Opportunities for Change

What opportunities are presented to us as schools are forced to close, deliver remote learning and engage learners in different ways?
Nicki Wise

I watched a video of a rat trap the other day - it felt like a metaphor for education at the moment - everyone scrambling around trying to find something that works. In reality - POP! Everyone is floundering - there will be casualties. Still image below (the video is a bit grim but link included if you fancy the 7minute view!)

Twitter is awash with advice, opinion and ‘experts’, teachers have never worked harder, leaders are trying to find strategies and solutions for problems they didn’t know existed a month ago and parents, well they often haven’t set foot in a classroom since they were at school, so their version of “education” is probably vastly different from their off-spring. You can feel the tension! And lastly, (but shouldn’t they be foremost?) are the students. Learning is at the heart of what we should be focussing on - so shouldn’t we start with the students?

I am seeing quotes on Instagram about this opportunity to slow down, reflect, turn inward, learn lessons, save the planet - our chance to do things differently. In a world of lockdown, everything for everyone else feels different, but for educators it feels like we are all trying to squeeze face to face pedagogy into a remote jar. I’m seeing lots of squished faces on screens. I’m not convinced of the value. How could we really make the most of this once in a generation opportunity?

How could we really make the most of this once in a generation opportunity?

So what opportunities does this change of lifestyle present for education? How should we fill the time given to us by lockdown? Here are my thoughts.

  • Press pause - let’s regroup
  • Prioritise - we can do something but not everything
  • Consider parents - and lean to their strengths
  • Loosen up - let students explore their talents
  • Reevaluate - later!

Press Pause

The knee-jerk reaction and the pace in which everyone reacted was exhausting. As observers we were using the terms “car crash” “melt down” - if as educators this was our rhetoric - what was it for parents, or students who also found their worlds turned upside down? I too was guilty of rushing to find solutions. We jumped on the knee-jerk train and found ourselves hurtling towards a crash.

One week into the Easter holidays - I have found time to pause and reevaluate. I hope others have done the same; leaders, teachers and parents, as well as all those other third party industries who serve the education community. Let’s step back and breathe before we consider carefully how we move forward for the next term. I have realised we can’t (I don’t want to) ‘save the world’ from this crisis. Whilst frustratingly, as a company we did have a roadmap which included a full program of online and blended learning packages - I have realised we physically cannot bring that forward in its entirety to meet the needs of this crisis. Not in the quality we want to.
So permission to rest and pause.

Evaluating the most important needs

So if we can’t do everything - what can we do best? Many leaders may not have the budget to give everyone a device to provide equality of provision for remote learning. As teachers and parents, we may not have the skills to adapt or the time to support every child. So what can we do within these constraints? Firstly, I think we have to understand what the particular constraints are for our own communities, with knowledge we can serve each stakeholder in the most holistic way possible. Specifically and well, rather than with a broad brush reactionary approach.

We are starting by talking to those we serve, see end of post for some of our support packages. But by talking and asking we have already identified some needs. We surveyed the students at one of the schools we work with and the responses were enlightening. It allowed us to help staff readjust to meet the needs of their community. We launch our #BeyondSchool research project this week. These are conversations and interviews designed to document the change of technology use as we move through the remote learning curve and ultimately back into the classroom.

See our post on #BeyondSchool and please get in touch if you want to get involved.

Rethinking education - and using the skills at our disposal

As Sir Ken Robinson summarises in Out of Our Minds, education has three main roles: personal, social and economic. Schools traditionally focus on the economic; providing the skills required to earn a living and be economically productive. Our linear system certainly feeds the supply demand of what our economic society thinks it needs. (Let’s not even get into the debate about it’s 19th century influence not being fit for purpose now!) But in these challenging circumstances, by redesigning learning experiences, we could shift the focus to personal (developing individual talents and sensibilities) and cultural (understanding the world around us). We also move away from a schooling at home model and have an opportunity to think more flexibly. We also give ourselves an opportunity to focus on things we don’t have time for in the classroom. We make the most of the opportunity created by change.

