There was a rhyme learnt by many in kindergarten,
“Building a House,
Start with the Floor,…” and it went on to add on elements as it went along, finally placing a roof on top. This seems perfectly logical, does it not, for any house one has to build?
This is what we are doing with the house of Education that lies in ruins around us after the devastations of the pandemic.
Learning, globally, was not reaching the levels we expected, global reports told us that. The pandemic wiped out whatever gains we had managed to eke out in recent years working on teacher motivations, better evidenced pedagogies, raising more funds, building more schools, seeking technology solutions. We had almost begun to be optimistic, that we would be able to get so many more children into schools, because schools would get better, with all that we had learnt about learning.
But schools, they had to shut down. Learning crumbled.
Learning crumbled bottom up, with those who had fewer resources being left out of the online learning wave that swept through the rich and abled learners. If you had a device, and if you had a connection, and if you had electricity, and if you had a quiet space and if you did not have other demands on your time and energy, and if you were supported, you could still learn. That is 6 ifs.
For the ifs, and the teachers who jumped these ifs, we thank them. You showed us what worked, and what did not. Amidst a house in ruins, were these little lights, where you were trying your best. You tried so many new things – replicating the classroom, and it did not work. We knew that was not a door we were going to buy for rebuilding our house. You tried asynchronous learning and shorter sessions, and that was starting to work. We knew we would be buying that window, when we rebuilt our house. Students continued to play pranks on their teachers, we knew that a prank proof house was never going to happen, and as we laughed a bit along with the clever ones, we remembered we were human – and happy to engage. We figured out prank-proofing our building standards, careful never to make them perfect. It’s a crack, that’s where the light gets in.
Because, we learnt, that more than the content, it was the connect that mattered. And this time when we build our house of learning, we would build it to be more humane, more about engagement, and sharing laughter, since we already know that laughter does improve learning outcomes. Our new house of learning is not encumbered by old structures – the four walls of the classroom crumbled away, and so many windows opened up. This is our chance, to restructure.
We have the pieces. We have studies, we know that learning is social and emotional – and if it is, then we need our new house to have room for social and emotional engagement, those are our moments of learning. We know that teacher incentives and motivation matter, but teacher support and continuous training matter even more, so let us have a room for that in our new house. We know that so many students did better when learning from home, so let us make some room for their mental health needs, or simply for their need not to be under pressure to conform at school. We know that having a centre, a hub remains important, not just for the student, but also for the teacher, and then all the way up the food chain. We find purpose in that chain. It is a crutch, but it is one that structures us. Our new house may need to retain that design.
We know these things, not because we assert them, but because we have studied them, evidenced them, peer reviewed them and these ideas have fought their way and proved themselves winners. They can enter our new design.
Because design we must. We cannot let our new house be built, as that rhyme said, by default. This is what we are doing right now. We picked up some new habits in our teaching and learning during the pandemic, and these, were good for the crisis. There is no going back to the old normal. and there is no giving up on habits acquired. Some of them are good habits for the future, and some of them are not useful for the future at all. Let us not build by default – let us not repeat the mistakes we made in building the old house of education. It was legacy, it has gone.
We have the foundation, we have the pieces, but we also have new technologies and new capacities. We have new pieces. And, we have changed, both as teachers and learners. Then, why not build the new house to our new needs?
When the old house of education crumbled, we learnt so much about ourselves and our resilience too. We now know that we do not have to build houses to stand. We can also build to refurbish often. From the Edutech and start up world, we have learnt much about MVPs – Minimal Viable Products, that are designed to fail fast.
When we rebuild our house of education, we do not want to get stuck with designs (or pedagogies, or processes) that do not help us meet our goals. We want to try them out, let students and teachers respond to them, gather evidence, and pivot to our needs as quickly as we can. The old house had been built for educators, and for memory, and for teaching in the old way. The new ways need new flows, new collaborations, shared engagements – new designs.
We do not need to be stuck with two windows per wall rules, or rules that say that windows must only be in the middle or in the corners. Windows depend upon climate, education outcomes depend upon context. And when we make our design choices, let us make them work for our needs, and if it does not work, pivot to a new design. Fail fast, and do not be afraid of failing. And rebuilding.
The pandemic has taught us, that when all fails, we know how to rise again, and with us will rise the house of education. This time in our shape, to meet our needs and aspirations.
Will it be perfect? Will it stand? Will it need to be rebuilt again? Maybe. Will it be enough? Maybe not, not yet. But we will. Because, this is where we are now – rebuilding the house of Education.
And all building needs teams, teams of content creators, instructional designers, assessment specialists, learning architects, length and load engineers, interior designers and so many more. For education, we may even have to grow up these teams. And with them, we shall build this house again, only better, and more suited to our learning needs.
Oh, and those 6 ifs? That is the foundation we all must have, all. The foundation is the first step – a safe and accessible learning space, virtual or physical.
Next time – an easy one: New Communication Principles for Post Pandemic Teaching