At the time of this writing, we are still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has struck every nation, every school, every teacher, every parent, and every student on Earth in some form or fashion. We went into lock down in March and April, some of us got back to school in June, and now we are planning the rest of 2020 and beyond. For Southern Hemisphere schools, they have trudged on throughout the pandemic without major breaks or stoppages. For Northern Hemisphere schools, we have gone through the strangest Summer Holidays in my lifetime.
However, despite what has been written, schools never closed. The buildings closed and the classroom doors were shut, but the learning continued with only minor interruption. And with schools above the equator into the new school year, learning starts anew. Some have gone back to the buildings while others continue to engage in remote learning. Most schools worldwide are somewhere in-between.
Through this we have learned two undeniable facts: technology can be used to facilitate learning and teachers are amazing.
The technology we have implemented in schools for past couple of decades was put on full display during the pandemic. And despite its obvious warts, technology fundamentally met the charge of ensuring continued learning for those who have access.
Yet, as I have said numerous times, technology is merely a tool. The real heroes of our continued learning are the teachers. They took the uncertainty, confusion, and fear of the situation and treated them like a 6-year-old having a temper tantrum. They spoke softly but authoritatively, handled the crisis, and got on as best as they could showing strength of character and resolve. Then, as all good teachers do, went into their staff rooms and kvetched about with their colleagues…however, now the staff rooms were digital.
We had hoped by this point the virus would be on the downswing and life would be returning the nostalgic times we all fondly remember, namely 2019. Yet, the virus is still ever present, and our school situations are still ever-changing and uncertain.
With this, we have found that drawing upon our technology and our teachers are still the lynchpins for learning in the coming months. It is critical, that we support both in the following ways:
Keep the Technology Well Fed
The data systems and online services schools are employing at the moment are now mission critical. It is vital that schools ensure their continued up-time and reliability. They do this through regular checks, continued maintenance, and healthy relationships with their vendors. Schools need to keep their IT teams well-resourced and supported to make sure they are checking on the operational health of the technology on a daily basis. They need to make sure any updates provided by the developers are well researched prior to implementation, then carried out with close monitoring to avoid unforeseen damage. They should also conduct regular check-ins with the vendors to ensure they stay full informed of all changes to their vital systems.
Freeze Instructional Technology Architecture
Simply put, nothing new, nothing removed. There are two reasons for this, stability and stability. First, instructional technology ecosystems are delicate, complicated, and full of moving parts. A change could destabilize the system which would cause far more problems than any incremental gain. Further, teachers’ emotional wellbeing while using instruction technology at this time will become unstable if the technology they rely upon changes. Whether they are teaching remotely or in a socially distanced environment in the classroom, consistent and reliable technology will provide them the best environment for quality teaching.
Be Publicly Supportive of Teachers…
Unlike any time in my memory, teachers are working alone and working in conditions that are truly unknown. On the whole, teachers are communal workers needing their colleagues and peers for daily reinvigoration. Since that is not available to them, it is our job to be publicly supportive. Remind them they are doing a great job, the students are doing well, and we are proud of them. Put it on the school’s website, on social feeds, in newsletters. Make teachers understand just how wonderful they are.
…and Avoid Adding to Their Stress Levels
Our teachers have shown their grit and skill in this tough environment, but it has taken an immense physical, mental, and emotional toll. Many of them are parents themselves having to juggle home learning duties in addition to home-based teaching responsibilities. This is not the time to enforce difficult policies, to overly analyze them, or to give them additional tasks. My suggestions are that school move away from informative staff meetings to supportive ones. Put the procedural items in an email and let teachers talk to each other. Don’t make any curricular or programmatic changes. Move to more qualitative assessments away from heavily quantitative or data-based reporting. After all, any data we collect on our students or teachers around learning will have so much confounding variation from pandemic conclusions drawn from them will be worthless.
We all have high hopes that in the coming months airplanes and restaurants will be safe to sit in mask free. But when that actually will come to pass we cannot predict. In the meantime, our schools are best served by doing what they have been doing: relying on stable technology to connect students to learning and drawing upon the awesomeness of our dedicated teachers.
Stay safe everyone, you’re doing a great job!