The biggest opportunity of this whole crisis is the short term opportunity to turn the curriculum on its head for 4 months

Let’s be brave! Let’s make the most of no exams! I believe the biggest opportunity of this whole crisis is the short term opportunity to turn the curriculum on its head for 4 months. To rethink the way we deliver content, to reconstruct learning activities and rethink how we regard “success”. To provide a more open-ended enquiry based model which gives students the freedom to adapt topics and strategies to their strengths - or even find them! We know teachers are finding remote learning is even more work than their traditional face to face model, so rather than continuing to focus on a knowledge based curriculum delivered remotely, thereby forcing parents into pseudo teachers - we should take this opportunity to celebrate the uniqueness of parents, to build on their strengths. Whatever we plan, should take into account the stress and time-limitations working parents are under. The activities should be ones that they can support and even feel like they have something to offer. For example, completing a project on their parents' work, would link so many other curriculum areas and put them into a relevant context. Why not give students whose parents work may otherwise have been marginalised, the opportunity to feel proud?

Let students explore their individuality and find their talents

Linked closely to the point above, I have worked in so many classrooms where I see the failure to adhere to the conformity of standardised education demoralise learners. The scars of failure crippling their self-esteem and their futures. This time is an opportunity to sow seeds. To give students the opportunity to explore their passions, to find their talents, to celebrate their uniqueness. To develop skills stifled the classrooms of a month ago. It should be a time of freedom of expression, it will make this time meaningful and memorable. Yes, it may very well link back into the skills employers are looking for, but I want to see this as a by-product, not the driver. Our young people are incredibly thoughtful, aware, talented individuals - we need to provide (and guide) them with the right sort of compost (activities) to allow them to flourish. I can guarantee they will be more memorable.

This time is an opportunity to sow seeds, to give students the opportunity to explore their passions, to find their talents, to celebrate their uniqueness.

I would love to see someone develop a mini-EPQ style project for the thousands of Year 11 students who, with no GCSEs to sit, are rather at a loss. What of the opportunity to complete an enquiry based passion project where guidance on structure is shown but students have agency over subject and the form of the final presentation. Give it value, by offering links to ‘experts’ in their chosen fields, accrediting it with some early UCAS points and requiring parents to be part of the final presentation.

There will be critics that no doubt say this potentially increases the divide between social demographics. But is that a good enough reason to do nothing?

Reevaluate later

We cannot measure our 2020 cohort against other years whatever year group they are in. They will be forever judged on a teachers assessment (a post for a different time) but if we could provide some of the opportunities above so students see other forms of output as reminders of their time during the lockdown of 2020 we may have given them a legacy of knowing where their talent or passion lies.

I am hoping there will be a time in the future to consider the wider impact where some of these approaches may have been taken, to have a clearer understanding how the roles outlined above work together, and to take another long hard look at our curriculum to provide a more holistic education fit for our children’s futures. For those that made no significant changes, they will also need to reevaluate what the impact of a more traditional form of remote learning was delivered.

The world changes on small stories of adaptation rather than large scale dictatorial reform. We are never as bold as to think we would have a huge influence over the future direction of education, but if we can serve and support our community well then hopefully when things return to ‘normal’ some of the conversations we will have had may influence how educators design learning and how learners think of themselves.

Supporting you

This post was not intended to be promotional in any way, but for those interested in how we are supporting our community, see our range of remote teacher offerings including:

  • Our online Pathfinder and Explorer programs here.
  • Teachers can also book Bespoke Remote 1:1 Triage sessions here. This will be free for schools who have purchased iPad recently. Please get in touch to see if you qualify.
  • Everyone Can Create from Home - We have released a free program for parents and teachers here, which includes all the resources students need to create 4 open-ended challenges and share them with the world. Whilst I am certain it serves a need, I’m not sure it is the most important, so we will reevaluate when we know more.
  • Our Family History Project is aimed at parents but we will make the resource available to schools if they are interested - see here.
  • Remote Roundtable
    In addition to our current APL training we are also offering the opportunity for leaders to come and learn together and from each other in a remote roundtable format to discuss how best to utilise remote practices to encourage learning, learn from each other and move forward. Find out more here.

We certainly don’t have all the perfect answers - but we’ve realised through years of doing this that for the leaders and teachers we work with, having the opportunity to talk things through helps clarify and rationalise their own thought processes and we’re pretty good at coming up with solutions together. So, if we can overlap that with our learning, teaching and parenting expertise, then we think we can help in small ways.

Nicki Wise

Nicki has been working in education for the last 25 years. She has considerable experience teaching and integrating technology into classrooms from Early Years right up to Post-Graduate level. She is passionate about ensuring teachers build confidence by getting the basics right and then building and innovating from there.

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