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Posts Tagged ‘COVID’

It sort of feels like June.

When you are in schools for a while, different parts of the year have a unique “feel”. And while it is not quite the way it used to be, there are some of the June “feels” right now. You feel the energy of track meets and graduation and more classes learning outside.  You also feel the exhaustion that is typical in any June but more prevalent for sure this year.  

It does feel like we are ending a 15-month school year.  The year started at spring break of 2020.  You remember spring break of 2020?  We all sort-of, kind-of, maybe knew that we might not be coming back to fully in-person learning after the 2-week break.  And it was far from a 2-week break, as vacations were cancelled teachers and administrators began to get their head around what school without the buildings of school was going to be.  And from that point in March of 2020 to now, in June of 2021, it has all been a blur.  I know there was a summer break in there, but it was not a break like it is in a typical year, as time was spent preparing, and then re-preparing with new health guidance for September of 2021.  But here we are, with a real sense of accomplishment, the 15-month school year is now coming to an end.  Of course, COVID-19 is still on our minds, but when we look to the Fall we are having conversations about “near normal” times based on the latest guidance from health authorities.

So, a few observations.

  1.  The people in our system are special.  I would often hear of how slow education was to adapt, and then over the last 15-months, we have run linear courses, fully remote courses, hybrid courses, blended courses, quarter in-person courses, and now planning for semestered courses for the fall. And we have been diligent with health protocols throughout the system.   I know almost all professions have had to adapt over the last 15 months.  But in many jobs, you can move your computer from the office to your home and your job is fairly similar.  When you switch between all these different delivery models in education, it is not just the delivery model that changes, but everything about the course changes.  How you teach and assess in a hybrid course vs. a quarter in-person course is completely different so it leads to an ongoing process of reinvention.  
  2. There is a lot of trust in education.  In our district about 95% of families returned for in-person learning last fall, and over the year that has increased to almost all families now in attendance.  If we remember back to last August, there was a lot of fear and anxiety all around us.  There was also a lot of trust in key health officials in British Columbia and in schools to be safe places for students and staff.  And things were not perfect, but we were able to keep schools open for in-person learning all year. I have had my faith restored that  there is a lot of public trust in traditional institutions like health and education.  This does not mean we are not questioned (and we should be – this is healthy), but when there is conflicting information in the community, people turn their trust to schools.  We can never take this for granted and it makes me proud to be in the system.    
  3. I am most sorry for our grade 12 students.  A lot of people have been impacted by COVID.  No group more than the graduates of 2021.  I remember 12 months ago, when we lamented the challenges of the grad class of 2020.  They had the last 3 months of their school career turned upside-down. The class of 2021, had the last 15 months in a constant state of “I’m sorry, we wont be able to have ____ this year.”  And the blanks were endless, they were sports teams, clubs, humanitarian trips, fashion shows, boat cruises, awards nights, music concerts and of course in-person graduations.  Especially over the last few weeks, as some of the health restrictions have been eased, it has been wonderful to watch the community come together to celebrate this year’s grads.  They are a particularly special group.  In general, we need to give young people a lot of credit, they have sacrificed so many experiences that cannot just be delayed but are forever lost.  

I have written a lot on COVID related themes this year (COVID and High School as a Commodity, Is it Time for School Sports to Return?, Video is Changing Us, Superintendent Blogging in a Pandemic and Beyond, 7 COVID Edu Trends That Will Stick, What We Have Missed, Is This Essential? and Resetting Blended Learning).  And I am sure there will be more to write about in the fall.  For now, I want to thank all those in our system for the 15-month school year.  To those I work with who would join me for early morning calls on a Saturday when we had a COVID exposure that needed to be communicated, to those who kept our schools clean, to those who supported our most vulnerable learners, thank you.  We have all earned a summer vacation.  I close the year with this weird mix of pride and exhaustion.  Thanks to all of you reading this for continuing to offer thoughtful commentary and engagement.  

