Tag Archives: COVID

Pivot

Schools have adapted very well to the logistics of the current pandemic. Congratulations. Masks, hallway directions, temp checks, social distancing. New timetables.

Now for the hard part.

What are we going to promise about the learning? Continued excellence in the IB and AP? Reading and writing above grade level? Ivy leagues?

I, for one, do not want to be the violinist on the deck of the Titanic. I know many of us don’t either.

I’m not talking about lowering expectations. I’m talking about tuning into the importance of what learning is and how we define it.

My definition of learning is simply what happens when prior experience is disrupted by new knowledge, experience or information . That’s it.

Last weekend, my son and I went on a long bike ride in the Croatian countryside (he’s trapped with us doing virtual University and eating us out of house and home). We got a flat. I haven’t had a flat in months. We didn’t have an extra tube or a pump. We were in a village. A kindly old couple came out to help. We switched one of the tires so I could ride 35k to fetch the car. They offered him roasted chicken and potatoes while he waited. He refused since they invited him inside and weren’t wearing masks. (I would have taken my chances). But I digress. Today we went out on another ride, pump and tube in hand, got another flat, and fixed it in 15 minutes. #learning.

Last week, a teacher was almost crying in my office, pleading with questions about how she was going to maintain current expectations in a hybrid virtual environment. “Isn’t learning whatever we make it?” she said. “Why have we made it some immovable object that we have to reach no matter what is going on?” I touched my hand to my mask (even though it’s probably not sanitary). She was right. The world is being forced to pivot, not just with the obvious things like social distancing, but with deeper things that we care about, that we learn about, that make us human.

So, what should this mean? The only example I could think of was the stool (and apologies if it’s a tired metaphor). If we knock one leg out, let’s call it mathematical logic or reading comprehension or science labs, then what happens? Can we drag one of the legs over to replace it? It’s still two legs. Can we replace it? Yes, but that takes a lot of time and we don’t have that option right now. Do we lean it against the wall? Maybe, but you can’t sit on it that well. That’s right, the stool is weak and cannot meet its intended purpose. In other words, this new experience is forcing us to think about the purpose of that two legged stool.

This is us. The two legged stool.

We have obviously been disrupted and I’m thinking that the leg that got knocked out is academic excellence. The two legs left that I’m looking at are socio-emotional learning and community. Those are the things that we all talk about on our websites but rarely do much about. After all, parents never yell at us for not succeeding in those things.

It’s time to pivot. It’s time to pivot to the disruption and take learning from that, not from whether or not 10th graders can solve a statistical analysis problem. Sure, that’s a nice distraction. What is also a distraction is the incalcuable stress, heartache, loneliness, boredom, sadness, and disconnectedness that is clouding learning.

It’s time to pivot. To community. To what makes us human. To what kids care about. To what they need. To what legs on the stool are left so that they can learn. Because if we deny this and pretend that all three legs are still there, it’s going to hurt when we hit the floor.

Ken and Covid: Two disruptive forces that changed my life

When I saw Ken Robinson’s cleverly animated video about how schools kill creativity in 2007 , I knew that my teaching career would never be the same. It was the tail end of the No Child Left Behind epoch when schools had become barren deserts of accountability and pedantic threats about performance.

When Covid hit in 2020, I knew that my administrative career would be changed forever, not only because I had to re-design the logistics of learning, but because the stuff we put into place and the impact it had on culture would not be reversible for a long time.

The Vulnerable Leader

I sat with my new teacher leader team, without anytime to talk about norms, feelings, or Myers-Briggs results, and put them to work. I felt like a lieutenant in a WWI trench handing rifles to 16 year old new recruits and sending them over the top. I knew they weren’t prepared but we were in crisis. For the first time in my 18 years as an administrator, I didn’t know how anything was going to work. I’d dealt with tragic deaths, trauma, bomb threats, riots (yes riots), but beneath all of that was a solid foundation of a school that served as a baseline. Now the baseline was dissolving. I could no longer pretend that I had any answers to anything and people depended on me to know. So, I turned to them, and said things like, “I can no longer solve the problems that I don’t know exist yet. You are going to have to be comfortable with this uncertainty without panicking our team or our students.” They saw a side of me that Principals aren’t supposed to show. We aren’t supposed to shrug and say “I don’t know.”

We all act like we are supposed to be honest and open and all the conferences we go to talk about the power of collaboration and distributed leadership, etc. but it’s all superficial stuff. This vulnerability went to my core. It wasn’t just assigning some committee on literacy. It was running the bloody school. Strangely, it felt liberating. I was forced to reconsider the principle that my job was to remove obstacles so people could focus on teaching and learning. I could no longer stay true to that core belief because there were too many obstacles. Simply, too many. I imagined how hard the same experience must have been for teachers that had to make the same choices whether or not to reveal their vulnerable selves to their students. This reveal didn’t mean I had given up or was asking them to save the day. Quite the contrary. I knew the battles that had to be fought. I just needed help.

Sir Ken ignited the passion within me that schools had to do something drastic, and now that moment has arrived, accelerated by a pandemic. Virtual learning, outdoor and experiential education, redesigned timetables, creativity. All of it has become turbo charged in an environment of chaos. The one and only thing I’ve learned from the loathsome President of my native country is that there’s all kinds of opportunity in chaos. Right now it is in abundant supply. So, rather than feeling like Sir Ken and his legions are pushing cement blocks up the mountain of stagnancy and consistent IB scores, we are really and truly at the precipice of the change he wanted to see in the world.

