It can be frustrating to continually see the gap between what we know and what we do. There are so many examples where knowledge gained through research, lived experience, expert advice, successes and failures… is bypassed in favour of comfortable routines, hollowed out ideologies or fear of unfamiliar territory. And then…along comes a global pandemic, changing everything. To what extent will current adaptations endure beyond the short term? Will new routines at home, in our communities, workplaces and our education space actually alter the “set point” for normal, or will our efforts and energies be dedicated to going forward by going back? In education, it will be fascinating to see how the pandemic-initiated teaching/learning culture does or doesn’t influence the long-term structure and rhythm of a place called school. Our journey through weeks of unsettling change, high speed innovation and adaptation creates much potential for real educational transformation, including in these three areas:
Shining a brighter light on Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and health: We know that SEL is essential to positive teaching/learning dynamics and the social value of the school system. That’s not new. However, in many places, the focus on SEL has long been relegated to background status: important to pay attention to, but not on par with the effort or the metricsassociated with academic achievement. This second-tier status has occurred even when we know that social/emotional health is a foundation for academic and other successes.
How quickly things change. During these anxious times, the richest conversations about education highlight the importance of mental health and how the school system must do its best to connect with children and families at a distance, and how to prepare for a return to class that will have its own unique emotional dynamics. Beyond the current circumstances, once the school house is up and running again, SEL must rightly take its place alongside the other indicators of effective learning organizations. It’s a priority and requires resourcing and capacity building via proactive and responsive SEL initiatives. For those school communities already rich in an SEL culture, there is an opportunity to build on strong foundations. For others, the current focus is a reminder of what’s essential for learning to take hold and for kids to thrive;
The whole staff as a collaborative team: As we “simultaneously build the plane and fly it” in reshaping teaching and learning, it is important to acknowledge and access the skills and resourcesof the entire staff team. Teachers and administrators are clearly key players in the learning dynamic, and there is a growing recognition of the value of other team members as we navigate new realities. The Education Assistant who connects by phone or on line to offer guidance to a student is the school for that student and family in that moment. The support staffer providing on site care for essential service workers’ kids is the exemplar of a responsive, compassionate and flexible school system that can serve its communities beyond the bells…and the list goes on. All of these professionals are key members of the team, working in tandem with teachers to connect with families, build trust, sooth concerns and navigate learning challenges. They help make school a human place, both on site and at a distance. It’s a reminder that the sacred trust “Every Child/Every Chance/Every Day” is made possible when all staff members do what it takes to support each of the youngsters for whom they share responsibility. Going forward, let’s hope that support staff are fully valued and appreciated as essential team members, helping to make the differences all kids need;
Will “blended learning” go mainstream in our high schools?: Even with all the talk, effort and action around the transformation agenda, there has been reluctance in many places to break away from 5X8 timetables and organizational models grounded in kids in seats at pre-arranged times. The COVID-initiated suspension of in-class learning has fast-tracked everyone into alternative ways to activate learning, demonstrateengagement and achieve mastery. Will these innovations last beyond the current crisis or will next year’s courses be delivered in familiar ways? School, as a real time/real place learning environment should continue to be essential for all kinds of academic, social, emotional and practical reasons. We are social creatures and the school community is crucial to countless dimensions of learning and growing. So, school being “in” should always be important, but we also have a rare opportunity to explore and experience environments where time, space, interests and abilities are flexed to engage and personalize the learning journey.
Do high schools require the full student and staff population on site at the same time, Monday through Friday? What would it look like for a course like Social Studies 11 (just an example) to be organized to include: attendance at several required seminars and breakouts; engagement in virtual synchronous and asynchronous learning moderated by the teacher; individual tasks and assignments completed on line; and on-site and remote connections/tutorials and support sessions with course teacher for coaching and feedback? Possible? Yes. Status Quo? Not even close. Likely? We will see. Transformational opportunities show up in unusual ways and at unpredictable times. Whether we use them to transform to a preferred future or just survive the present crisis remains to be seen.