This is not actually the last post for me for the year, I have a entire series of posts planned for the summer, but more on that next week.  For now, I want to thank you for your positive contributions to this most challenging time.  

I am tired.  But I am constantly reminded that I picked the best profession because of the people I get to work with everyday.  

Happy Summer!

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I often have said that every class in the future would be a blended class. What I didn’t expect was for this to happen over night.  I use this space to celebrate many of the amazing things that are happening in classrooms, schools and education on a regular basis.  It is also worth writing about the things that don’t quite hit the mark as this is part of learning as well.  And blended learning, at least in our high schools this year, was only just fine, and there are some important lessons going forward.

First it is important to give the context for our COVID induced blended learning in West Vancouver.  Our schools have had in-person learning for the entire year.  Health rules placed limits on the size of cohorts in schools, so given the diverse electives that many of our grades 10-12 students take, this often meant that they took one fully in-person course each quarter and one blended course where they attended every other day.  Most grade 10-12 students in BC took some blended courses this year, particularly in larger high schools to meet the established cohort rules. Ultimately this year’s COVID blended learning experience was necessary to support student choice and programming.

I should also note that I am using blended learning and I realize it is not synonymous with hybrid learning but we have been using them as analogous this year.  For those outside the school system you probably see this as more edu-speak, and you are right, but blended learning and hybrid learning are actually different.  One of the challenges has been in different classes in the same school some have been running what would be typically blended learning classes and others hybrid classes but acting as if they were the same.  There are some varied definitions on both terms – HERE is one that was helpful for me.  

So, with that as a background, we finish this year with many saying that “blended (hybrid) learning was not as effective as we would have liked.”  And we have data that actually backs up some of the concerns.  

We asked our students and staff: 

Question: If you have taught/taken a hybrid course in Quarter One or Quarter Two (mix of face-to-face and remote learning), what effect has the hybrid structure had on students’ Knowledge and Understanding and Marks and Achievement?

Marks and Achievement

Knowledge and Understanding

In these graphs – the grey is negative, the blue is positive, the orange is no difference and yellow is no response.  We asked similar questions of in-person learning and the results were reversed.  So, where does this leave us?  Was I wrong in what I have been saying that all classes should be blended classes?  I don’t think so.

There was a specific required structure to the blended classes we offered that was required by the Health rules – half students were in class and half weren’t on any given day to reduce density and allow for physical distancing.  Teachers were assigned to blended classes again as necessary given the health rules.  From my conversations, the three big takeaways are:

  1. Blended learning works better for some students than others (heck so does face-to-face) and when they can self-select into courses.  We saw from the data that we did have a quarter of students that saw blended learning as a net positive.
  2. Blended learning works better for some teachers than others.  Some teachers are passionate about notions of flipped classrooms and extending in-class learning digitally and even balancing face-to-face and virtual participation at the same time.  Like with students, having teachers self-select into blended learning makes it better.
  3. Blended learning works more easily in some content areas than others.  Again back to our health rules, it was random this year which classes ended up being blended so we could not go through the thoughtful process of deciding that maybe PE 10 should be face-to-face but Social Studies 11 might work well as a blended course.

These findings are backed up by what was found across Metro Vancouver. Earlier this spring Dean Shareski published a white paper – Pandemic Shifts – that was the culmination of hundreds of local educators sharing their experiences during COVID around scheduling, assessment, blended learning and wellness.  The section on blended learning offers some excellent advice going forward.  

I think blended learning is a huge part of the future of learning.  We have some rehabilitation to do so blended learning is not saddled as only being the type of experiences we offered during a pandemic.  The way we were forced to offer it this year, didn’t match the promise and opportunities that blended learning can offer.  We are emerging from the pandemic with a far more flexible high school system for students, and we need to find the right ways to make blended learning a key part.  

