During the lockdown, schooling has suffered in more ways than one. Those without internet connectivity have had to find ways to access the flow of knowledge and teaching from schools. Those with the internet have been able to access it, but this has largely been an unsatisfactory experience according to published reports. This is not always the same as anecdotal surveys have revealed – since, like in all teaching, there are good days and there are bad days – and the response is mixed. This is good news, it brings hope and action guides.
Some schools have been able to deliver a very satisfactory experience to their students and keep them on track, others have struggled and found a semblance of order. Naturally, few would be willing to claim success in this. For one, we have no scales to measure success or failure of crisis remote learning, second, we have high quality teachers who know that their familiar teaching techniques used to deliver familiar learning outcomes which were within their control. Now, learning feels out of control, while teaching feels restricted, and they cannot, in good conscience claim to be happy with the outcomes, because they know they want to do better. Third, even if online lessons are regularly scheduled, they feel patchy. This is clearly because it is early days yet, and we do not have the practice to make it appear a smooth and seamless ride. This is still a work in progress.
All of this is actually good news. It is good to acknowledge that we have not got it right yet. Because so many of us who are delivering lessons may assume that we know what we are doing, just because we have been able to make it an operationally seamless experience. This would be a mistake. It does not take a few months only to evolve a pedagogy, though a timetable and assembly line can be set up to run well in that much time. Do not mistake one for the other. This is a time of transition, and teachers today have the greatest responsibility ever seen in history. And the responsibility is this – be true and honest about what works, and what does not work. And share.
Our job as educators today is to create a web of knowledge about good teaching and learning experiences with honesty. Hubris will lead us to believe that administrative efficiency has made us proficient – this is not true. Good learning experiences may need to rest on good admin, but not always – and teachers need to share this. Good learning experiences may depend upon a different type of student participation, and teachers need to share how they encouraged it to happen. Good learning experiences may have happened because they totally restructured their teaching schedules and styles, and they need to definitely share that too. Because, if teachers do not lead with this information, surveyors and designers will make assumptions based on very little, and we shall muddle in mediocrity for decades again. Education, they say is the shining of a light, and this time, again, it is up to teachers to shine a light on what went right, and should be replicated. And of course on what does not work, and should be dumped.
No one else can do this. Teacher led teaching sounds like a super obvious statement, but it has not been obvious in practice, they will be the first to admit. We have had schedule led teaching, curriculum led teaching, exam led teaching and more. We need a teacher led movement, where they bring their stories. All they need to do is share their experiences, not build entire pedagogies. Yet. We are not ready for pedagogies yet, because we are still in the middle of the upheaval.
Teaching and learning is less than smooth for so many because we are still in the middle of receiving shocks, and this may continue for a while. Some of us have already got used to this level of shocks, and life seems to have settled into a sort of normal. This is both good, since we are continuing with the essentials. But this is also not so good because it means we think we have it sorted – but this is only a part of the journey. There are a few shocks ahead.
For example, school schedules if they reopen before it is safe will inevitably lead to a disrupted open and close cycle, as we have seen in many countries. Lockdown learning is only online, and many teachers have reached comfort with it, but in many countries, teachers are being asked to do both, online and live teaching with personal attention to each student. This is a real challenge and clearly not sustainable.
The challenges of disruption lead to crisis, but also lead to good things. We have broken through the antipathy of decades against online learning, and now have it as a part of our toolkit. This is really good news in so many ways, not just for students who were introverted, suffered from anxiety and other conditions, but also for the core of teaching and learning that has gained one more capacity. A whole new way of engaging, repeating, revising and sharing learning, one that is definitely better than the hit or miss of the classroom, because classroom learning was only delivered once.
We now sit in the house of learning, and realise that we are in the middle of a bigger and better renovation than we had envisaged. There are structural parts that we can rearrange, so let us do that. There are performative parts that can be done differently. We do not have to have all students in class all the time. We do not have to have learning bounded by four walls. We can, if we choose, to make our house of learning look very different. This is our chance to get it right. And like every renovation, you cannot rush it. You have to do this step by step. We may have a clear architect’s plan, and we do – for a hybrid set up – and the plan itself will seek things not at once, but step by step.
The first step, we note today, is teachers. An andolan of sharing.
And the start, I repeat, is to listen to what teachers share. So, now teachers, now that you know enough to share, now is your turn. Bring the bricks for this renovation, so that the house is built right.
Next time: Roadmap to Renovating the House of Learning