“Together shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.” --Klaus Schwaab, World Economic Forum-
In some ways, we have been catapulted forward 20 years. We had envisioned a future in which technology was a silver-bullet, having transformed our lives and our planet for the better. But we are now realizing that our vision was an overly optimistic one particularly as we think about the use of technology in education. It has its place, but it is only one of many important tools that help teachers enhance the learning of their students. The disappearance of the physical structure of the school has revealed the true roles that those buildings, and the professionals who work within them, play in our communities. Technology has not yet closed the massive inequity gaps that exist across our societies. Now they lay bare, like gaping wounds.
So, we have a choice during these Covid19 School closures. We can keep putting band-aids back on our schools or we can use this time to finally address the major issues within our educational systems.
We have many major issues within our educational systems, but the two we will concentrate on is bridging the inequity gap (which is a society issue) and empowering for true/trusted teacher leadership.
We are only starting to comprehend the wide-scale impact of Covid19 on society. It has impacted every institution and organization at every level of every country. Our government leaders and bureaucrats are dealing with the immediate health crisis as best they can. Unprecedented, massive economic relief efforts are underway to try to mitigate the draining financial impact in many other areas of society. Without a doubt, the evidence of dramatic changes is all around us.
Pre-Pandemic, the Fourth Industrial Revolution was already changing our lives at an exponential rate. Winners and losers were already becoming apparent in this technological revolution. Like Covid19, it too was drastically affecting our governments, businesses and civil society.
In education, the pressures of these new advancements in technology, constant reforms, attacks on the profession of teaching and quick fix measures were already impacting our schools and students.
Covid19 has revealed the incredibly important roles that schools and teachers play in our societies. It has shown that technology, AI and online-learning cannot alone be responsible for transforming our educational systems. It is not just overly optimistic, it is unrealistic. It has reinforced the knowledge that we do need major reforms, but that it’s not just educational reform. Removing the schools have revealed the need for social reforms that will close the inequity gaps. The pendulum, that had been pushed towards specific standardized test scores and budgetary bottom lines, must be re-centered and now is the time to do it, before we lose sight of the enormous benefits to society of a fair and equitable education or all.
I have grave concerns that in a desire to put this nightmare behind us as quickly as possible, governments and education systems will be unmoved by what has been revealed. The ugliness of the gaping wound will be covered with yet another few band-aids, because they are cheap and easy to apply. If only they would see that now is the time to pause, to take note of what Covid19 has done. It has further exposed a truth that we have already seen in these early stages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, that there are losers. Now is the time to invest in a new educational system, one in which the root causes of the gaps are addressed. Teachers need to be listened to. They require solidarity, support and collaboration with all stakeholders. It is our children’s teachers who see little human beings behind the computer screens as they try to recreate their classrooms online. And these little humans deserve to have their needs met. They have a right to a fair and equitable education.
But we could have a vastly different future, a future that could see teachers be truly trusted to lead with the educational system in-service of our classrooms instead of dictating to our classrooms.
Teachers, as they physically distance from their students and each other, have double-down on their social networks to spread innovations in teaching and learning as well as family engagement. It is time for school systems, worldwide, to capitalize on and serve the kind of teacher leadership needed to place students at the center of their learning.
In our policy paper, Barnett, Ben and I call for three waves of action – The Now, The Dance (part past/part future) and The Transformation. Here are our recommendations:
The Now: We must begin by strengthening existing systems of teacher leadership — identifying how teachers are leading and recognizing them in any number of ways. School system leaders will serve a very important role in helping teachers spread their expertise and have their evidence-based stories inform colleagues as well as parents and policy leaders.
1. Administrators conduct online surveys to document how teachers innovated in the time of school closures.
2. Schools offer teachers opportunities to create new programs to address social-emotional as well as academic needs of students as they return to school.
3. Governments improve internet access and ensures every child and family has access to hardware, software, and broadband needed to participate fully with educators.
The Dance: Educators will rethink people and programs and accelerate the development of learning teams that are inquiry-driven and spurred by the spread of affinity networks.
4. School systems create and operationalize teacher leadership standards and formally recognize how classroom practitioners spread their expertise to each other.
5. School system reallocate time and teaching schedules and calendars in order to increase teacher-led inquiry- up to 10 hours a week to drive action and innovations.
6. School systems use teacher leaders to reinvent assessment, and transcend current standardized testing for sorting and grading to pivot toward more useful, improvement-oriented accountability system.
The Transformation: A pre-primary-to-higher education system is unified with other community-based organizations, offering physical and social-emotional health supports, afterschool programs, and workforce development training as school schedules and calendars are overhauledso teachers can teach as well as lead.
7. Government offers incentives to harness cross-sector learning teams to build networks of pre-primary, primary, secondary school, university, community and technical college, and other professionals that center brick and mortar schools as hubs of their communities;
8. School systems recognize teacher leadership, through compensation and workplace conditions, as central to creating a coherent system of teaching, learning, and caring; and
9. Government support alignment of resources for cross-sectoral partnerships that use data, evidence, and technology to support a seamless Birth to School to Career strategy.
COVID-19 has made painfully clear: Public schools everywhere face a future of rapid change, intensifying complexity, and growing uncertainty. It is time for us to connect, learn, and lead together with teachers being empowered at the forefront of the transformation.
Note: This article is one of three excerpts from “Teacher Leadership in the Aftermath of a Pandemic: The Now, The Dance, The Transformation”, by Barnett Berry, Armand Doucet, and Ben Owens. You can read the other two here: “Teacher Leadership in the Aftermath of a Pandemic #1: Taking stock”, by Ben Owens and “Teacher Leadership in the Aftermath of a Pandemic #2: Learning lessons”, by Barnett Berry.