 

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When it comes to schooling everything is essential.  At least that is what we are made to believe.  While I often hear about what should be added to schools, I never hear any arguments about what should be removed to make space for new content.   One of the most prolific of these debate is handwriting – which I waded into a decade ago (and won’t again here).  One lesson from the handwriting debate is as much as we want schools to be doing more and different things, we are pained to think that our kids could miss out by not having everything required in school that we had mandated for us.  We generally seem to wish our kids to have all the same experiences we had, just more and better.

COVID has really forced us to have these conversation around what is essential, in ways that we were unable or unwilling to do outside of a pandemic.   No longer could we keep doing things because we had always done it, or everyone else was doing it in their classes.   We have had to truly adopt the Marcus Aurelius quote, “Ask yourself at every moment, is this necessary.”

I have written before about the particular impact of COVID on high schools.  HERE is a recent post on COVID edu-trends that will stick and HERE is a link to a recent white paper that Dean Shareski produced working with over 200 educators from our region examining scheduling, blended learning, assessment and wellness in our secondary schools in COVID and beyond.  

More than anything else, COVID has really made us rethink the use of time in schools.  In the pre-COVID era, we had neatly organized blocks, all of the same length, with each course the same number of blocks over the year.  Some teachers had this planned down to the minute.  While jurisdictions across North America have faced different realities, the last year has seen shifts from “regular” blocks, to virtual, to hybrid to new models.  In our district, there is now more flexible time for students, and blocks are of different lengths on different days.  The traditional block model has been disrupted.  And while we can’t ignore that these efforts are occurring in a pandemic – the new models are working for many students.  

This year has been both utterly exhausting and invigorating for many colleagues.  They have had to reinvent their courses from the ground-up.  And in doing so they have cut out a bunch of stuff that now no longer is as necessary as it seemed, but they have also been able to give renewed energy to other materials – content and competencies that are truly essential and ones which bring out the passion of the students and teachers.

Asking ourselves, Is this essential?  is always a good question to ask.  But of course, we often don’t – not just in schools, but in many parts of our lives and society.  COVID is making us take a hard look at content and competencies and the results are showing that we are building back a schooling system that is different than the one we had just a couple of years ago.  

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A couple weeks ago I wrote about 7 COVID Edu Trends That Will Stick following the pandemic.  Of course as much as there are things we have learned and experienced that we want to maintain, there are other experiences that have really been missed in schools for the last twelve months.  We know that concerns over well being are very real and there are aspects of schooling that while maybe not directly tied to reading, writing or math, that are crucial.   While definitely not an exhaustive list, here are 5 things that have been missed this past year and we need to return:

Travel – I know travel comes up for many people in all parts of their lives, but it is a big part of school and not just those big spring break trips that groups of students might take to Europe.  Travel is about secondary PE classes going to the local fitness facility to work out, it is about elementary students going to Science World or the Aquarium and it is about school teams or performance groups getting to go to other places to play and perform.  And for adults it is about going to meetings and conferences and connecting in-person with colleagues.  We don’t realize how much travel is in education until it is gone.  Travel enriches the school experience for everyone.

Performance – Practice is great but performance is also a big part of school.  While in some areas performance can continue – if you are learning math you can “perform” on a test.  And yes, there are virtual performances for various disciplines in the arts.  But there are no musicals, public dance recitals or school rock concerts.  In sports all competition between schools has been wiped out.  While training still continues, this practice usually leads to competition in games, tournaments and meets.  And it is not just sports and arts, it is also robotics, science fairs, debating events and many other places that competing and performance are part of the learning process.  All of this has been on hold.  Training is great, but training that builds towards performance and all of the lessons that come from it are really powerful.  We need to get back to public showcases.  

Shared Meals – Whether it is kids or adults, food is a big part of school.  Lunch times with friends are often some of the best memories for students as they build social skills, make friends and foster community.  And for adults, food often bring us together.  We debate ideas over pizza or learn from a great speaker while eating sushi together.  And in our community food brings people to the school.  Feast events or similar opportunities are reasons for people to come together.   The power of “breaking bread” is real and is something that is used so often in schools (though I admit that I am eating a little healthier without the food events).  

