Toilet Paper, Bread and Eggs.

Wow. We went from planning for schools to shutdown, to schools being shutdown, to being sheltered in place for a few weeks to being told to stay at home indefinitely. And that was all since just last week.

I was going to venture out to look for bread and eggs this morning (failed at two attempts yesterday), but I’m not ready for more disappointment just yet. We still have toilet paper, so I decided to revive my blog instead. There is a lot on my mind at the moment.

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

– Helmuth Von Moltke

School districts everywhere are scrambling to figure out how to educate thousands of students in their homes. Distance, online, flexible, at-home (my personal favorite) learning is the new reality and after a decade of talking about the importance of EdTech, we’re now living it. If only we’d seriously invested in modernizing our education system and keeping pace with the rapid change in the world outside the classroom walls, we wouldn’t all be scrambling now in the face of COVID-19. But I digress.

We’re in this thing now and I have concerns. Concerns about expectations. Concerns about access. Concerns about up-skilling staff. Concerns about everyone’s wellbeing and home situations. Serious concerns because a lot of education leaders right now are thinking that teachers and kids are going to do the exact same thing online that they were doing a few weeks ago in their classrooms. That approach will break the public education system as we know it. Because the truth is, the current education system is from a different era. It’s a throwback to a world without the Internet, or SnapChat, or X-Box, or Facebook, or YouTube. The modern education system was already crumbling under its own weight of legacy and obsolescence.

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”

― John Dewey

What makes school, SCHOOL? Every educational leader thinking about how to educate their kids remotely should take a moment and read Will Richardson‘s book Why School. Seriously, go read it. If you’re a teacher, gift a copy to your administrator. It’s a sound investment in the future. Here’s why. Let’s do a thought experiment. How many of your students would come to class if they didn’t have to?

How many of your students would come to class if they didn’t have to?

That’s it. That’s the question, because when you are in #StayAtHome, the compulsory in compulsory education goes out the window. Kids don’t have to come to school for the foreseeable future. Planning to take online attendance for participation? Great, let me know how that goes for you. Expecting to hold kids accountable with grades? Awesome, except for all the kids who have absolutely no support systems at home. Lets widen that equity divide a bit more, shall we?

“Focus on the good parts of learning and not the bad parts of school”

– Mike Vollmert Ed.D

Right now, in this moment, we need to ask, what makes school matter for kids? And guess what, there is no universal answer. As leaders, this is our challenge. How do we engage every student in LEARNING. It’s not about doing school online, it’s about CONTINUING TO SUPPORT STUDENT LEARNING AT HOME. School as we know it is really just a framework, a construct we created as a society 150 yeas ago to educate the masses. It’s time to drop the crazy idea that we can expect kids to learn while sheltered in place at home the same way they did when they were compelled to attend physical school. Every student is on their own personal learning journey. We need to engage them where they are on that journey and help them get to where they need to be.

Here’s another thought experiment. What does school look like when any student can get up and walk out of the classroom whenever they want? A lot of what we think of as doing school in a face-to-face environment is really about compliance. Think about it. Our classroom structures, routines and rules are generally designed to reinforce compliance in the physical space.

What does school look like when any student can get up and walk out of the classroom whenever they want?

Paper Packets vs. Online Learning. I do have thoughts on this. Maybe I’ll write about it tomorrow. The one thing I would say now is COVID-19 is an Infectious Disease. You might be able to send a few weeks worth of packets home initially, but the logistics of maintaining that over a prolonged period of time are considerable. And no, we can’t expect every family to have access to a printer at home to print out our PDFs.

While we as a species do not face an existential threat from this pandemic, our public education system most certainly does. Many educational leaders are just waking up to this realization. The bottom line is this: the task before us is monumental. This crisis is exposing the systemic inequity inherent in our education system like never before. This is the new normal. As communities with vested interests in our children continuing to engage in learning over the weeks and months ahead, we have to start shifting our paradigms of school and we have to shift them rapidly. I believe that together, as educators, we can rise to the challenge. Because really, what other choice do we have?

(To all the elementary folks out there, forgive me, I have my high school teacher lens on at the moment. For primary, I believe the most critical thing we can do now and always is make sure our kids can read. How we do that remotely is for another post. I have ideas, but would love to hear yours as well. We’re all in this together).