God Bless, Sir Ken and thank you for your gifts to the world. I will miss you.

3-D Teaching

The start of a new school year resulted in my taking a bit of a hiatus in blogging.  No doubt, being in three places at the same time has provided some challenge.  Three places?  Live with five classes of twenty-something pre-teens wiggling before me in the classroom.  Getting to know students and  putting faces with names is the first order of “business.”  This year I have a student named Whale and another I warily call Honey.  “Good morning Honey!” just does no’t feel right for some reason.  I remain thankful Honey is not in Sweet’s class, or Sweet Honey might just sit alongside each other.  A colleague has Putter’s little brother, Birdie this year.  Thai nicknames often add  a bit of joy to the classroom and it is quite possible to have a whole fruit salad, with students named Apple, Pear, and Peach!  

Face to face, or dubbed f2f, often focuses the first days upon building routines and  just putting students at ease, so the classroom is a place each child feels comfortable. A second dimension being explored, is “the virtual.”  Back to Zoom and synchronous virtual learning. While the third space is reserved for the asynchronous and for students  currently out of the time zone.  These learners receive a link to the recorded class and sometimes  the addition of more succinct tutorial videos which teachers create.  So, a start to a school year unlike any other.  Three-dimensional!

Though only two or three class periods in, humorous stories already are being amassed.  Of such things as an unaware synchronous student,  broadcasting inappropriate comments  over the classroom speakers for all to hear.  Or, of the student projected on the screen in front of the whole class.  Only, everyone’s attention is on the mother who is behind her and acrobatically dodges out of sight. Dropped Zoom calls, forgotten recorded sessions, audio input/output incorrectly set.  Whatever the case, even with the fumbles and follies, the first two weeks back to school were a definite success.  One that required teachers both compassion for students and themselves.  

Here in Thailand we consider ourselves lucky to have a chance to be face to face.  This a possibility because of the stellar response of the  nation.  In fact, the end of  July saw Thailand ranked number one in the world out of 184 countries for its ongoing COVID-19 recovery effort.  This,  according to the Global COVID-19 Index (GCI).  Nearly a month later, Thailand remains on top.  As of August 16, the total number of confirmed cases stood at 3,377, where 95 percent recovered and just 58 total deaths recorded.  Further, Thailand had no new domestic cases of COVID for 83 days.

Throughout the pandemic, news of COVID stipulations seemingly shifted from morning to night.  However, society was steadfast in being compliant regardless if there appeared to be contradictions. Certain regulations appear to be for perception as the logic is difficult to understand.  For example, in schools students can pass a basketball but not borrow a pencil.  The importance of exercise a priority, while the pencil is deemed a risk that can be mitigated. Keeping account of the dos and don’ts or cans and can’ts can be difficult.  However, more challenging is to break socialization habits learned in kindergarten, where sharing was  “what big boys and girls do.”  First grade began with the importance of washing hands but also that there would no longer be the sharing of anything, toys included.  Then there was the valiant and never-ending  attempt to control for social, or what we call physical, distancing?  Social distancing, a bit of an oxymoron, as we want students to be social, but so long as there remains  1-2 meters of distance between them.  Middle school students huddle around an infographic the teacher probably should not have even printed and handed out.  Yet, the motivation being one of learning, sharing  ideas, and being together.  Laboratory work in the high school can be interesting if physical distance is to be maintained.  Need I even “touch,” no pun intended, what physical distancing might mean to a classroom of 3-year olds who is not yet even proficient in the language of instruction?  

Thai national  schools began the first weeks of July, whereas  the independent international school where I work just wrapped up week two.  However, mid-game (if ever there was a mid-Corona game) yet another measure of compliance was just handed down.  Impossibility absolutely inherent in the “design.”  The Ministry of Education requires all schools to ensure students maintain a daily record of their whereabouts outside of school hours.  The purpose is  to  facilitate any needed contact tracing should a case of COVID be reported (confirmed) in the community.  This means all students need to record where they go daily.  Being a middle school teacher, it often is challenging enough to have a child write down their homework when it is written on the board and given as a directive.  

In May Thailand’s government launched a contact tracing app, declaring it vital in reducing a flare up of virus cases. Public buildings required app and temperature check-ins  via prior to entry.  The shopping mall was the first place I encountered this, then the domestic airport.  Unable to mandate the use of the app, because not everyone has a phone, the alternative mirrored how it used to be to make a walk-in restaurant reservation.  A piece of paper on a clipboard and just your name and phone number penciled in. Initially I could not help but question the legitimacy or accuracy of this alternative.  However, Thai culture’s high degree of respect and deference shown to authority likely results in near perfect records. A system like this in the United States would  play host to an array of absurd names and numbers.

No matter the next edict, law, or measure, Thailand will hurdle, rather than grapple with any ostensible or gray space. There remains a tensile strength in Thailand’s hierarchical structure, one that begets compliance.  Businesses remain shuttered and the entire tourist industry gasps for a breath of fresh air.  Though there is no promise, hope remains and there is conversation about a plan to re-open international borders.  Meanwhile, schools may be in session, but the situation is fragile. Learning could go back to 100 percent virtual at the drop of a hat!  If COVID has taught us anything, it is the importance of flexibility.  This, along with the reckoning of how Thailand’s entire society remains under the auspices of the Kingdom. Yet, herein possibly lies the very reason why the country tops the list of safest places to be right now!