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5 lessons in the midst of COVID-19 – A teacher’s perspective

If your staffroom is anything like mine, the conversations will have been dominated by talk of the Coronavirus. People have many questions: when it will stop, are schools going to close, did they have to cancel Polyfest, how will we teach kids, do we need to cancel assembly? As the crisis unfolds, we’re provided with more clarity and more questions. With this is in mind, I thought I’d share five lessons for teachers and everyone else.

1. THE NEED FOR COMPASSION

One of the things about tragedy is the way in which it amplifies the best parts of humanity. In the wake of tragedy, we seem to rally together, support one another and fight with compassion. We saw it with the Christchurch earthquake, we saw it with the mosque shootings, and we are seeing it now in the response to COVID-19.

One of the things I find so beautiful about tragedy is the way in which it amplifies the best parts of humanity. In the wake of a crisis, we rally together, support one another and fight hatred, disease and disaster with compassion. We saw it with the Christchurch earthquake, we saw it with the terror attacks, and now we are seeing it now with COVID-19. People are asking “how can I help?” “What can I do?”. Tragedy helps are remember, as Einstein puts it, “that as human beings we are part of the whole, tasked with freeing ourselves from the prison of time and space by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty”.


That’s a lesson for both teachers and students. When we are reminded that compassion is a core part of who we are, then we are reminded as teacher to both have and teach kindness. The problem is these soft skills are often forgotten in the melee of literacy and numeracy conversations. So, in the midst of COVID1-9, let us remember that the core business of a teacher is produce brilliant human beings, that are not only intelligent and critically literate but also kind and compassionate. If they receive nothing else from us, let our students hear the message that they are loved and have the capacity to love.


2. DIGITAL TEACHING

With calls to close schools and move online, educators are scrambling to upskill and ensure they are ready for any potential outcomes. Closing schools will mean that the ability to connect with students and to teach the soft skills mentioned above will become more and more difficult. What the digital move is going to highlight is the behaviours of two groups: students and teachers. The former is, to a large extent, uncontrollable.


For the latter group, the digital age will do two things: reinforce creativity and amplify indolence. Agentic teachers will be in the process for upskilling and challenging themselves to think in innovative ways. Others might be looking forward to what they consider a holiday. The point is: teaching, like learning, is a spectrum. In moving to a digital environment, you will see the best and worst parts of teachers magnified. Figure out which camp you’d rather be in and challenge yourself to think creatively about how you are teaching. If you are already doing this, then that’s awesome. However, the digital move might be exactly the refresher you need to reboot your pedagogy and start thinking about what could work best for students.

3. THE EQUITY DIVIDE

It’s become pretty clear that the casualties of COVID-19 are unforeseeable. It’s not only creating issues, it’s bringing them to the fore. The equity-divide in schools isn’t a new thing but with the prospect of schools shutting down, suddenly we are having the conversation about access to devices. With it, this brings questions that push us beyond the simplistic binary of: “Do you or do you not have a device?” It prompts other questions: what do we class as a device, how many people do you share that device with? For many of our kids, a device is a laptop but for some it’s a phone. We have students who are sharing their device with seven siblings. You can’t tell me that a simple question about having a device highlights the inequity between a student with the latest MacBook and high-speed Wi-Fi and the student sharing a Chromebook with his seven siblings. Highlighting the equity divide is an unforeseen consequence of COVID-19 but not one we are beyond fixing.


4. THE NEED FOR GRASSROOTS SOLUTIONS

The answer isn’t easy, but I think it comes in the form of grassroots solutions. We need to find ways not only to support our students but also to support anyone in marginalised communities. What if we were able to source students with our own old laptops; decommissioned from schools. I’d toyed with a similar idea when our English department was short on books for students. I would happily give away my copy of To Kill A Mockingbird to a student who needed it, as opposed to seeing it gather dust on the shelf.


In this same way, we need to wipe the proverbial dust of our old devices and begin offering them to students. Churches, community groups and iwi need to find ways to coordinate relief support. It’s always community support that solves problems in a crisis. We need the student volunteer armies to be thinking of innovative ways to provide food, technology, shelter and access for those who need it most.

5. PUTTING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE What the whole situation has made me realise most is, the little things matter…, and they don’t matter. This morning savour my first sip of coffee and mourn the inability to travel. In the end, these don’t really matter. Life today requires that we become masters of holding our disappointment and gratitude in balance. Events might be on-hold for many of us but this won’t be forever. Acknowledging that hurt and accepting it is difficult and we need to remember that for students such clarity might be a luxury. For many of them, events such as Polyfest or the Rugby season mean everything, particularly in their last few years of school. This is their world, so sit with them as they mourn (adhering to the social distancing conditions of course) and remind them of the certainty that the sun will rise in the morning.


There are clearly some issues we are going to have to deal with but if COVID-19 is teaching me anything, it’s that humanity is rather outstanding, and we are lucky to be part of it. The sun will rise tomorrow and that is what I’m grateful for.

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