What just happened?

I published this over on LinkdIn, and thought I’d archive it here too:

What just happened?

As we all prepare for the for the transition back to face-to-face it’s hard not to look back at what just happened, from an education perspective, with a mixture of astonishment and pride.

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In the space of a matter of weeks, educators across the country have made a radical change to one of the cornerstone foundations of education; what a classroom looks like. We’ve all been subjected to PD sessions where the presenter has put up a picture of a Dickensian classroom and then a ‘modern’ classroom and provoked, ‘So, what’s changed?’ Maybe we even squirmed in our seats a little. But something just changed in a way that few workplaces have changed so quickly.

I don’t buy too much into the ‘hero’ memes for teachers that have been circulating online, but there’s no doubt that teachers, so often criticised for their students’ failings in this international science competition or that, have demonstrated extraordinary capacity and resilience as they have kept playing the game while the goalposts were not only moved, but were in two different places depending on which but disappeared entirely.

While every school and system have their stories, I couldn’t be prouder of the way Balcombe Grammar teachers have responded during this time. We put in place new structures and frameworks (‘This Week’s Learning’ communicated out to students and parents’, two-part lessons structures and live lessons using Microsoft Teams, OneNote and our Intranet all in a week, with no lead time. We’ve seen teachers building and sharing in Microsoft Streams and students taking up the opportunity to replay lessons and concepts as they wished; who would have thought that ‘CAS Linear and Quadratic Graphs’ would be trending in our own little YouTube? We asked teachers to keep learning going and they did that, and more.

The students I’ve spoken with over the last few weeks have appreciated the effort teachers have made in transforming practice; some have even enjoyed the change. Others can’t wait to get back to see their friends, but all of them acknowledge that the teaching and learning has gone on.

We surveyed parents twice during this process, at the start as we ran an ‘asynchronous’ week, and again only a week ago. The results were encouraging: parents felt that students were engaged and productive, that learning was progressing and that teachers were modifying courses appropriately. Parents saw the greatest challenges for students as the lack of social connections for students, and the amount of screen time. For parents themselves, the challenges were mainly around trying to balance their own work requirements with supporting their children’s progress.

After postponing the original planned Parent-Teacher interviews, we also took these conferences online for the first time, using Microsoft Teams, with parents logging in and being admitted from the ‘Lobby’, in order to facilitate feedback for parents of our VCE students, with very positive feedback from parents and teachers. It’s something we’ll do again.

The biggest challenge might still be ahead; a staged return to school involving some face-to-face and some online teaching is not going to be straightforward. However, there are some practices we’ve introduced in the last six weeks that we’ll want to continue on with, even in a post-pandemic world, and I couldn’t be prouder of the way our teachers (and students) have adapted and evolved their practice so successfully.

 

What now, what next?

For some educators who have long advocated for the power of technology to augment, if not transform teaching and learning, this almost feels like a ‘gotcha’ moment.

If it wasn’t so tragic, and so destructive, this might be a moment to point to the teachers who suddenly feel compelled to work out an alternative way and say ‘education wouldn’t be even possible now if it wasn’t for the same technologies that you have been resisting for the last ten  years’.

In Australia the school closure debate has divided experts. Unlike most countries the schools have remained open and teachers ‘cannon fodder’ to the good of the economy. As it is holiday time now that debate has quietened, but it will be interesting to see what Term 2 looks like, whether schools will open at all, and what education will look like? Will schools attempt synchronous replications of the old school day, keep the existing 1 teacher – 1 class paradigm, or look freshly at the challenges and possibilities?

As we energetically run PD on Microsoft Teams, OneNote, Zoom and ‘Screencasting 101’ and VCAA scrambles to keep exam-based structures in place Term 2 beckons.

And, beyond that, what will school look like a year out from now? Business as usual? Or are we likely to have seen new models emerge?  Everything seems broken currently. All seems possible.  The future is unwritten.

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