If you walk around St. Columbkille School these days, you will discover a silent tranquility. In many ways, it is calming. However, in another sense, it is disheartening. Classrooms that used to have engaged vocal students are now empty. The corridors that used to be filled with students walking to class are now deserted. The lunch benches where students used to eat and socialize are now unoccupied. Such has been the effects of COVID-19. However, as in all things in life, important lessons can and were learned from this ongoing experience.
EDUCATION IS MORE THAN JUST CONTENT KNOWLEDGE
We have been reminded of the lesson that education is more than giving out information and knowledge. If the focus of education was distributing content, Zoom meetings, Google Classroom, Seesaw, Khan Academy, and other online platforms would suffice and our students would prosper. COVID-19 has helped us remember that education is so much more than just content mastery. It is about the interactions we have as humans each and every day. A teacher’s smile. His/her support of inquiry. Appropriate and constructive feedback. Encouragement. These all have a tremendous impact on our students' learning, psyche and well-being.
DON'T GET HIJACKED
I have learned that as a leader, it is crucial to be reflective and practice prudence. With the constant stream of negative news and social media posting, it can be too easy to begin thinking in a manner that is neither consistent nor true of a person’s character. It is too easy to get our amygdala “hijacked.” Once this happens, our decisions and thoughts are not rational and those who are under the care of the leader suffer. Recently, I too became hijacked. Fortunately, I was surrounded by rational level headed individuals who reeled me back to myself before harm could be done. This experience highlighted to me that we must have procedures and policies set in place to ensure such hijackings are avoided as much as possible. We must be proactive and reactive. This does not only apply to COVID-19. Teachers do a great job of identifying gaps in learning and try to “fill” them in. That’s reactive. We must also ask why are these gaps happening in our community? What can we do to minimize these gaps? We need to revisit programs and ask, “Why do we have these programs and what are the objectives?” We must reflect on how we do things and ensure that they are aligned to student success. After reflection and discussion, we must put policies and procedures in place so that we do not get hijacked.
As mentioned before, what limited my hijacked amygdala was level headed people. I realized and learned that we need to surround ourselves with people who are willing to speak the truth even when it is difficult or contrary to what we think. We must have an open mind to listen with our ears, minds, and heart so that the best actions may see light. A leader must surround him/herself with those who have agency to do what is good for the school.
TECHNOLOGY ISN’T A SILVER BULLET
iPads. Chromebooks. Zoom. Seesaw. Many people look for the silver bullet that will change and save education. However, this pandemic has shown us that a catalyst for good education is good teachers. As leaders, our focus should not solely be on finding the best curriculum or app that will promote learning. Rather, we should focus on aiding our teachers to become even better teachers. This means that when we are in the classroom with teachers, we need to give implementable feedback that is conducive to an educators growth. During the Stay-At-Home mandate, we must utilize the tools that we have in order to provide effective coaching. It isn’t technology that’s going to save education - teachers are.
I am sure that there are many lessons to be learned during these turbulent times. While things may look different, the basic fundamental questions still pertain to education. Are students learning? How do we know they are learning? What can we do so that they continue to learn? These questions encompass content mastery, social-emotional well-being, basic necessities for living, spiritual well-being and so much more. If these questions are our driving questions, then as before, we will continue to be workers in the vineyard - distance or not. These are the lessons learnt that we as Onward Leaders will bring to our schools.