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Why Covid-19 Won't Change Education (the way we think it will)

I like to think of myself as an optimist. Even in all the chaos and uncertainty of the Covid-19 crisis, I am deeply inspired by the conversations around how schools closing will lead to a learning revolution. Education that is pushed into virtual spaces out of necessity will forever change the way we view teaching and it will lead to schools making massive changes like embracing eLearning when they resume again.

I have to admit, I'm doubtful.

A few months back, I heard someone quote a workshop they attended about change. The workshop leader had the participants write their name with their dominant hand. Then she had them pretend the arm was broken. They had to repeat the exercise with their non-dominant hand. Of course the first few tries were poor, it took them much longer to write their names, it felt awkward and took immense concentration. After some tries, it became easier. A few participants were even really good at it! Then the workshop leader told the participants their arm was healed. What hand would they use now to write their name?

Almost all of the participants went back to using their dominant hand.

As much as I want to believe that education will change because teachers are forced to teach with their "left hands", there is a very good chance once school resumes, they will do what is fundamentally comfortable. Especially after such a scary period of time.

If change theory tells us anything, a small percentage of teachers will be completely inspired and use all kinds of new tools in their teaching. A small percentage of teachers will remain completely untouched through this whole ordeal because they send home learning packets and never engaged with new tools to begin with. But most teachers will fall in the middle. They've had some experience (hopefully with good support) but are generally relieved that school is open again and life can resume as normal.

Fear not, I'm still an optimist!

Perhaps the most inspiring thing to think about is not that more teachers will (or will not) use eLearning, remote learning and online platforms.

But what those tools have allowed us to DO with learning!

Online learning is not the most revolutionary element of this situation. Covid-19 has been a catalyst for several transformative practices that can (and should) be integrated into schools when they open again:

1. Flexible time. Students learning from home have choice over their time. It is not scheduled in one-hour blocks, separated by subjects. Time is fluid. Time is used as needed by students. Students can work in the mornings or at 11:00pm.

2. Deliberate connection between teachers and students. Teacher and students who set up Zoom calls, Skype Calls, TEAM calls, phone calls while school is out are making a deliberate and purposeful connection with each other. Whether it's to give help or feedback on an assignment, teachers are mindfully "there" for students in a way that is difficult to always accomplish with a whole class.

3. Teacher as facilitator. Videos, conference calls, internet research, articles, peer-support... these have all been necessary for students at home. Due to the limited access, the teacher role has shifted from having all the knowledge to guiding students and supporting them to find their own knowledge and resources.

4. Curriculum that engages. We have a saying in English: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. With schools closed, students can basically do whatever they want with learning. They can do the assignments. Or not. Technically they have this ability when school is open but even if kids aren't excited about the curriculum, they engage with learning for other reasons: they like the teacher, the assignment is hands-on, they get to work with friends, etc. With schools closed and the other motivating factors removed, we can really see what kids are interested in... and what they're not. For many students, teachers are needing to be incredibly creative and iterative with their curriculum to find what is engaging and what is not to students.

In Finding the Way: Structure, Time and Culture in Schools, Tom Donahoe writes: As long as the responses to school change only bend, rather than break, the traditional model, any changes brought about in a school are living on borrowed time. It will be easier to go back than to go forward.

Schools will not remain "broken" when they reopen. So, how do we make meaning of the powerful lessons Covid-19 has taught us about student learning? How do we make meaning of the extraordinary learning curve teachers have gone through during this process? How do we hold on to the transformative practices we've gained by using online tools?

Like I said, I'm an optimist. I think of the extraordinary opportunities we have when we can use both hands. When the dust has settled, I sincerely hope teachers and leaders will initiate conversations about this experience and find ways to integrate the positive experiences from it. Better yet, I hope teachers and leaders can find the courage to challenge (no, break!) the traditional model to allow these practices to flourish.

Let's commit to not going back to business as usual. Who's with me?


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