Being Off – It can feel like with video conferencing we are always on.  Whether you are an adult or child in the system, we all need some times to be off – to be with our own thoughts.  In the world of Zoom, Google Meets and Teams this feels often less easy.  Having our cameras on makes us feel like we are always watching and being watched.   Being on all the time is its own version of exhausting.  It will be nice to have the option of sitting quietly in the back of the room again in the post-COVID world.

Unplannedness – I wrote a post last spring about the loss of chit-chat.  The argument is that one of the best things about school is the silly side conversations about tv shows, or personal interests.  And while we can create some of this online it is not the same.  During the pandemic our rules in school need to be very strict – it is hard to deviate from the script.  These deviations, often called “teachable moments,” are some of the best parts of school.   This unplannedness (I am not sure this is actually a word) is so lacking.  Over this last year every movement during the day has clear purpose and structure.  And while I agree with those who say in this world we can “get through the work much faster” the real work of education is much bigger than the outcomes for any course.

There is definitely a lot to take with us from the COVID-19 education world and continue with going forward but I am also hopeful that we see a return to some elements we have really missed this past year.  

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In education we often live with one foot in the present and the other in the future.  And this has been more true during the COVID-19 pandemic.  We are both making changes on the go as we match learning systems to different stages of the pandemic, while also looking for lessons learned during this time as we prepare for a post-pandemic education system.  There are many ideas to take from the last 12 months that will likely impact our systems for a generation, here are 7 that I  have seen:


A Nationalized Conversation –  Canada is one of the few countries without a major role for the Federal government in education.  That said, there has been more connections than ever across this country as provinces have taken similar health approaches in schools, and Canadian educators have looked to connect digitally.  With the Federal Government investing one billion dollars in national education it has helped emphasize the connections.  The networking seems destined to continue, and even though education falls to provincial governments and local jurisdiction, from Indigenous Education, to technology access to literacy there are many important national connection points that need to continue. 

Expectations Around Video and Social Media –  Advocacy for the use of video and social media in schools and districts is not new, but nothing like a pandemic to make it obvious that non-traditional tools are needed.  Now, not that they are the only tools, but whether is is sharing information nights with school communities, or holiday concerts or assemblies, video is just expected.   We see this trend with leadership as well.  I have argued for a while that leaders need to be in the digital game, and that is more true than ever.   I appreciate what my BC colleague Jordan Tinney has been able to do, making a massive district feel like a small community through the use of digital tools and regular engagement.  

High schools will forever be different – I often hear, “the quarter system is not new, this is not that innovative.”  And this is true (quarter system is students taking only 2 courses at a time) – examples of the system in BC date back decades.  The best of what I have seen with secondary schools is not the particular block structure but what has come about because of the scheduling.  What we have seen includes:  courses have become less about time in a seat,  real conversations about what is essential have been prioritized, greater flexible time for students to make choices over their learning, and a value placed on teacher student relationship in high school with fewer teacher contacts for each learner.  Now, many of these could have been done without the quarter system, but the combination of factors of fewer classes, safety rules that limit students in some classes, and a widespread curiosity for new models has led to some exciting work.

Health and Education are Permanent Partners –  Health and Education have always worked closely together.  But this year is completely different.  We are in daily contact – and not just at a superficial level, we have got to know each others’ work.  So, going forward these relationships built through COVID will carry over.  On everything from vaping to physical literacy to mental health to just broadly building a stronger community we will be more explicit partners. 

Digitization is Here  – We have been saying for more than a decade that we were moving digital on the education side with textbooks and other learning resources and on the administrative side with forms and processes.  And then, after saying it, we have often not fully invested in the tools, choosing to live with one foot in the past paper world and one foot dipping its toes in the digital world.   We have had no choice but to go digital in many places over the last 12 months, and again this does not show any signs of going back. There is finally far greater alignment between how we say we want education and what it looks like.

