At the time of writing, we are all at different stages of the COVID-19 crisis but I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world where teachers haven’t been affected one way or another by it. In the UK, as in many other European countries at least, schools have been taking their first steps back into operation, although I won’t say normality. But no doubt some sort of normality will resume eventually. In this post I’d like us to consider what that normality might be and how it may be influenced by the extraordinary experiences we’ve had in the last few months. When we return in the next academic year are we really going to go back to exactly the same way of teaching (or training teachers or managing them)? Do we want to? If there’s a time for change, it seems to be now. At least now is the time to be considering what we would like to change and what steps we could take towards making those changes.
However difficult and disruptive lockdown has been in education, it would be even more sad to make huge efforts to return to ‘normal’ if that normal didn’t seem like it was the most effective way to be.
So as a first step I propose that we take a little bit of time to ask ourselves some questions to reflect more deeply on our recent experiences and see what good may come out of them.
While thinking or making notes about the questions below you may want to consider: learner autonomy, engagement, collaboration, achievement, dynamics, differentiation, classroom management, inclusiveness, pace, learner autonomy, testing, time management, the use of technology, feedback.
1. How has the way you teach (or train or manage) changed? Try to think of a few changes and what effects have they had on you and your students. Remember the list of prompts above.
2. What aspect of teaching are you looking forward to getting back to when face-to-face education resumes? There are probably some aspects of pre-Covid-19 teaching that you definitely want back. But it’s also useful to reflect on what the greatest challenges of teaching online have been and how you have overcome these challenges. Maybe the process of overcoming these, collaboratively or individually, points you to a way of working in the future.
3. What is actually better about online learning? Some teachers have taken to online learning like a duck to water. Others have struggled. But everyone should be able to think of some aspects of teaching and learning that have been more effective than normal classroom teaching. Can you list some?
4. What have you learnt about your pupils, colleagues and yourself? You might be thinking about your learners as a class or as individuals, maybe online learning suited some of those better than others and it’s useful to drill down and work out why. You may have become aware of who has been particularly helpful or wise amongst your colleagues and about ways that you could effectively work together more when you are back at school. And so many people say they have learnt more about themselves in last few months – it would be a shame to forget that.
5. What lessons from this experience are you going to act on? Assuming you found some positives, even if they were ways to overcome difficulties, it’s certainly worth thinking of ways you can improve the education of your learners, the effectiveness of your school and your own wellbeing. Looking back over previous answers and noting down some steps you could take should help with that. You may think that you don’t have any power to influence but as a teacher you constantly make decisions about how to respond to leaners, as a colleague you can start or contribute to discussions and by looking after yourself you are in better position to help others.
This does seem like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reflect on what we do and take steps to make that better. It you click Restart on your computer, you don’t want it to come back on with the same issues you had before. So if we take what worked well before and add the positives from the last few months we could upgrade to a new educational future that fits learners and teachers in the 2020s.
We will be discussing these question over the next few weeks on our Facebook group ELT Open House. Please join us there.