waters of change in what some refer to as the post-COVID times. Much of the rhetoric reflects an assumption that we’re only have a short time to persevere here and that there’s a time coming when COVID will be ‘over’ and we’ll be able to get back to normal.

The concept of post-COVID could be further away than we think according to a report released last week by New Zealand’s former chief scientist, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman titled Unprecedented and Unfinished.

In the report an international group of researchers outline the drivers and possible outcomes of the pandemic over a five-year horizon. The team used over 50 ‘vectors of uncertainty’ to identify three scenarios for the future illustrated here.

Long story short – the current pandemic situation isn’t going away any time soon, and the degree to which its impact is felt depends entirely on the extent to which we see a global collaboration around vaccinations and putting in place preventative measures.

It’s fair to say that it’d be very foolish of governments within the multilateral system to see this pandemic as a single, exceptional event.”

Sir Peter Gluckman

So what does this mean for education? Sir Peter Gluckman’s quote above could apply equally for our education system and its leaders – at the national, regional and local level. We have to see this as more than simply a single, exception event that we can simply ‘get through’ and come out the other side. We see this sort of response so often – a school and community impacted by flooding, an earthquake, or other natural disaster for example. We respond as if we hadn’t expected it, and each time we’re challenged to find ways of catering for our learners while they can’t attend school – always as a short-term measure until they can return to school and ‘get back to normal’.

There’s nothing at all wrong with considering our young people attending a physical setting called school as the ‘normal’ we might aspire to. The problem is that this ideal is likely to be disrupted all too frequently, and we should be doing more to reconceptualise how we might operate as centres of learning so that each time such a disruption affects us, we are not thrown into a tail-spin, with systems and processes designed only for the on-site, in-person settings we’re used to. We need to pro-actively plan how we might pivot when the need arises.

This is where the focus on hybrid approaches is so important – not as an end in itself, but as a strategy for building resilience in our schools and our education system. Working to design and implement the elements of a hybrid teaching and learning approach is an effective way of ensuring that when the next disruption occurs, we’re better prepared to respond pro-actively, with strategies and mechanisms in place that can actioned as required.

Of course, there are lot of other benefits of putting the time into designing and implementing such hybrid approaches, besides being prepared for future disruption. These include:

  • Achieving greater coherence across a school and the system
  • Addressing systemic issues re equity and inclusion through learning design that is focused more intentionally on meeting the needs of all learners
  • Increasing transparency of systems and processes – for teachers, students and parents/whānau
  • Increasing professional collaboration to focus on what is important for student learning
  • Increasing the focus on developing learner agency and self-management
  • Improving links with parents/whānau and community as partners in the design of learning and support of learners
  • Reviewing what counts as success in learning, with more transparency in the assessment process
  • Taking a ‘systems’ view of our use of digital technologies to support and enable quality teaching and learning that is truly boundary-less

If the challenge of responding to disruptive events isn’t motivation enough for us to be exploring the hybrid learning alternatives, then surely the outcomes in the list above are?

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