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  • Writer's pictureDan Summerell

Back to School? What Next?

2020, you really threw us a curve ball. As if worrying about panic buying of toilet paper wasn't enough, you decided the world would need to shut down for a bit, including our school's.

There is talk of restrictions easing and everyone heading back to school soon. What this looks like or how it will play out is yet to be determined but one thing is certain, it won't be the same.

I've really seen some great work from my students during this period and it had me thinking about how I can keep this momentum when we return. What's more important for me to understand though (and all teachers, really) is, why are some students doing much better, some not so and some doing nothing at all? What do we need to understand about our students to unpack this?

I recently posed this question on Twitter and the replies varied. Are some students doing better because they have great support at home? Is it because they have been given time and flexibility and greater agency? Is it because there is no peer pressure getting in the way of their learning? Are we as teachers becoming much more explicit in our instructions as a result of the situation? There is so much to consider and I don't know the answer but I can't help think about what I want my classes to resemble when we return.

Agency is one of the best things I've encountered in this journey and it's something that I hope sticks like glue when we return. What can I do to encourage more of it? I think the first thing I will do when we go back is use that first lesson with my students to find out exactly how they want to continue to learn. It will be a chance to unpack the achievement standards together and have them tell me how they can achieve them. I want them to own it more than they ever have. Just the thought of the potentially brilliant conversations to come from this is rather exciting.

While talking about agency, something else for me to roll with is more flipped learning. I've really enjoyed using Google Classroom a lot more than normal and with the time away from school, it's given me more opportunity to provide one on one feedback to every student. This is something that is near impossible in the classroom. If I can set my lessons up with clear intentions, clear instructions and easy to access supporting materials, then there is really little need for me to command much attention in a live setting. I mean, what's the point? If I can set the expectation of students coming in and understanding that they need to check the task on Google Classroom and begin working then I can use my time to answer individual questions and provide better feedback.

This is also an opportunity to have students provide more feedback about what is working for them and what is most engaging so that I can make adjustments when needed. The door really spins both ways because I am able to learn from their feedback immediately and improve my practice in the same way they are able to learn from mine.

The second thing I want is, well, it's more of a wish; is to provide an option for students to learn at home. If that's what works well for some students and it's viable with parents, then I think we should embrace that. It's obvious some students work really well when you remove the social pressures of a school environment. Technology allows us to connect regardless of location, so we teachers can still provide support and feedback without it needing to be face to face. There would be a lot to consider for this to work but I can still dream about it for the time being.

I am barely scratching the surface with what is possible now. I have some ideas, other people have different ideas. Some just want things to go back to normal but in the words of Dave Hollis, "in the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to".

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