Just choose one…

So we have been surveying teachers and principals across international schools to get a monthly read on how they are managing learning as the pandemic progresses.  Essentially, there are still all three arrangements, of which all our readers are no doubt acutely aware of and about which there are ENDLESS blogs and articles:   all virtual, all face to face and a hybrid of varying models.

While there are no actual full-scale data yet on whether kids overall are learning more, less, or the same amount or the same things, or whether curriculum has been modified and if so, using what criteria, one lesson does seem to be emerging fairly strongly.

If you can- if your country will allow it – choose one or the other- all virtual or all-in person- and go at it with all you’ve got. It’s the flipping back and forth from one model to the other that seems to be the biggest cause of teachers feeling like they are doing less than their best and becoming increasingly stressed about it.

And it make sense.  If we have to put our energy into TWO systems (or three), all of which have unfamiliar facets, it is clearly dissipated at best and for many, is negatively impacting teaching, and learning. Teachers report spending so much time and energy managing the time, space and learning tools that the fundamentals of quality teaching seem a lifetime away. We don’t do any of it well, ending most days exhausted from just managing the systems, which may or may not have included any quality learning or teaching.

It’s not that every teacher can’t (and many have) become an expert virtual teacher, for example- but that has not been the goal.  Rather the goal, many report, has been to just get through the best we can, with our sites on ‘getting back to normal’.   As long as we are approaching it as a temporary stopgap, the strategies and support our leadership lend to the process may be no more than that as well- stop gap measures, with little strategic direction or leadership.

How much more productive it could be to take just ONE and do it well; pour all the resources, all the PD , all the positive energy into just one.  What might it look like if, even though a school COULD get back to in- person learning on and off during this school year, they just decide not to.  Once that strategic decision is made, we set our sites to organizing the curriculum with new lenses – like what is actually BETTER learned online, what was ALWAYS fluff and we can now eliminate, or how can we leverage technology tools as actual instructional strategies rather than poor-cousin replacements for in-person learning.

No naiveté about what I’m suggesting -of course there are all those parent pressures, reputation, long term repercussions. Yet all those considered, the kids that are in our schools RIGHT NOW signed up for the very best of our teaching and leadership. It’s our obligation as school leaders to be absolutely clear about what IS in our control and what are options are.

For certain, many will be thinking that choosing just one way is not an option.  And true, for many it may not be, but school leaders might try it on, if only to do some of that ‘blue-sky’ thinking that liberates perception and so often leads to the unexpected solutions. 

So, school leaders, gather your team and throw around this question: What would it look like were we planning proactively for a full school year, fully virtual?  It’s worth 15 minutes on behalf of quality learning.

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