Scrolling through LinkedIn at the start of the year, I stopped at this post by Jolie Miller. In it, she writes what she hopes to see in the workplace in 2022:
- “Normalized remote work over getting back on the road/in office
- Leadership cultures that support our best work over management cultures that make work harder
- Everyone feels welcome, celebrated, and seen at work, regardless of background instead of some people feel welcome, celebrated and seen at work, depending on their background.
- Mental health support & trauma-informed leadership become core competencies instead of unicorn traits of select bosses
- Appreciation-driven cultures over feedback-driven cultures
- Assuming everyone’s carrying a lot and being thoughtful over getting more aggressive with folks two years into the pandemic”
It struck me that I want to see the same priorities in our schools and education too:
- Flexible models and adaptations to the school system, education and learning.
- Leaders in education who recognise everything children have coped with, sacrificed and accomplished during the pandemic, the effects the pandemic has had on children and their wellbeing, and who make this the priority, instead of only seeing missed school days and learning deficits.
- Welcoming, celebrating and seeing all children with their individual needs and experiences, different backgrounds, regardless of how well they’re able to do online school or keep up with worksheets.
- Mental-health support and trauma-informed leadership as a given and priority for every child and educator who needs it.
- Unconditional appreciation for every child and their individual contribution, instead of conditional and, in most cases, unsolicited feedback through grades, rewards and behaviour charts.
- Assuming that all children are carrying a lot and doing the very best they can, instead of pushing them to meet unrealistic expectations that don’t take into account their experiences two years into the pandemic.
Discourse is rife with how the pandemic has and will continue to change the way we work, how important it is for companies to prioritise the wellbeing of their employees, make flexible working the standard, as well as provide access to mental health support.
More companies than ever are seeing the benefits from piloting future work initiatives, such as the 4 day week, in an effort to adapt to what employees need to reduce stress, be productive and for their working and family lives to be meaningful and fulfilling.
We should be talking about this in schools and education too.
School in it’s one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t fit all
The pandemic has shown us on a wider scale that school in it’s one-size-fits-all approach, whether at school or online at home, doesn’t fit all.
School in its conventional form can’t provide for the individual needs of children or families, nor their experience of the pandemic, which has only reinforced the power and privilege gap.
Children can flourish without the stress, pressures and confines of school and standard learning curricula, learn and have a much richer learning experience for it.
A school-free education is also liberation from postcolonial structures and an act of resistance against stereotypes, discrimination and forms of oppression, inequalities that have been further exposed in the pandemic.
There are children who want to go to school, also who need the support of caring and trusted adults outside of the home, as well as parents and families who rely on educational settings for resources and support to manage work, family life, and their own mental health.
There are children who get on better with the distance online school creates, as well as who don’t have access to devices, good Internet, the peace, quiet or support they need in their homes, and find themselves excluded.
There are children who find sitting at a screen and filling out worksheets the worst possible way to spend their days (I don’t disagree!), let alone learn anything of value other than for passing a test that will not matter in 10 years time.
There are children who experience online school in their homes as a violation of their privacy.
Wellbeing over worksheets
The science is clear: true, rich learning takes place when children experience emotional safety, when they are learning what is meaningful and relevant to them, and when their needs are met, in an environment with facilitating and caring adults who are able to put the needs and experiences of children before any curriculum, whether at school or at home.
To mitigate the long-term effects of the pandemic on children’s wellbeing, parents need to be able to be parents and caregivers to their children, their safe harbour and emotional safety net, not teachers and enforcers of school curricula.
The messages populating the media that all that matters is the curriculum, catching up on missed school days, talk of reducing holidays and weekend school are only damaging. The last thing children need after almost two years living with Covid is more school work, pressure and the perspective that they are doomed to fail in life because of missed school during a global pandemic.
Children, families and educators need support and resources to help children (and themselves) feel secure and regain their sense of emotional safety, as well as constructive ways to approach learning and education adapted to their new reality and experience.
Adultism in the handling of the pandemic
Instead the handling of the pandemic has exposed the adultism in our society and how little society values children and families.
Children are people too. Children aren’t a means to herd immunity and also need to be protected from Covid, they don’t want to learn in a “Covid petri dish”, the future of the economy shouldn’t depend on their completing piles of worksheets, they aren’t problems to be solved, nor should their presence at home be a matter of life or death, or mean the end of parents’ careers.
The world is changing and instead of instilling fear, upholding outdated ideas and expecting children, families, educators and schools to catch up with the old, how about new paradigms in education and learning that provide for this new world and really protect our children’s future by prioritising their wellbeing over worksheets.
What have your experiences of school and education in the pandemic been? Were you or are you still supporting your child with online school? Are you already homeschooling or unschooling? How do you think the pandemic has affected your child’s education and learning? Has the pandemic changed the way you think about school?