If you are teaching remotely…

To the teacher who is struggling with personal, health or family issues, while showing a brave face on Zoom for remote teaching, you are seen.

To the teacher valiantly dividing attention between the needs of your students and your own children at home, you are seen.

To the teacher who is feeling isolated and disconnected  in these difficult times, you are seen.

To the teacher who worries about what everyone else is doing but has the courage to try something different, you are seen.

To the teacher who agonises over how to respond to the diverse needs of your learners, despite the challenges, you are seen.

To the teacher who agonises over how to respond to the diverse needs of your team, without jeopardising the learning,  you are seen.

To the teacher who agonises over how to respond to the diverse needs of parents, without compromising your beliefs about learning, you are seen.

To the teacher who finds the strength to change yet another thing in your approach to remote teaching, thereby making a difference to the learning, you are seen.

To the teacher juggling to balance the needs of students at home with those attending school, you are seen.

To the unassuming teacher who quietly gets on with things without complaining, you are seen.

To the teacher for whom technology is challenging, who persists to overcome this hurdle in remote teaching, you are seen.

To the new teacher who barely had time to learn the processes of our school and build relationships, before being thrown into remote learning, you are seen.

To the teacher who is filled with self doubt, always thinking you could have done better, not realising that’s how all good teachers feel, you are seen.

To all of you doing your best, despite the challenging circumstances, thank you.

(Written for teachers at my school, but applies beyond.)

Creativity benefits from constraints…

The generosity of educators, authors, artists, businesses and all manner of other unexpected sources, currently sharing their time and ideas via social media, is phenomenal… yet overwhelming. One can drown in the ocean of views on remote learning, examples of schedules, suggested activities, tools and platforms, ways of staying connected, tips for being mindful, advice for checking in with children, etc etc

Stepping away from it all gives me time and space to be creative and generate ideas.

Creativity benefits from constraints.

What if that was the focus of the learning? What if, instead of trying to replicate or reinvent school, we allowed this to be a time of creativity? What if we took advantage of the way limitations can encourage innovation?

What if these sorts of guiding questions were offered as provocations for teachers and students alike?

    • What might I design/ invent/ create that would entertain or help others?
    • What useful or aesthetically pleasing item might I create by recycling or reusing things that are no longer needed at home?
    • How might I record and share my own and others’ feelings during this time, in a creative way?
    • What am I fascinated by? How might I investigate it further through the lens of creativity?
    • What do I care deeply about? How might I make a difference to others right now?
    • What are my strengths? How might I use them to support others?
    • Who do I admire? What can I learn from them? How might I go about connecting with them?
    • What might I learn about that could change me? How might I use my learning to change others?
    • How might I document this moment in history in an interesting and creative way? How might I adapt this for different audiences?
    • If I could reimagine school, what would it be like?
    • If I could reimagine my class, what would it be like?
    • If I could reimagine anything, what would it be like? (a library, shoes, a sport, a kitchen, a museum, a book, a toy…)
    • What have I learned during this time? How might life be better as a result? Can I create a manifesto for my future?

What if the above questions were supported and extended by ones like these?

    • Who is my audience?
    • What is my purpose?
    • What questions do I need answered before I start?
    • What materials might I use that are readily available?
    • Which skills and dispositions will I need to work on?
    • What new things will I need to learn in order to achieve my purpose?
    • What experts might I turn to? How might I contact them?
    • What do I notice about myself as a learner?

What if we all viewed the limitations of our current context as an opportunity for creativity and innovation?

Thoughts on remote learning…

Much of what I know about distance learning, I learned from the Granny Cloud

It’s been ten years, on and off, of connecting virtually with children in a range of disadvantaged contexts, mostly in India. Ten years of ups and downs, of being disappointed when things didn’t work and delighted when expectations were surpassed; disheartened when children were unresponsive and uplifted when they surprised me with their curiosity, confidence and creativity. The children ‘on the other side’ came to every session, unfailingly enthusiastic, open to new ideas, willing to experiment and be challenged, excited by an opportunity so different from their reality of life and school.

I’ve engaged in virtual interactions where the sound didn’t work and all we could do was make faces at each other or where the children spoke no English and simply stared at me. I’ve planned, what I thought were, interesting sessions that fell flat and I’ve gone into sessions with no plans, that turned into powerful learning experiences for both the children and me. I have often marvelled at the simplicity of an idea that is so powerful in its implementation, and wondered what Jayesh and Digvijay, Anshika and Farheen will be doing years from now and who they might become in the future.

