2020 has been a particularly challenging year. The webinar “Lessons Learned: Schools Responding to Challenges of 2020” was an opportunity to hear the voices of those dealing with everyday challenges at schools, giving them space to share experiences and solutions.
The discussion was led by school directors from Norway, Russia, USA and Greece and was focused on the questions that the participants asked the presenters. Around a hundred participants joined the discussion.
Among the challenges, emphasized by the school heads, the first one was inclusivity of school during the pandemic. They expressed concerns about limited contact with parents, the deepening exclusion of those students who had learning or communication issues before the pandemic and psychological pressure on all those involved in teaching and learning processes. The quality of teaching was another concern – how do you teach creative subjects, such as art and music online? Also, the assessment in times of COVID was an issue. In particular, students who were finishing school in summer 2020 struggled with the uncertain situation. Last, but not least, as one of the speakers noted, “education is all based on relationships”. In some cases, teachers and students only met online – how do you develop relationships with students you never met in person?
The school heads offered some solutions and principles to have in mind in the current conditions. It is useful for schools to elaborate their own plans of shifting teaching and learning processes online – unfortunately, it is especially relevant for the situations when schools indicate the lack of state support and clear communication. Inclusion was a topic of particular importance. To assure that no one is excluded because of technical issues, one of the schools partnered with a community organization that helped to give devices for online work and wi-fi access to all students. Furthermore, school life is not only about lessons. To keep students motivated and involved, the speakers advised to use new tools and assure that the work of students’ governing bodies and students’ project activities are continued. Another important principle for assuring the inclusion of all is trust, the principle that became even more relevant in 2020. Creation of trust is possible through keeping teachers and students connected. For example, through reaching out to students that struggled with motivation and encourage them to participate. One of the speakers mentioned that if kids were not responding remotely, teachers were calling or even visiting homes to make sure that the kids were connected. It is highly advised to work on the professional development of teachers for them be able to use the technology for building the relationships based on trust. Online safety is another thing to have in mind – for the comfort of all participating parties establishing rules for online communication is essential.
Moreover, one of the schools changed its grading practices for some time. To reduce the psychological pressure on students, they were not penalized to make sure that the grades they received during a difficult situation of transition to online learning would have no permanent effect on their transcript. Finally, the speakers underlined that online education must remain relevant. School plays a big role in making students understand and process what is going on in the world as informed and responsible citizens. Even in terms of online teaching and especially in the situation of pandemic, schools need to give students tools to smartly consume the available information and recognize fake information when they see it.