by Cathy Duncan
We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing – R.D. Laing
The past few weeks have no doubt been some of the most challenging in education. Schools are now shut until further notice for all pupils except children of key workers and the most vulnerable.
The mental toll of this pandemic is unfolding throughout the UK as students, parents and teachers learn to deal with the ‘new normal’ of remote learning, social distancing and lockdown.
During this time of heightened anxiety, it is vital for us all to find ways of coping and to create some form of stability for our learners and teachers alike. This change has been thrust upon us and although we may not feel in control of the change itself, we can do a range of things to get control of our response and how we will react to it.
The Chinese word for change is made up of two symbols. One for uncertainty and the other for opportunity. As educators we should try to think of this change as a mixture of uncertainty and opportunity. There are many lessons we will learn from this as well as lots of new skills we will develop along the way.
Many teachers around the country have been upskilled at a faster rate than ever before with regards to digital technology and online communications. Already, we have witnessed amazing educators who quickly accepted their situation and are meeting the difficult challenges head on with creativity, resilience and compassion, doing all they can to design a new normal for their learners. They continue to offer help and support to colleagues with a general feeling of ‘togetherness’. This is the kind of attitude we need to foster to make us stronger and help our education systems improve and evolve.
More than ever, we need to be flexible and look for ways to make the current situation work to our advantage. Sometimes adapting our attitude is the best strategy for coping with change.
Minimising stress is vital for our mental health. There is no doubt that this has been and will continue to be stressful for many of us in the coming weeks and perhaps months. As adults, teachers and parents we all have a responsibility to make our children and young people feel as safe and secure during this period of uncertainty. To help them manage their feelings, we should try to model how stress and anxiety can be managed in a positive way and encourage them to look for new opportunities that may have been presented to them.
Safe & Secure
Routines and structure around learning will also help young people feel safe and secure. Teachers will constantly be updating schedules and communicating through digital platforms like Google Classroom and while children will benefit greatly from daily communication and interaction with their teacher and classmates, we need to be mindful of allowing time for play, relaxation and creativity.
We need to do what we can to make this a more enjoyable and positive experience for our children. What a great opportunity for them to take some responsibility and lead their own learning, explore topics and subjects that really interest them and apply prior knowledge to problem solve in real life contexts. Schools are constantly encouraging young people to work more independently. This is all valuable practice and we should do our best to support them along the way, helping them adapt to a different way of learning for most.
In the blink of an eye we are in a new way of educating, this is our ‘new normal’ for now but for how long will it last? What does all of this mean for the future of our education systems?
No one can be sure what our future in education will look like. We do however know there will be some educators who will be inspired and excited to implement and develop their new skills to improve and build something better for the future. Others will see this time as a stop gap to a problem and will want to return to the way it was before. We do know that there are some innovative ways of working in education that are just emerging and may very well become an aspect of the future.
We absolutely can use this change as a catalyst to evolve and shake up education systems. However, online learning will not become the default way of working when things begin to settle down. Classrooms will continue to co-exist as physical spaces as well as online platforms because schools matter not just for the content but for the way children can interact and relate with one another and for their social and emotional development.