Yet in these most challenging of times, as I apply my learning from the Granny Cloud in the context of distance learning with privileged children, it saddens me that those children from whom I learned so much, are currently unable to connect…

The most valuable messages you can take to your current experiments with remote/ distance/ emergency  learning (whatever you choose to call it) are these:

  • Children are capable, competent and creative.
  • Personal connection matters more than content.
  • Focus on relationships rather than curriculum.
  • Don’t try to replicate school.

Circle of viewpoints…

A colleague of mine has three daughters. One says when school shuts, she will follow her daily schedule and stick to the school routines. Another says she will finally have time to work on her personal projects. The third says that she will see how she feels when she wakes up each day.

As we prepare for school closure in Australia, emotions are heightened and interactions are fraught as individuals struggle with their particular anxieties and uncertainties. It’s a time for empathy, for pausing to remember that everyone’s reality is different and, for many, stories they don’t choose to share might be impacting their very way of being. What seemed right when we started preparing our guidelines for remote learning (was it really only the week before last?) has already been adapted several times and is still changing, as the sands rapidly shift.

If ever there was an appropriate, authentic time to practise the Circle of Viewpoints thinking routine for exploring different perspectives, from Project Zero, this is it. What might different teachers need right now? How might parents be feeling? How will we meet the needs of our diverse learners, as students and as human beings?

What will our students need?

  • a sense of community and connection with peers?
  • daily checkins with their teachers?
  • similar routines to usual?
  • plenty of opportunities and ideas to keep them busy?
  • lots of choice?
  • not too much choice?
  • no expectation that stress them out?
  • clear expectations that keep them focused?
  • time to work on personal projects?
  • time and space to just be with their families?
  • more work?
  • less work?
  • different work?
  • no work?

What will our parents need?

  • clear guidelines for schoolwork?
  • asynchronous opportunities only, to relieve pressure?
  • synchronous opportunities to maintain routine?
  • more work?
  • less work?
  • different work?
  • no work?
  • regular checkins from the school?
  • not too many checkins from the school?
  • appreciation that they might have several kids to care for?
  • recognition of their financial concerns?
  • understanding that they are worried their children will miss out on their education?
  • time and space to just be with their families?

What will educators need?

  • plenty of support from leaders?
  • tech support to ensure they can manage online learning?
  • a sense of community and cohesion?
  • clear expectations in terms of their roles?
  • understanding of their challenges and fears?
  • appreciation that they too might have several kids to care for?
  • recognition of their financial concerns and insecurities?
  • time and space to just be with their families?

As we plan for school closure, the most important thing to remember is that one size will not fit all. Awareness of the myriad factors, other than school, currently impacting lives, is paramount.

 

An inquiry into remote learning…

In Australia we have now begun planning for continuous remote learning, given the inevitability of school closure to limit the spread of COVID-19. I’m reminded of my very first blog post, more than ten years ago!

It is important to start by recognising how incredibly fortunate we are.

How many children around the world experience interruption to schooling due to disease, natural disaster or war? How many have access to an education at all? Of those that do, how many are lucky enough to have ready access to the resources that we do? Do we understand that in remote communities, this might be the way learning always looks? Do we appreciate the technology, books, materials, time, space and people to whom/which we have access? Do we acknowledge the collective wisdom and generosity of other teachers and schools with more experience than we have, readily sharing their ideas and expertise with us? We have so much to be grateful for.

The initial response of our teachers, ranging from excitement to panic, depends on individual perspective, personal circumstance, prior experience, technological ability and comfort level with the unknown. So our stance, at my school, will be to see this as an opportunity rather than a challenge. We will approach it, as always, as an inquiry, an extension of our 2020 focus on building cohesion. We will expand our whole school inquiry into building community and a sense of belonging into the new and unfamiliar territory in which we find ourselves.

So these are some of our initial inquiry questions:

  • How might we continue to build cohesion when we are learning from home?
  • How might we create a sense of community despite being physically apart?
  • How might we ensure that everyone feels safe, comfortable and supported?
  • How might we seamlessly (almost) continue the children’s learning, and our own?
  • How might we remotely plan for and provide opportunities for rich learning experiences?
  • How might we ensure the wellbeing of our whole learning community, students, educators and parents?
  • How will every member of our learning community contribute to all the above?
  • And… how might we extend the learning into other communities?