As recently as a month ago, most teachers across the country still saw their work as preparing and delivering lessons aligned to the assigned and scheduled curriculum in their schools. Covering remaining concepts, exposing students to required information, and getting students ready for Spring and end-of-year testing occupied most of the attention and the majority of the time. Students could expect to be presented with a set of pre-determined, pre-scheduled lessons that would be professionally delivered and timed to fit the remaining weeks of the school year. For the most part, students could expect that their learning would largely be driven by the instruction with which they were presented.
Then came the Coronavirus, closure of traditional brick and mortar schools, and learning experiences that have a different look, feel, and focus. Remote, distance, and virtual education make the plans, activities, and expectations already in place for the final months of the school year no longer applicable or workable.
Much has been reported about the logistical shift from in-person to remote, distance, and virtual approaches. Access to and functioning of technology are challenges. Required testing regimens have to be scrapped. Lesson plans have to be reworked or abandoned. Student behavior challenges are redefined. The list goes on…
However, there is an aspect of this shift in the education system and processes that is hugely important but has gone largely unreported. A growing number of educators are seeing a transformative opportunity in the midst of the disruption to change the focus of their work in ways that will better serve their students and build skills that will last a lifetime.
The system in place a few weeks ago remained stubbornly focused on instruction as the primary driver of learning. Teachers had the luxury of a captive audience before them that was enculturated to depend on what the teacher said and directed to dictate what and how they would learn. Now students are scattered across the community. Teaching all day is not practical.
Students will have to take more responsibility for their learning. Herein lies the crucial opportunity. Rather than attempt to convert traditional lessons to fit the new context, insightful teachers are redesigning the learning experience to invite students to become partners in their learning journeys. Rather than remaining the primary or sole source of information and instruction, they are coaching and supporting students to explore, discover, and learn. In short, they are focusing on developing skilled learners, not just proficient students.
Throughout history, disruption and uncertainty have almost always opened doors to discovery, innovation, and invention. The challenge we face is to let go of what has been familiar, but not necessarily effective, and embrace approaches that we might have been reluctant to consider or adopt in the old context. The reality that the old way will no longer work makes such a path easier, safer, and even more necessary.
The key question in this new education world is not what should I teach? Rather, we need to ask what our students need to learn. What will serve them well rather than what will be on the test? How can we help them to become better learners, not just compliant students? What will matter in their future, not what do I have to cover before the end of the year arrives?
Without question, these are bewildering times. Yet, this can be a time of exploration, innovation, and invention that could not have been possible, or even imagined a month ago. How are you taking advantage of the opportunity?