I guess, like all teachers, I panicked when I heard schools were shutting. But I think there’s a special kind of panic that teachers of practical subjects had – how on earth was I going to replicate my practical, collaborative, entirely group-work based drama studio when they were all sitting behind a computer, miles apart?
In recent weeks, I’ve found the idiom ‘how long is a piece of string?’ has entered my daily vocabulary. With parents, students, teachers and even Joyce next door all asking ‘how long will this last, do you reckon?’, it seems the monotony is getting to everyone. Throw into the mix the demands of home learning and progress concerns, and we’ve got a seemingly endless summer of stress coming our way… so how can we ease that stress, and dare I say it, even try to enjoy some of this time?
I’m a mother, teacher, researcher and life-long learner and I’m hearing and seeing a lot of problems with home schooling:
1.The reality is that the majority of children are not engaging in work set by their schools.
2. Online work can be overwhelming, the materials hard to navigate and boring.
3. Children are feeling anxious about being ‘left behind’ when they are already stressed enough about covid and lockdown.
4. Children are bored with online learning and this is switching them off from learning.
5. Children should not be on screens for hours each day. There is substantial research about how the use of technology interferes with sleep, raises anxiety and negatively impacts mental health.
6. Home-schooling is threatening family attachments. Parents are so stressed about making sure their children ‘keep up’ that they are shouting at and falling out with them. Now, more than ever, our children need us to be parents, to nurture them, to reassure them, calm them, care for them.
7. Parents are stressed enough already. Gabor Mate’s work on stress shows how parents pass their stress on to their children, which not only affects them emotionally, but biologically and cognitively too.
8. Teachers are feeling stressed about making sure that their classes ‘keep up’ and teachers are parents too. What is this ‘keeping up’ or ‘getting behind’ anyway? Every teacher knows that we are going to have to ‘re-visit’ any online work set because every child will be at a different place.
9. Schools are wasting valuable human resources in producing materials which are not engaging children or leaving some children behind.
So what should we do?
2. Which would free up teachers to have conversations with students and families. These conversations would be a way of safeguarding children and vulnerable adults and families and supporting families in accessing the resources they need as well as building relationships and reducing stress. This would also relieve the feeling of children being ‘left behind’.
3. If we really want children who love learning, then we need to look to the Reggio Emilia Approach which is child led, or Steiner education which is holistic and thematic. These approaches build attachment as the adult and the child are discovering learning in relationship with each other and learning is the focus rather than getting to an end goal.
5. This would also allow children to move away from their screens to move, create or play all of which soothes the central nervous system, increases well-being and lowers stress. Movement is central to children’s optimal brain development.
6. Paulo Freire argued for dialogical education which is ‘is a co-operative activity involving respect’ and he said that education’s purpose was ‘was part of making a difference in the world.’. Vygotsky’s research showed we all learn relationally. Parents and teachers need to be talking with our young people, engaging with them on what interests them and us, to be exploratory and open in our curiosity.
7. Being busy is not a mark of intelligence or learning, it is a mark of being busy. We could allow our children to rest. It is no accident that Steve Jobs, (Apple) went on retreats to stop doing and just take time to be. What solutions, creations, ideas might our children generate if they had time to think and play?
8. Our world needs new systems, new ways of thinking, new ways of doing economics and medicine. We need thinkers who can collaborate and innovate not just fill in worksheets or regurgitate the curriculum.
9. This is not the time to replicate schools when education needs to change. Schools could use this time to re-invent what learning could be, possibly to move away from learning based on age based expectations, to consider if we could structure learning differently for example, by ability or interest. In families we can start this process of developing cross-age learning. A child of five and a child of fifteen can both learn Mandarin, or baking. Older family members can teach younger and younger can teach older. There is research to show how this not only increases learning, but also social and emotional skills.
The world has already changed, is changing and will change as a result of covid-19. When a forest fire burns down, you can’t force the old trees to re-grow. Instead you have to plant new seeds and nurture them to see what will flourish in the new environment. What an amazing opportunity we have at the moment to see how education could be different for us all.
As lockdown continues, students around the world are unsure of what happens next. For those that are in the final years of college or Sixth Form, there’s even more uncertainty. What will happen on results day? Will I get into university? Will there be jobs and internships available? Will universities open in September?
At a time when curriculum development is having a much needed revamp, where architects of curriculums are moving towards a progression model that focus on a domain of knowledge, rather than what will be on terminal examinations, it is now that we can really evaluate what we choose to include (and not include) in our everyday teaching and learning.
As of writing, we are now approaching the sixth week of lockdown, and I can imagine teachers, leaders and headteachers are pretty exhausted. I know I am. I’m normally full of energy and raring to go, but this pandemic has definitely taken a toll on my energy levels. I think we are all working off of adrenaline at this unpredictable time.
I think it is safe to say that the Covid-19 situation caught us all a little unawares. We have seen epidemics like SARS and EBOLA before, but these have always been stopped before being able to spread. This time was different. The grim inevitability of school closures was upon us and this meant we had to make plans and fast.