What I will do more of now I truly appreciate having a school

When we all return we need to do more of those things we have missed most

Strategic Content Creator, Big Education, and Senior Leader

Reading Gert Biesta’s The Beautiful Risk of Education really made me reflect on the purpose of schools. 

His clear distinction of learning, education and schools gave me a structure through which to think about what we are doing with the students when they are in the school building – and question the effectiveness of our work. 

Schools are unique institutions through which almost every citizen in the country will pass through at one of the most formative stages in their lives. We should make sure we use this time and opportunity well.

The lockdown, which effectively removed ‘schools’ from the equation for the vast majority of us, has put into sharp focus the difference between education, learning and schools – we are still providing an education for the students, we hope that they are learning, but we do not have the school. It has also given us time and space to reflect on what it is we value about schools.

Like most things in life, we often only miss something when it is gone, so here are a few things which I want to take advantage of when we all return to the school building full time.

Dialogue and Collaboration

Over the last few years there seems to have been a move toward schools becoming places of silence, individual mastery work and novices learning from an expert teacher. 

Of course, calm environments for productive work and teacher expertise are important elements of schools. However, one thing I have missed even more since lockdown are the conversations. The conversations in the corridors, social areas and lunch queues. The class discussions which go on longer than I planned because the students are so engaged and are using their oracy skills to push each other and deepen their understanding of concepts. The chat with the student who wants to talk about a particular aspect of history they are interested in or to ask a question about something they heard on the news.

The buzz and the atmosphere of schools are one of the main reasons I became a teacher and I am very much looking forward to experiencing it again.

Peer-learning

Another thing I have missed since we have not been in school is the opportunities students have to learn from each other. I have tried to make my teaching include elements of collaboration using JamBoard and GoogleDocs, but it is difficult to do well online and there is less spontaneity – the quiet questions in the back of the room as one student asks ‘what did he say?’ or ‘what does that mean?’ and peers help out. 

I am now reflecting that I often missed the opportunity to include elements of ‘near-peer’ learning in my classroom and will make more of a conscious effort to include this, when appropriate in the student learning journey, when we return.

Relationships and Coaching

I have realised how important it is to have those ‘relationship building’ conversations with students and colleagues. On the Big Leadership Adventure, we learnt how important it is to build relationships and trust if you want to develop a high-functioning team. Lots of GoogleHangouts have (literally) given me an insight into my student and colleagues’ homelives. I know I will be a much more empathetic leader when I return and I will be more deliberate in building my knowledge of those I work with in order to support them more effectively.

Using my Face!

I have seen how much of a difference showing my face makes – it makes everything more human. This has helped with organising things which I would have usually done by email and reduces the chance of my tone being misunderstood. I have always found it much easier to have conversations with parents after we have already met face-to-face and I now want to experiment with trying video calls with parents early on in the new school year. I also want to experiment with video recorded reports rather than (literally) faceless comments in a box in a letter.

Two things I always believed, but will do even more:

  1. Students should be given independence – one of the main ways we get better at something is to try to do it, fail and reflect. How often do we allow students to practise independence this way in school? I will spend a lot more time on this when we return as it is clear this is such an important skill which schools can help to develop.
  2. Students should learn through access to teacher curated resources – linked to the above point, teachers can help curate content (texts, blogs, videos or Podcasts) which students can access to help teach themselves on platforms such as Google Classroom or Google Sites.  One of the main aims of school should be encouraging students to realise that they are in control of their learning – if they want to learn something in the future, they feel able to do so.

Related post

Unless we act, even more students will struggle to achieve mastery, when schools fully reopen

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