On online platforms such as Google Classroom and Zoom, teaching and learning look quite different than our normal program of learning face to face on the school campus. Learning is a social endeavor, and we are working to think creatively about how to support meaningful learning experiences, understanding the developmental needs of our middle level students while also recognizing that we are in a crisis situation.
At the International School of Kenya, students are now scattered across the city of Nairobi and around the globe, as some families have relocated to their home countries during this global pandemic. This is a challenging and stressful time for all of our community stakeholders—students who are struggling to learn independently without the typical supports they receive in a school setting, parents who are essential workers and not able to support their children at home or who have lost their jobs and have the stress of finances and the future, teachers who are balancing teaching online with parenting their own children, and those in our communities who are sick or worried about sick loved ones.
These are times that require empathy, compassion, and for us to be gentle with each other. Here is a list of key priorities to keep in mind in our efforts to provide continued education:
Curriculum, Learning Tasks, and Assessment
Teachers face several layers of complexity with this new reality as they work to completely redesign their curriculum to be delivered in a virtual setting. They need to make decisions about what needs to be cut (and then cut again, to make the learning tasks meaningful and manageable for students), what learning really matters and makes sense in a virtual learning environment, how to provide meaningful tasks, and ways to collect evidence of student learning.
Paper and pencil tests? Nope. Memorize and recall facts? Nope. Make connections across curricular areas and apply them in a new and creative way? Yes! If you didn’t already see it, check out A New Normal: Assessment & Distance Learning, a panel discussion with Thomas Guskey, Lee Ann Jung, Ken O’Connor, and Rick Wormeli. Here are some additional resources that can help teachers think differently about teaching and learning through engaging and empowering learning provocations:
- Learners or students? from Making Good Humans
- 4 Ways to Craft Choice Menus in Distance Learning Classes from John Spencer
- Inquiry Into Owning My Learning
- Empowering Students in Distance Learning Environments from John Spencer
While many are worried about the loss of learning and that our children might be behind academically, some wonder about the other important learning that might happen during this challenging time. What if instead of behind, these kids are ahead?
It is important to find ways to stay connected as a community. We have a private Instagram account for our school that students, parents, and teachers follow. Community members send in their photos for various challenges we have hosted over the last few weeks, such as a virtual spirit week, a House System challenge to earn house points, and a celebration of Autism Awareness Day. Our Parent Teacher Organization has also put out some larger schoolwide spirit-building family challenges. We might not be able to see each other in person, but it is fun to see community members playing along at home with these various challenges.
Whether your school has chosen to learn synchronously or asynchronously, it is essential to find ways to connect with students. There are many platforms that schools might use, but the key idea is human connection, availability to answer student questions, and supporting the social-emotional needs of our community.
As a middle level school, we value the connection and support that comes from our daily advisory program. As we prioritize the social-emotional needs of our students, we have made agreements in our middle level school to connect twice a week through live Zoom chats, as well as connecting on the other days through email prompts and check-ins.
Finally, during times of stress and trauma, many mental health practitioners recommend focusing on gratitude. It does wonders for our mental and emotional health when we reflect on all that we are grateful for and look for opportunities for the important learning and lessons that can come from challenging times. Part of this process also means finding ways to focus on love, growth, creativity, and nurturing our own resilience. We must check in regularly with our mental health and acknowledge our stress or difficult emotions when they bubble up.
Interested in more resources to inspire, inform, support, and explore during this era of remote teaching and learning? Here is a link to several articles, videos, and images related to COVID-19, teaching online, and more.
“In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”
As the world has tumbled into an unprecedented global pandemic, educators are continuing to do what they do best—inspire, connect, love, and teach our children. While different schools around the country and globe have different approaches and realities, one thing is clear: children need their teachers and schools. As we consider curriculum, access to resources, equity, and more, schools are doing important work to continue learning in these uncertain times.
Alexa P. Schmid is the middle level principal at the International School of Kenya. She is currently working on her doctorate in education degree from Plymouth State University, where she is studying cultural competency leadership in international school leaders. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia and has worked in international schools in Egypt, India, and Kenya.