Times are changing, let’s run with it and move forward again

Juliette van Eerdewijk, Chair of ECIS Leadership Special Interest Group
Head of School, International Primary School Khuzam

 

The world of education has rarely experienced a more dramatic push into the unknown as during the last two years, in which educators have been trying to educate the future generation during a pandemic. Educational systems were turned upside down as educators around the world were desperately trying to teach a traditional curriculum to students online. We were asking teaching staff to follow a curriculum that was designed for face-to-face interaction and using pedagogical approaches that suited daily physical presence in a school, and fit it in a distance learning capsule.

 

Reflecting back, some schools were forced to upgrade their access to technology whilst others were well prepared with technological equipment. There were teachers who were struggling to cope, working their way through the use of apps and online meeting tools, lacking the skills needed to deliver quality lessons, and reverting back to old-fashioned styles of teaching. Others blossomed into technological wizards, creating learning opportunities that would never have existed had it not been for enforced distance learning. As teachers and students learned to become more skilled at dealing with this challenge, the leaders in the school were pressed to make decisions on what staff and students could handle during these stressful and trying times.

 

Curricula were adapted, content was cut or shortened, staff training was put on hold, performance management might have been slowed down, etc. What we saw in some schools, was a cut back version of a traditional educational system and exams and pedagogical approaches that no longer worked effectively for the new situation. As some of us were waiting for things to return to normal, others were asking whether going back was what we really wanted.

 

Schools have been given two years of enforced research! We have moved into a position where we can now evaluate what has been happening during the pandemic to our provision. We can identify the pros and cons of distance learning, which will be different for schools according to their national or cultural setting, the type of school, the availability of resources etc. There is a lot out there that can drag us down and make us depressed about the situation we find ourselves in.

 

However, I do not believe this will help us get out of the rod of negativity. As leaders of our schools, I believe that we need to focus on the positives. We need to rediscover the passion that we have for our profession. Let’s celebrate what worked well for teachers, what worked well for students and what worked well for specific curriculum areas. All of us were forced to accelerate and upskill our approaches to learning, using the digital platform where students, curriculum and teachers met. As a result of this pandemic, educators became performers as they pre-recorded sessions of their subjects. There is a huge wealth of pre-recorded lessons out there now. What are we going to do with that? How are we going to use this in the future? How can we tap into the positives from the distance learning?

 

For two years, we slowed down, we learned to accept the uncertainty and we gave in to an attitude of waiting and watching and for some stagnation. Now we need leaders whand innovators. We have the perfect moment right in front of us. Let’s not waste it! The potential for apathy that was created by the slowing down and take us out of this dip and demonstrate leadership that inspires, encourages and stimulates growth again. It is time to stop the pause and start focusing on moving forward, to become risk takers and to protect staff, students, parents and caregivers, we now need to shift back into gear. I urge school leaders to take the lead and grasp the opportunity to truly make changes to the educational system.

 

As we start evaluating what worked well, we need to keep the following in mind:

What worked well for specific students?

Who were the students that blossomed in these circumstances?

What worked well for them and their situation?

Which students have we missed and how can they be truly included?

How can we use what we have learned, to improve and innovate our education now?

 

Questions we need to ask ourselves:

Do all students need to be in school every day?

How will what we have learned inform new ways of teaching the curriculum for meaningful learning?

How can we use the bank of resources to benefit the students in a face-to-face setting?

How might resources and accommodations change our teaching mindset and establish a culture of change?

How does student voice and choice shape opportunities for differentiated resources and learning approaches?

What are the small steps we can take to change?

What are our best hopes for teaching and learning in a truly inclusive setting?

What bold decisions should we consider?

 

So therefore, my questions are to all school leaders.

 

As leaders of international and national schools, what are we going to do with the positives that has come out of distance learning? Are we going to grab the opportunity and make the changes we need to make or continue as if nothing has happened?

 

We are now reaching the point where a different leadership is needed, leaders need to take charge of moving the school forward again. The time has come to recognise the great learning that has come from this unexpected world problem and using this as a springboard to initiate a dialogue to push for reforms. Educational reform is more than ever possible. Let us start the conversation amongst ourselves, to lead, to be brave and tackle the question: How will we use what we have learned to intentionally shape education to include all students, so they all benefit from the learning/teaching relationship?

 

Now is the time for our school leaders to take a stand and use this impetus to make the urgent changes needed in our curricula, in our approaches to teaching and learning, in our school systems. Let the student learning become the driver to instigate change.

 

Times are changing. Let’s be intentional in how we shape/drive this change.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Juliette van Eerdewijk, Chair of ECIS Leadership Special Interest Group
Head of School, International Primary School Khuzam

 

 

Bibliography

Abramson, A. (2021). Capturing the benefits of remote learning. American Psychological Association

 

Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. Sand Francisco: Jossey-Bass

 

Fullan, M. (2008). The six secrets of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

 

Hazari, S. (2021). The benefits of Online learning during the pandemic. London College of Contemporary Arts

 

Li, C. & Lalani, F. (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. This is how. World Economic Forum

 

MacBeath, J. & Dempster, N. (2009). Connecting leadership and learning. Abingdon: Routledge

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