There have been innumerable conversations about the effect of the covid pandemic on education. Many of these conversations have been valuable. However, the most valuable conversation, about what teachers can and will do, is not being had.
In essence the conversation asks how a group of professionals who are supposedly tech resistant, in a profession where change happens at a snail’s pace and requires input from politicians whose only experience is that they once went to school, have pulled off such an astounding achievement.
Experienced educators know the answer to this, but as usual, no one is listening.
Teachers and Tech
We Teach Well has been operating in the EdTech space for just under 5 years. We are not technically an Edtech business but without tech we wouldn’t exist, so we claim belonging.
In those years I have lost count of the tech businesses in the education space who have claimed that their lack of success is due to teachers being resistant. Furthermore, amongst people who should know better, there is an acceptance that older experienced teachers are completely out of touch and only schools with young staff can manage technology.
The absurdity of this gobsmackingly obvious.
Due to Covid-19, teachers globally took all their curricula, their work programs, their content knowledge and experience and uploaded it to the world wide web. In Australia they did it in a matter of days.
In an article by Adam Majsay in Education HQ in September, the writer points out that,
The months seem to have flown by since Australian schools were compelled by force majeure to find new ways to deliver teaching and learning to our almost four million school-aged students, essentially overnight.
The shift from face-to-face teaching with digital platforms as, largely, an adjunct to the ‘real business’ of teaching students in a physical classroom, to an environment in which online engagement provided the core means of connection between teachers and students, occurred at a rate and scale that required educators to dive into the deep end, with eyes wide open, and (to extend the metaphor even further) to sink, or swim.
Majsay goes on to say that ‘many schools achieved in a matter of weeks what might have taken many years to embed under the usual circumstances, against the usual competing priorities.’
So what are these competing priorities? And how have they been avoided?
You don’t have to explore long before you discover that the main thing that was missing during the implementation was government or departmental input.
The speed that was required meant that our governments and the departmental bureaucrats did not have time to weigh in.
Trust Teachers to Teach
Educators needed to remove any fluff and reduce content to the essential. Teaching and learning online is a different skill set and when you remove the physical aspect of the classroom it becomes much harder.
Superpowered hearing and 360 degree sight lines don’t work in the remote context.
Schools and teachers were confronted by a set of circumstances hitherto unknown. No one still working had experience of a global pandemic and no one knew what was going to happen.
Principals re-imagined staff meetings and professional development in order to optimise digital communications. They got to do the job that they had aspired to, the job of supporting their staff so that those staff could support the students.
If there seems to be a reluctance by teachers in regard to returning to the classroom, other than due to health, it is about this reluctance of returning to a system that was neither equitable or challenging. It was a system that was not working and we have learned that there are things we can do differently.
The very worst outcome of 2020 would be a return to a convoluted, inflexible, inequitable and pedagogically unsound pre-covid education system.
Interest in EdTech is Not Age Related
While it may not say anything positive about me, my ego enjoys the fact that in my 65th year I am a little more tech savvy than my 30 something offspring.
Like many of my teacher colleagues, I get excited about the possibilities that tech offers us in education.
During the past few months there has been an explosion of global staff rooms. Social media platforms have enabled groups of teachers from different countries to share information and skills. Twitter alone hosts a huge number of education chats, @aussieEd being one of the most active.
There is no age limit to participation in online education chats, the content of which is much more serious than the designation ‘chats’ suggests. Twitter in particular tells you very little about the person who is speaking. But every Sunday night several thousand teachers come together to talk seriously about issues in education.
What too many people forget, or are unaware of, is that the best teachers are also learners. Teachers with decades of experience in the classroom have a natural desire to learn more and they bring valuable insights to the creation of digital learning activities.
Professional Learning Opportunities
It is not just social media chats that the technology enables. We have had the opportunity to present at a number of professional development events in India this year. Learning about the lengths that teachers in India go to provide their own professional learning was humbling.
Furthermore, the recent #DIF festival in Victoria allowed us to host four events as all 2020 events were online. We were able to facilitate the inclusion of teachers in different geographical locations to discuss issues as diverse as The Digital Divide and Connecting Globally, Leading Remotely.
During one event we learned that an Australian school has been able to employ a Latin teacher from another country to deliver the subject online. There are not a lot of Latin teachers in Australia any more and the subject is rarely offered. How many more options will students have if we can offer online classes for subjects that would not otherwise be possible.
The professional learning that has happened during the pandemic is going to create huge benefits to teaching and learning, and it is something we do not want to let go of.
Because Victoria has had remote learning for longer than other states in Australia, we have had more chances to see what works well and what doesn’t. We now have evidence to support what teachers have been saying for a long time. There are better ways of both learning and teaching and we want them.
We know now that we have the capacity to provide this.
We know that there is more to learn.
We know that students will benefit.
And we know that the only thing stopping it from happening, is the self serving need of some politicians and bureaucrats to give themselves something to do.
Teachers and school leaders need to be respected as qualified professionals who know what they are doing. Professional learning events need to provide them with the skills to do this.
In April Rebecca Collie and Andrew Martin authored an article which addressed the issue of teacher wellbeing through Covid-19. In the article they talk about the role that education leaders can play in supporting teachers. There are important lessons to learn in what they discovered.
Referring to the work of a number of researchers, they talk about autonomy-supportive leadership as one which promotes teacher empowerment. This then led to better and more positive relationships with students and among staff.
When school leaders are relieved of the necessity to meet continually changing issues of compliance and reporting and can focus on how to support their teachers in supporting students, everyone in the school is going to benefit.
The burden on teachers through Covid has been intense. Having to create and facilitate both synchronous and asynchronous learning for their classes, while also managing their own children’s learning is exhausting. There will need to be recovery time.
Yet for all of this, for all the stress and the workload and the unknown, these global staff rooms are filled with teachers whose only concern is how they can best and most effectively help their students. Teachers from different systems, different socio-economic regions, with different curriculum requirements and different salary packages, have pooled their knowledge and expertise in service to their students.
What won’t Help
There has been much written about the long term damage that school closures will have on future economies.
As if anyone actually knows!
Yes there was a GFC and maybe there will be some similarities in how our economies are affected. But there is no journalist, no politician, no influencer who has been through a global pandemic and can predict the immediate future with any accuracy.
What is more, schools haven’t actually been closed. There has been reduced on-campus activity, but school has still been happening.
The hoary old ‘performance’ pay has been shown for the con that it is. Independent Schools who can make their own decisions about pay haven’t fared any better in looking after their students. And their teachers are actively taking part in the online discussions with teachers from all the other sectors. The best teachers are all out on the field regardless of how much they are being paid.
Furthermore, students have learned some super important skills during the pandemic. They have had to accept more responsibility for their learning, They have learned to be more independent and also more collaborative. They have been given a glimpse of a future where you have to show up and step up. A future where they can’t just sit back and wait for others to do the work for them.
We have all learned so much. Many of us have seen the future for education as exciting and full of possibility. We just need to stop politicians and departments from raining on the parade.
According to Adam Voight, who sees the current situation in education as one of emergency, what we need in moving forward is: repairing faith, reclaiming expertise, and pushing back against the whole-scale derision, scorn and abuse that’s now thrown at our educators from parents, the media and even policymakers.
Teachers have proven their expertise, they have proven they know what to do and how to do it and it is time we let them.
If you value teachers and are interested in the future of education you may be interested in some of our other articles.