Equity, Equity, Equity  – The pandemic has on one hand brought the challenges of equity in many forms to the forefront and also showed things we have said were almost impossible, are possible.  You have seen me argue before in this blog, “if we can figure out how to have garbage picked up at every house we surely can figure out how to get these same houses wifi” and like with garbage pick-up it should just be expected.  On the concerning side, we saw vast differences in the access to tools like technology and also in the access to opportunities during the pandemic.  We also, though, figured out how to get digital devices into the hands of almost all students – something we deemed impossible until recently.  Post pandemic we need to keep this focus.  The pandemic has put a spotlight on where we need to do better – from equity of technology, to equity of experiences.

Learning is often an outdoor activity –  Again, we are finally doing what we have said for a long time is the right thing. Particularly in our younger grades our students are spending time outside connecting to nature and having authentic real world experiences.  Our medical officials have encouraged our students to spend more time outside.  Many educational experts have already been arguing the powerful pedagogy of this, for many years.  Now rather than just building playgrounds on school grounds, we are looking to create outdoor learning spaces.  From school gardens, to urban agriculture, the future of schooling needs to be more time outside.  And how exciting – that school could be both more digital and more connected to the earth.  While some would view these ideas is incompatible, but really can be complimentary.  

Our greatest challenge of the next 12-24 months is to ensure that pieces of all 7 of these ideas are not lost and are part of our system going forward. There will be a lot of noise to “go back to normal.” When we meet with system and school leaders – nobody wants that – we had a good system, that has been taxed by a pandemic but there is learning that can make us even a better system as we look to the fall of 2021 and beyond.  

It is a stressful and exhausting time to be an educator, but it is also an exciting time as we look for ways to have our lived experience match the system we have been envisioning for much of this century.  

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Video Is Changing Us

I know we are all a little “Zoom”ed out right now.  In all parts of our life the novelty of the video call, and the Brady Bunch style screens has worn out.  And I think the reviews around video in classrooms are mixed.  But beyond teaching and learning, there are some changes that video has made in the last several months in our schools that has actually been long promised, and now will probably never go back.  Video has opened our schools to the community in ways we have often promised and now are finally delivering.

Connecting With Teachers

The parent-teacher conference has gone virtual and that is a good thing.  We have all seen how email can go wrong, and how quickly intentions can be misconstrued and a question from a parent to a teacher or a comment from a teacher to a parent has escalated.  The advice from seasoned colleagues is always to pick up the phone.  Now, the advice is to get on a video call.  I have spoken to several teachers who highlighted how quick video calls with parents have helped resolve situations – it really helps humanize our connections.  And traditional parent meetings at the end of the term, done virtually allow working parents to attend who might not normally be able to take time from work to come to face-to-face sessions at the school.  It is a good example of how little is lost by the change of format.  And for teachers who may be uncomfortable with a particular parent alone in a meeting, the virtual format  creates a safe place for everyone.

Information Sessions

You know how these work.  You rush home from work and then figure out how to get your kids to their evening activities so you can get to the school gym to listen to the principal explain the programs for next year at the school.  And then you come home to try to re-tell the key items to your partner and child.  So, now as these events are created and posted online families can watch and re-watch at their convenience.  And then time that would normally be for hosting the sessions can be dedicated to answering the questions online of parents and students about particular programs.  So many times I hear about the need to host these events on multiple nights because of various conflicts, now they can all take place on demand.

Live Events

The most recent example of this was Remembrance Day.   Our schools shared out links to students and often parents of their Remembrance Day Ceremonies.  These important ceremonies are always welcoming of the community, but again, often hard to attend in-person.  More and more of these events are being streamed for families.  Last month I  was at Eagle Harbour Montessori School to see their Historical Halloween live streamed to families.  And on a call with principals this week, plans are already underway for Holiday concerts.  It really started last spring with our grad ceremonies.  There was great disappointment that these rituals could not be held in-person, but overwhelming positive responses to the virtual alternatives that were created.  And while there is power of having people come together in-person for events, we seem destined post-COVID to stream more from our classrooms, our assemblies, our sporting competitions and arts showcases to our parents and larger community.  

