“The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.” ~Peter Drucker
The coronavirus has inarguably caused change. Whole societies responding to it. Yet, the jury is out on whether or not we will “exploit it as an opportunity.” If anything is certain, COVID-19 illustrates how transformation is possible in an instant. Whole countries locked down overnight, 1.5 billion students learning virtually, friends and family afraid to even embrace. The pandemic is unquestionably frightening as it further is fueled by uncertainty. Yet, in the heaped clouds raining down the storm, there are slivers and breaks, allowing the light to shine. Unanticipated morsels of hope. Catalysts for the change many have wished to see. For an educator, on the front lines and in the classroom for over two decades, the current “crisis” in many ways is shoring up to be an allowance. Of time. Of trust. Of realizing missions and values that until now have resided nowhere else but on school walls and websites.
If society were to feel but one lasting effect of COVID-19, it might be the fact that anything is possible. The need to remain resilient, as life as we know it, is changed. For many of us, the pandemic is more an inconvenience to our luxurious lives of choice. A very different situation than what it must be for millions of refugees and people without a home. Yet, we are feeling it. Less freedom than before. Of movement. Of education. Of control. Control of what we want, when we want, and where want. The nature of choice, possibly one contributing factor to the fast pace we keep. But now, our lives are being stripped down, halted by limits of choice. Before COVID-19 we may have perceived boundlessness, even entitled to this expectation of infinite space. Only now, this space is shrunken down. We are reduced to our “bubbles” of but six feet in social distance! Forced to slow down, we are being reminded of the primordial elements of what makes us human. Connection, family, and even sleep. COVID-19 is forcing this slow down. Introspection and reconfiguring. Further, the invaluable role teachers play in society is being realized by many. The Lynchpin for withering the storm, rests in our interdependence and global collaboration. Teachers, students, parents and everyone alike. Together.
An abundance of silver linings are apparent, specific to and for learning in the wake of the pandemic. High on the list is to call into question the very nature of learning. Dewey’s philosophy pointed to the importance of students interacting with their environment in order to learn. Doing! Both advocates and critics of virtual learning, likely agree that learners no longer can sit in a room full of students and passively absorb knowledge and skills. Rather, learners are being positioned to self organize and are being empowered to take the helm for their own learning. This means something different across the elementary, middle, and secondary levels. Yet, a component is ownership and a chance for students to improve in communication. To ask for help. Or, possibly to correctly format an email. Additionally, students are learning to become better problem solvers. Meanwhile, parents have a chance to participate in every virtual lesson and experience in “real time” how their child learns or possibly is challenged. Another glistening silver lining being exposed, is the pivotal role family partnerships play. In the wake of the coronavirus, hopefully there will not only be recognition of the value of teachers but also actions at the grassroots level, attesting to the fact that education is an endeavor WE do together, families and schools. Attention grabbing headlines such as, “Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars,” are charming but anemic.
When everything settles down and we return to a different version of what is “normal,” we likely will rethink and redo many things. Already there is a pervasive movement to distill the essential skills and understandings. This, being joined by more open approaches with regards to how students might demonstrate learning. A show-what-you know approach, hinging more on flexible models where learners demonstrate competency. Also, headlines such as, “Colleges Go Test-Optional After SAT, ACT Are Called Off,” attest to the increased momentum for a move to abandon high stakes testing as the be all, end all. Filling this forgiving “void,” might be actionable mission statements with accountable measures that further redefine the profile of a graduate. Educator professional development is already beginning to be offered more remotely and likely will become more ubiquitous. Optimistically, families and schools will reflect on what worked with virtual learning. On a personalized level, attesting to how some students thrived in such on-line learning environments, schools may begin to offer virtual learning offshoots to their programs. Increased blended learning practices are also likely. This, an effect of teachers’ increased level of comfort with on-line platforms but also the nature of more connected practitioners. “Teachers Pay Teachers” substituted by collaborative networks such as,“Educator Temporary School Closure for Online Learning,” a Facebook group of over 125,000 international members which sprung up overnight.
Last, schools and educators are learning and adapting at breakneck speeds. Efforts that mirror the rush to design the COVID-19 vaccine. The effect, a different “look” of learning. Early adopters to virtual learning traveled upon a steep learning curve. One that others have learned from. In doing so, educators were able to see how initial unconscious attempts to seamlessly transfer traditional content-rich curriculum into the digital sphere, possibly was met by student resistance and lack of engagement, but also exhaustion for teachers. Instead virtual learning is a sort of invitation that reflects Apple’s slogan at the turn of the millenium. “To think differently.” Further, the late Steve Jobs attested to a mantra of simplicity. Might we as educators “exploit this opportunity” to think differently but also act with simplicity. Both virtues that we may later be able to look back upon with gratitude.
[Guest post by Matt Piercy, @mpiercy35, grade 6/7 social studies teacher at International School Bangkok]