Should we though…..?

So, this week, I returned to my substantive post in a leadership team in a Scottish high school. One of my first task was to assist with the coordination of our learning offer now that we are in another lockdown.

We only have to look at Twitter or listen to the news to witness a vast array of amazingly creative solutions, opinions and criticism in relation to the challenges of providing education at this time.

Because I like to turn to simplicity when things are complicated and overwhelming, I have returned to the question of purpose in reflecting on where we need to focus our energies and time over the next weeks and months.

What am I doing in my role of educator just now and why?

What is the purpose of our collective activity as educators:

● Safety and saving lives – emergency measures (suspension of “normal” education delivery)

● Learning – ensuring that learning is continuing

● Wellbeing, routine, structure, avoiding overwhelm and providing re-assurance

● Visibility (safeguarding)

● Maintaining relationships

In my reflections, I have taken “educators” to encompass all adults in the life of a child, as duty bearers who are doing their best to address article 29 of the UNCRC:

Article 29 (goals of education)

Education must develop every child’s personality, talents and abilities to the full. It must encourage the child’s respect for human rights, as well as respect for their parents, their own and other cultures, and the environment.

More than ever, the African proverb that talks of taking a village to raise a child is pertinent as we ask parents and carers to work closely alongside us to achieve the best in education that we can, given the current restrictions.

During the last lockdown and at a time when schools had much less capacity to interact with children and families within their own homes, I made daily videos to try and help parents and carers who were suddenly faced with the task of being home educators. Perhaps some of the messages are still pertinent now:

As we are now in the second major UK wide lockdown, there is much to be gained from looking back to the last one and seeing what we learned then:

● At school level – from the data collected (pupil, parent/carer and staff feedback / observations during and after lockdown as to where children were in their learning)

● At National level

Independent Children’s Rights Impact Assessment on the Response to Covid-19 in Scotland

What went well, what did not go so well and what could be even better this time?

Of course, what we are attempting just now is an exercise in differentiation par excellence.

But whereas we usually think about the need to differentiate according the varying needs of the learners in front of us in a classroom, this time, we as strategic leaders have an exercise in differentiation that relates to the highly differing circumstances of ALL involved; we need a quality of knowing what is possible for each individual and their current capacity.

This means we need to consider three distinct groups.

Firstly, we have our pupils, with their diverse needs and circumstances, as exemplified in the following fictional examples:

Pupil A – all the tech needed, own room, one parent available to help;

Pupil B – as above but looking after a 3 year old sister as both parents are working;

Pupil C – no tech because the laptop ordered was not delivered, no parent or carer at home and a 3 year old sister to look after;

Pupil D – non-verbal, attends a specialist provision where bespoke tech is used that cannot be sent home.

We then have a range of parent/carer educators:

Parent/carer A – a former teacher in a comfortable home with all the tech;

Parent/carer B – a single parent teacher who is entitled to childcare but also has a vulnerable parent living next door and in his support bubble;

Parent/carer C – a parent working from home, with a partner who is the same, not key workers and with three under fives in the house and pressure on devices and the wi-fi.

And then we have a range professional educators:

Teacher A – has all the tech, a laptop with VPN at home and all the skills to deliver whatever the digital platform can offer;

Teacher B – has a personal ipad and is relatively confident but also has very intermittent broadband and a partner who is off work with anxiety and depression due to COVID;

Teacher C – is autistic and anxious about using technology because it represents a big change, even though she has no reason to be because she is hugely competent.

So, having analysed the current needs of the people who we serve, how do we as school community leaders decide what is possible and what will enable us to exercise our duty of care to all of these groups?

The potential of technology is now huge and thanks to some very accessible training, staff have the opportunity to become competent and confident very quickly in delivering online. We also now (in Scotland) have clear national and local permissions, risk assessments and guidance to be able to do so.

But before we launch into 9 to 5 delivery of live lessons, we must consider the words spoken by Jeff Golfblum’s character in Jurassic Park (thanks to my friend Ish).

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

We also need to consider the potential that our actions and decisions, as responsible adults in positions of power, have the potential to do harm as well as good.

The best analysis of why need to proceed with caution is here, written by Mark Enser:

There are many forms of teaching, learning and interaction, even now. One of may greatest moments of learning came three years ago when I started setting drama homework on an online platform and children who had never spoken out in a drama class began to communicate with me through the feedback tool. Silent voices were suddenly audible to me.

But what if we can’t use the latest technology just now to communicate? Maybe a written note home or an old fashioned phone call could be the most powerful thing we could do to tell a child or family “you are in our thoughts and we’ve got this.”

Let’s not rush. Let’s reconsider our purpose and the purpose of education, now as ever:

Knowing each child and young person within our care, resisting labels and using history to inform positively rather than label negatively; these must at the heart of what do in schools. This way, we will get the true measure of each child and be able to walk beside them as they develop their sense of self, their potential and their individuality.

(Original source: A quality of knowing. | lenabellina)

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