These ideas are not groundbreaking.  And we could have done many of them twelve months ago – but we had no urgency.  And the technology was seen as a great mystery. We just couldn’t possibly figure out the technology.  But emergencies push you forward.  The technology has got better and easier, and we have got more comfortable with the tools.   There will be great discussions around lessons of the COVID era for schools, but I think one of the impacts is that we will forever  be thinking about the use of video and how we can open up events to those who cannot attend in-person. And a side benefit for many is that they can do all of this on a more flexible schedule.  I know these digital shifts  have changed things for me – as a parent and superintendent I am more connected now than I was before to so many important school rituals.

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Using my blog for something different this time.  Last week I had a good conversation with Vancouver Province Sports Reporter Steve Ewen on the possibilities for school sports – even in the middle of a pandemic.  Readers of this blog know how interested I am in youth sports.  In an effort to share the article with a larger audience, I am sharing the text from Steve’s article below.  You can also see the original article on The Province website HERE.

West Vancouver school district Supt. Chris Kennedy thinks it’s time to try to restart high school sports.

He’s very clear. He’s not talking about something leading to a massive provincial championship. Kennedy’s talking about neighbouring high school teams, in cohorts of four, playing against only one another with extensive coronavirus protocols in place.
He’s talking about what community sports was granted in August by the B.C. government and has been doing since then. The government’s return-to-school plan released in July said inter-school events wouldn’t be permitted to take place initially but would be “re-evaluated in mid-fall 2020.”

High school teams have been allowed to practise since classes returned.

The provincial election has taken the focus of the government of late. Kennedy understands too that the rising COVID-19 case numbers may spark concern. He believes that schools can make sports run safely — “we’re living those protocols every day,” he explained — and a return to games between rival schools, albeit in a limited format, would benefit the overall well-being of students and school communities.”

“There’s so much positive will trying to make it happen right now. I’ve spoken to a number of my superintendent colleagues and there’s a common belief that sports can aid in the physical, social and emotional well-being of students,” explained Kennedy, a longtime high school basketball coach himself, highlighted by his time guiding Richmond’s McRoberts Strikers.“We’re worried about the mental health of kids. We’re looking for more things to connect with kids. If school becomes just a place where you go to get credits, then it’s not really school.”

“I don’t want to underestimate the complexities of this, but everything we’ve done so far with schools this year has been complex. Getting the kids to school, getting the cohorts figured out, dealing with different technology issues … every day we’re faced with problems that we never imagined before the pandemic.”

The basic frustration for school sports folks about being on the sideline is the simple fact that community sport is up-and-running. As Kennedy says, there are “kids in our gymnasiums with school teams from 3 to 6 p.m. obeying by certain rules and then they can be back in those same gyms with their club teams from 6 to 8 p.m. playing under a completely different set of rules.”

There’s the price point issue as well. School sports is subsidized. Club sports is often a business. The longer school sports sits on the sideline, the more you wonder about how it might look when they do eventually return, and whether programs will be lost long-term. There are also families who don’t have the money or wherewithal to take part in club sports regularly.

“There’s probably been little change for the affluent families regarding sport through this. They’ve found club situations that work for them,” Kennedy explained. “The kids who need school sports the most are the ones who aren’t getting it.”

Kennedy downplayed the idea that student/athletes were missing out on university scholarship opportunities with school sport in limbo, calling it a “red herring.” He believes that university coaches will find ways to find players.

In fact, he thinks that the return of school sports in this era would have an even greater focus on participation, since teams wouldn’t be gearing up for a run at the provincials.

“You’d probably carry a bigger roster, you’d probably play everyone more equally because you’re not worried about that high-level competition piece,” he explained.

Kennedy contends high school sport could “look different” for it to be allowed to return. He talked about switching to 3-on-3 basketball or 2-on-2 volleyball, for instance, if that help makes things safer.

“You shouldn’t skip out on something just because you think it might be hard,” Kennedy explained. “We’ve found ways to make music and art and drama happen in so many of our schools. There are other kids who have passions for athletics. We need to help them.

