Alberta, Canada

Where’s the re-set?

Helping people navigate the school system

Where’s the re-set?

When COVID-19 crisis started, I immediately saw that it was two sided. On one side was the chaos and on the other was opportunity. In the last two weeks I have seen people in the system of education doing everything they can to make sense of what has happened, do what they think is best and struggle with new and big ideas. I wish that everyone could see the opportunity side of what is happening right now but I understand that they are trying to make sense of the chaos by imposing the old order that has been working for them.

I was listening to a newscast yesterday and a 10 year old child on there was talking about what he thought the world would look like after the crisis was over. He said he thought the world would be changed but that he wouldn’t be sad if school was gone. It struck me as I was listening to him that most kids are HAPPY that school is closed right now. What does that say about our school system? Kids think learning is boring, that school has little value, that it’s a good thing when it’s closed. It’s like having a bad job for 12 years for them. Isn’t that awful? Does that make you pause and re-think ANYTHING we are doing? I hope it does.

For those educators who are still giving a multitude of assignments to their students (also known as busy work) in order to “meet curricular outcomes”. Please stop. To those who are saying things like “well we can’t give credits to students who don’t finish the assignments and meet all the provincial outcomes”, please stop. To those focused on the minutia of the curriculum instead of broad essential outcomes that students can actually use, please stop. To those who are worried more about whether or not students would cheat on a test than if they would learn something from taking said test, please just stop it. Here is what the leaders of change educational are saying: “We should be focused on essential outcomes, real learning, and not the minutia of curriculum”. They are talking about how learning is important, not assignments or assessments. They are encouraging parents (who are going to be stressed out as they are thrown into a situation that no one anticipated or prepared for) to PLAY with their children, to connect with them and to put the schoolish learning aside if they need to. THAT’S what we should be doing right now.

I get it. The world is in chaos and your impulse is to try and find order in it so you are falling back onto old ideas of what that should look like (I am also aware that ‘old ideas’ were in place just two weeks ago). Order in schools is having kids in desks for a large part of the day, writing in notebooks and worksheets. Order in schools is having a schedule of bells and 15 minute lunch times with structured ‘play’ in small chunks of time. Order in the system is having provincial achievement tests and Grade 12 diploma exams and having everyone learning everything at exactly the same time in the same way in the same place. I would like to think that “What is the purpose of education, and what are the conditions required for young people to achieve their full potential? ” (quote taken from this blog)

We have an opportunity to question all of that right now while the world is in chaos and we are forced into new ways of doing business and life and school. If they can cancel all the achievement tests and diploma exams and still be fairly confident that our children have achieved outcomes that will prepare them for life why do we need those tests to begin with? If we can announce that learning for students should be no more than 5 hours a week for elementary, 10 hours a week for junior high students and 3 hours a week for each course in high school, then why the heck are we force-teaching them for 7 hours a day in school? If kids learn better by playing games with their family and watching videos and NOT doing worksheets and busy work, why are we doing all that in school? (there’s a great article about that here) If you are one of the teachers that are connecting with your students in different ways on a camera, why can’t you do that in every school day? I saw a story online about a teacher who was teaching her students and she did something silly and embarrassing. Her students laughed and ‘got off track’. I hope that teacher saw that being more human, making human mistakes, and being silly makes you a better teacher. People connect better with someone who makes mistakes and is comfortable at admitting it. Also, people learn better with someone who they can connect with and who are relatable.

I hope parents are realizing that despite the extremely stressful and traumatic time we are all going through at the moment, that kids are better off waking up on their own schedule, having a relaxed schedule everyday, taking more time to eat lunch and playing for a larger part of the day. I hope they see that learning takes many forms and the least effective of those is worksheets. I hope teachers who see that connection to their students are far better ways to reach them than discipline carry that into their working lives after this is over. The attention being paid to the divide between the haves and the have-nots (which in the case of distance learning is who has computers and wifi at their house and who does not) is great. I hope we don’t forget this when we all go back.

Can we just re-set what we are doing and start rethinking what happens in schools? I know it’s the worst time to ask people to do that. It’s hard to think through new ideas when the world got thrown into chaos and your response is trauma informed. But it’s the right time to start asking question about these things as we have an opportunity now to see it in action. What if we stopped teaching curricular expectations and started teaching kids? What if we stopped giving worksheets and focusing on what they need to know for the test and offered up real life learning opportunities instead? What if we allowed kids to play for a large part of the day? Sleep in? Have lunch when they are hungry? Stopped the bell system and let kids finish when they finish? We may just come out of this with better adjusted kids who want to learn instead of being forced to learn in an artificial setting that is not connected to real life.