WITH relatively higher school truancy rates, the return to in-person education got off to a shaky start. A great deal of structural planning is required to help students settle into a positive learning environment. Given that the way we access education has changed dramatically and the obvious learning gaps stare at us in awe, a brand new curriculum is vital.
From a collection of resources – including digital technology vis-a-vis smart boards, tablets and educational apps – to a new collection of library books more suited to supporting the emotional well-being of students, counselors and coaches, an evolved landscape in planning and implementation will protect learners in this uncertainty.
Many private schools have succeeded in creating a welcoming social environment. They allow greater flexibility for missed school days or delayed homework, consideration for families impacted by Covid, smoother communication with teachers through various learning management systems, tracking and efficient help via WhatsApp etc. Some have set up after-school online programs to involve children in remedial classes, book clubs and art therapy.
However, resources without expertise are like a car without fuel. Plans may be backed by lofty dreams and serious intentions, but our students don’t necessarily benefit from quick fixes based on trial and error. A roadmap put in place with sustainable strategies, coupled with the professional development required for implementation, would either take the bull by the horns or tear the rose from its thorns – for lack of a better phrase.
The teachers had to put on superhero capes.
The in-person return to school is led by teachers who have not only been thrown into a frenzy of pursuing curriculum goals, assessing students and upgrading, but are also being called into action where their students’ motivation needs attention, social impairment skills need to be honed, and cognitive abilities need to be sharpened. Teachers had to don superhero capes to juggle responsibilities they hadn’t had before. “It’s not part of my job description” is no longer a relevant statement – overall, most job descriptions have changed, evolved, or been massively extended.
In fact, organizations that have failed to improve the professional development of their employees have found themselves sidetracked by “the big quit”. Compared to other professions, in teaching, the implications of this are quite serious, as students suffer collateral damage when school leaders fail to meet the challenge of meeting the demands of teacher development. Part of the challenge lies in the critical task of action and reflection – implementation followed by careful analysis of what went well and what can be improved.
Unfortunately, we have not put in place meaningful monitoring structures, other than the usual classroom visits by headteachers, and often children are left in the hands of teachers who may know nothing about the requirements of reopening and post-pandemic recovery. In this climate full of professional and personal challenges, teachers may also need a little gentleness and attention. In addition to focusing on professional development, which has been very demanding for many, they may need “days away” or perhaps a day trip to a relaxing retreat.
Where this is not possible, team games, physical activities, an hour of comedy or the like can lighten up a tedious day. Conversations about their recovery and well-being and that of their students are important, in a focused and structured environment with the participation of the school administration. Teacher well-being is crucial because it determines the extent to which they will model positive behavior in the classroom, which will have a direct impact on the motivation and performance of their students.
How many of us remember working enthusiastically for a moody professor? Teachers who successfully make the classroom a space of comfort, fun, and laughter elicit the greatest response and active engagement. Educators have known for decades that teacher well-being has a direct correlation to student learning and performance. However, we failed to focus as much on this as on daily rituals and routines.
For school leaders, discipline on school premises is paramount, and comfort and communal care pale in comparison. UNESCO’s 2020 report on the Futures of Education stresses that education must be rethought at all levels, which means reviewing our objectives and our expectations of students, providing them with a space secure social environment to enable them to thrive and protect their rights.
In this world of inequality and uncertainty, it is impossible for learners to thrive at the same pace. Rather than resisting reality, finding productive ways to develop our students’ abilities requires skill, strategy and resilience from our teachers.
The author is a teacher trainer, author and member of the Higher Education Academy, UK.
Posted in Dawn, February 25, 2022