And yet, here we are, in the midst of a global beautiful disaster. Around the world, people are both hoarding toilet paper and volunteering to shop for the elderly and otherwise vulnerable. People are both “stuck” at home under government- or self-imposed isolation, and taking glorious “social distancing” walks in large open areas, breathing in earth’s abundance like never before. Hospitals are inundated and overwhelmed, and some of the most smog-impacted places on earth are healing and clearing up due to the reduced CO2 emissions resulting from social distancing and the (temporary?) collapse of the airline industry.
If these are not examples of “beautiful disaster”, then I don’t know what is!
As an educator long interested in the possibilities of the internet and digital tools for collaborative, global learning, I personally am intrigued to see how those who have been saying, “we can’t” and “not yet” are now jumping to “we must immediately”!
While nervous for students and their anxious parents who are waiting to see what all of this means for “public education”, I’ve also been extraordinarily inspired by the many corporations and individual educators who are developing/co-developing and/or sharing for free some of the most creative resources I have seen in a long time.
The global implications of this beautiful disaster are profound, in education as anywhere else. Earlier this week I attended a webinar put on by an Ed Tech company, on the topic of “supporting remote learning”. The panel consisted of a principal, a Kindergarten teacher and a middle school tech teacher. In the chat pod, i counted over 150 participants, from at least 11 different countries. I found out about the session from an educator I follow on social media. I’ve never met her in person.
The big themes in that session, shared by the people on the ground, were threefold: First, a reminder that teaching is a highly personal profession. For all the systemic complaints some people may express, the truth is that Teachers usually have a lot of control over what they, personally, do with students and how they do it. Second, teaching well is about relationships. Relationship with students and their families, and relationships with one’s colleagues. If and as teaching moves to online, teachers will have to leverage new and existing tools to (re)establish and maintain strong relationships with the little (and big, in secondary) friends who often have spent more time with their teachers than their parents! Finally, differentiation. “Live where they are” said one of the educators on the panel, referring to the fact that — since the middle schoolers she taught “hung out” on Instagram — that was where she was posting her lessons. This women knew her clientele!
In our excitement to contribute, there will be a lot of “stuff” that continues to be created and shared. It will be a challenge for the average person, also dealing with the personal fallout of this pandemic (possible job losses, small abode with kids and other at home, lack of resources due to panic-buying, etc.) to critically select what’s worth pursuing, and what can be relegated to background “noise”. Now, more than ever, it will be important to consider the criteria by which we choose the things we expose our children to and share with our students. The choices we make in the coming days, weeks and months will set a precedent for whatever comes next. There is no “going back to normal”.
Like never before, we have an opportunity to work together to create something new, something more beautiful than disastrous.
Here’s hoping we get it right!