Bouncebackability

Certain words and phrases in education have, in recent times, been applied so far and widely to have become almost meaningless. ‘Engagement’ and ‘wellbeing’ are my top two, but ‘resilience’ is hot on their heels. ‘Vulnerability’ is a good bet to take over in time, but but for now it’s well back in the field, alongside ‘higher order thinking’ and ‘the 5 Cs’.

I like the Elizabeth Edwards version, defining resilience as accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. This is how we cope with bereavement, or the break-up of a relationship. Ask any alcoholic (presumably before 11am) and they will tell you: the first step to solving your problem is acceptance that the problem exists. Being resilient requires one to take the rough with the smooth (or, in the words of Mellors the gardener, Tha mun ta’e th’ rough wi’ th’ smooth). Life can turn on a sixpence; we should never get too high when the going is good, lest we increase the depth of the fall when things take a turn for the worse. Keeping one’s emotional amplitude to a minimum is a sensible way to ensure resilience.

In a School context, we should praise genuine resilience when we see it; that which Iain Dowie coined ‘bouncebackability’. We should praise anything that is praiseworthy. But we should also be cautious about over-praising, lest it loses its validity. Praising children for not misbehaving on School trips was always a personal annoyance. My general rule was never to praise those who carry out standard expectations; save the praise for when individuals have done something exceptional; something out of the ordinary.

Which brings us to this, produced by the SACE board and featuring various SACE co-ordinators, presumably as a gee-up to children across the state that their collective ‘backs’ have been well and truly ‘got’. It is a solid example of over-praising. A secondary point is why some of them decided to chose *that* background to their clip, but perhaps we’ll never know:

Students in South Australia have missed approximately one week of teaching time, and may have had another week or two of teaching done remotely. The current global pandemic causes us all to worry, but there are few better places to be in the world than South Australia, and the level of resilience we have needed to show is far less than many countries around the world. Disruption has been minimal, and though the level of uncertainty has been high, most of the heavy lifting has been done by teachers, not students.

I have a high opinion of the boys I teach. I think they are perfectly capable of coping with a couple of weeks of learning at home. I think they require a degree of reassurance, but also clarity of instruction and expectation. I do not think the Covid-19 experience will either break or define them, which makes this comment from the video above:

I’ve no doubt that in a few years time, you’ll be one of the most innovative and resilient group (sic) of young people…

an example of serious over-stretching.

To find yourself, think for yourself

We will be embracing a term of remote learning from next week. That is probably a worst-case scenario and I hope and expect we will be functioning as something that resembles a traditional School well before the end of term. Getting back to normal is a priority for everyone. Teachers all over the world have been scrambling for some weeks now and it is to their credit that they have adapted to provide a worthwhile learning experience. It has required us to be agile, flexible, resourceful and imaginative.

The teachers who will find the remote learning phase most difficult are probably those trying to replicate traditional classroom delivery. The first step on the road to alcoholic recovery is admission, and this is also the first step on the road to remote learning nirvana. We need to admit that remote learning is at best different, and almost certainly less efficient. Defining what success looks like is important to its evaluation and I estimate that working to 50% efficiency during extended remote learning is a clear win.

Remote learning does not mean slavish devotion to technological platforms. I delivered most of my lessons face to face via Zoom in the early days of remote learning, but I expect to pull back over time. Given the choice of a pupil reading, memorising and then stepping outside to recite a poem as an early-morning sun salutation, or watching a set of voice annotated power-point slides, I know which I would choose.

One of the inevitabilities of remote learning is that it will cause a stretching effect amongst pupils. Those who are bright, motivated and resourceful will have a fulfilling educational experience and those who lack a strong work ethic and self-regulation will fall behind. Developing independent learners has been a mantra for Schools for at least the last two decades; now we are able to judge the fruits of our labours.

Everyone is able to learn independently. Granted there are some who will learn more, or quicker, but the ability to learn is within the control of us all. What varies is the willingness to stick to a task, the conviction not to give up until what needs to be learned has been learned. It is as much a test of character as it is of ability. A remote environment presents opportunities to learn, but also opportunities for distraction. As teachers we need to accept that and be willing to pass some genuine responsibility over to those tasked with learning.

Pandemic fun, pandemic empowerment

Andreas Schleicher is the Director for Education and Skills at the OECD. He’s quite popular in Australia, mostly for his fuzzy progressive rhetoric and willingness to ignore the data produced by his own organisation whenever it doesn’t suit his ideology. Which is most of the time. Never one to let the opportunity presented by a global pandemic pass him by, he used his recent keynote at the optimistically titled Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined on-line seminar, to offer this: 

You’re going to have a lot of young people who have experienced different forms of learning in this crisis, learning that was more fun, more empowering. They will go back to their teachers and say: can we do things differently?

I wonder what these different forms of learning are to which he’s referring? Perhaps the thrill of sitting in front of your screen at home, working through lots of questions posted on the School’s LMS? Or perhaps it’s the lesson taught remotely via a power-point, live-narrated by the teacher? He couldn’t mean the whole class Zoom bun fight, featuring a mixture of comedy backgrounds and pupils appearing with hilarious aliases, surely? Or perhaps it’s the desperate attempt of ‘flip-teaching’ to make a comeback via teacher-produced YouTube videos?

Children miss their friends; they miss the routine of School; they miss the human connection that is central to learning (and I don’t just mean the teachers they like). There will be some teacher up-skilling, aspects of which can be taken forward and incorporated into standard teaching when we are back to normal. But the idea that Covid-19 will bring about some educational revolution, where children realise that auto-didacticism is a valid model for mass education, is a fanciful notion to be taken seriously by zero educators who consider themselves to be serious about their craft.

When so-called futurists make predictions about what percentage of future jobs do not yet exist, it’s frustrating that we have to wait years for them to be proved wrong. In the case of Schleicher’s prediction above, we should have our answer before the year is out.