“We’ve got schools launched. We’ve got club sports launched. Now we take what we’ve learned from both of them and put it together for school sports.”

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Today I keynoted the CUEBC (Computer Educators of British Columbia) Conference with my mouthful of a title, “Isn’t This Kind of What We Wanted – The Good, Not So Good and Hopefully Awesome of Technology in Schools in the Time of COVID.”

At the bottom of the post is the video of the talk. Rather than restating the entire talk, let me highlight some of the big ideas that I wanted to share.

In the spring we were scrambling; it was emergency learning. It was very revealing which schools and districts had invested in technology and had coherence in their work built over the last decade. We learned who was faking it in the new world and who was truly invested. Those who were thoughtfully invested and had strong infrastructure, common platforms and a baseline of use across schools and the district outpaced the others.

What is exciting about the fall is that everyone has upped their game. And I don’t think it really matters if you are a Microsoft, Google or Teams District – what matters is that you have selected a robust set of tools and are using them well. Also in the spring we saw a lot of just trying to get digital content out to students, now we are seeing far better use of technology in ways that does not just replicate traditional school experiences, but creates experiences that would actually not be possible without the technology.  In the spring we were being driven by technology and now we are being driven by learning and using technology.

It does feel like we have a tremendous opportunity.  Students, staff and parents want to use this time as an opportunity to create new structures for learning –  new ways to engage students in relevant and connected learning opportunities.  As I wrote in my last post, we want to do this without losing the collective good of education – we cannot just turn schools into credit factories.  And we need to be conscious of equity.  As exciting as these times are, we need everyone to benefit.  It was interesting in the spring in British Columbia, we found ways to get devices into the hands of almost all students who needed them, and get wi-fi into homes that didn’t have it.  We need to hold this to be a fundamental obligation that all students have access to the tools so that all students benefit from the power of digital learning.  And this is not an impossible goal – we need to keep focused on this.  As I argue in my presentation, if we can ensure all houses have garbage pick-up we surely can ensure all houses have wi-fi access.  

Borrowing ideas from the OECD and others, I think the next 12-24 months create numerous opportunities including:

  • harnessing innovation
  • re-imagining accountability
  • remembering the power of the physical world
  • supporting the most vulnerable
  • reinforcing capacity
  • building system self reliance
  • preparing digital resources

More than ever, leaders need to celebrate risk-taking.  There are fewer rules in the pandemic, and we don’t need just one model, we need multiple models as we move forward.  

I think this is a once in a career opportunity for us in education.  Of course we wouldn’t have planned for the opportunity to come in a pandemic that can be absolutely exhausting – but here we are – and we can’t let this chance go to waste.

If you have some time, please take a look at the video and join the conversation. Or view the slides HERE.  Discussion and debate is good – it will move us forward.  

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There have always been various goals for education and a conversation about the very purpose of schooling is never simple. There has always been tension between the public and private good of education. We often hear arguments that education is about preparing students as citizens and also preparing students as the workforce of the future. While these two are often in conflict with each other they are both in the larger “public good” tent. In addition, there is the belief that education is more of a private goal – to help individuals compete with other individuals and improve their status. It is this third goal that I see, and worry, gets attention in our COVID high school experiences potentially at the expense of the other two.

Some try to turn education into a commodity.  Individuals collect credits for their own advancement.  It is this thinking that often leads to the growth in private schools or charter schools as the public good of education is set aside and education becomes about the individual.  For all its warts, public education has long been able to maintain a collective nature.  Whether one sees education through a  workforce preparation or citizen engagement lens they both lend themselves to a bettering of our world. The worry I have during COVID is that we could lose focus on these goals and education becomes far more individualistic – an every person for themselves feeling – that shifts us away from the public good to more of a private good for education.

The danger I see is that high schools become about the credential and not the experience.  And COVID can potentially accentuate this.  One effect of COVID on schooling is that school is being reorganized.  In British Columbia almost all high school students are completing two courses at a time, and then repeating this process four times over the year in a quarter-system.  Many more students than ever are also taking courses online through various providers around the province to supplement what they might be doing in their local school.  So, while this could be viewed as true personalization as students build their own programs it also leads one to think of schooling as just a collection of credits.  In this world, you collect courses and credits to earn credentials to compete with other students to earn spots in post-secondary.  And yes, there has always been a key element of the individual in the system, when we have to change how we teach and limit the extra curricular offerings it narrows the system. 

In the COVID world, there are limits on school sports, clubs and other events that promote collective power.  Yes, schools are doing Terry Fox Runs – but it is hard to argue that they have the same impact as in previous years. As we look ahead to Remembrance Day, that will again be a challenge.  And in the classroom, rather than robust group discussions and debates, we know more individual work is encouraged to limit contact between students.  It is the reality of the virus, but it promotes goals that are good for the individual, but not necessarily for the community.

I talked to one student who said, “This year is just about getting the credits done and moving on.”  Another high schooler described it to me as “like having an office job – I go in get it done and get out.”  Our collective challenge is to make it more than that for these student and all students.  And it is a challenge.  Not only are teachers instructing in new ways, using new tools in a new system we need to find new ways to ensure the community aspects of school are not lost.

And I also get the anxiety of students – they want to be sure they collect credits to graduate, maintain their options for post-secondary and just not generally face long-term education challenges because of COVID.  

But we don’t want this to be the new mindset – where schools become simply about credit and credential collection.   

It is so great to have our students back in schools.  We see many jurisdictions around the world who have not been able to do it.  It is crucial that we don’t get lulled into sacrificing the public good as we rethink teaching and learning in our system.  

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I want to pick up on the idea of school on a dial that I introduced in my last blog post – The End of Snow Days?

School for a long time has been something you turn on or off.  School is turned off on the weekends, during Christmas, Spring Break and the summer.  And it is turned on from 9-3 Monday to Friday from September to June.  It is a switch.  The day after Labour Day we turn the switch on and across British Columbia hundreds of thousands of students arrive in buildings joined by tens of thousands of teachers and other staff.

Unlike most jurisdictions in the world, British Columbia did not turn off the switch for in-person schooling when the pandemic hit in the middle of March.  We changed this switch to a dial and introduced five different settings on this dial.  Here is one recent image describing the five stages:

Since spring break, and up until this week we had been in Stage 4.  There were a limited number of students attending school – these were largely the children of Essential Service Workers and vulnerable and special needs students.  The vast majority of students were learning remotely.  This week, we moved to Stage 3 and saw thousands of student returning to schools part-time and on a voluntary basis.

Of course, with it already being June, many are turning their attention to September.  We all would hope to be at Stage 1 – and stay in Stage 1 – but we also need to plan for other eventualities.   So, back to this notion of school as a dial and not a switch.  If we think of it as a dial, if there is a second-wave of Covid-19, we can dial-down the in-person instruction, and if BC continues to plank the curve, we can dial-up the in-person instruction.  The challenge for a school system is how do you design learning and schooling that lets you move between the various stages on a dial and not get caught thinking of it as a switch (models are for another post).

This also raises a larger question about the future of education and the idea of in-person instruction being on a dial. Right now, the dial is being controlled by the virus.  The virus threat is lower in BC, so the dial for in-person instruction goes up.  And this will be the pattern in the short term.

But I have heard from both staff and students that they have found more success with partial remote learning than they were finding in the traditional classroom, particularly at high school.  So post-virus, how might we let students control their own dial? Or staff?  How could we design structures that allowed some students and staff to attend in-person everyday, some only a few days a week, and maybe others vary rarely?  It makes my head hurt – but it is a conversation worth having. 

I think of Alan November’s question that has long inspired me when he speaks of the classroom, “Who owns the learning?”, the teacher or the student,  in the post virus world, I think as we look at structures, we may want to ask, “Who owns the dial?”

More to come . . .

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