In a time of crisis, hidden truths are revealed and what we have learned is that our collective humanity is in trouble. For it to flourish, I hope and believe teachers will play a leading role to create a future that has inclusivity as its foundation.
While watching the recent American presidential debate, I couldn’t help but think that the moderator should have been a kindergarten teacher because he could have used all of the components of Robert Fulghum book “All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. It is a book that speaks about many things, including proper etiquette and behaviors as well as our collective humanity, famously finishing with “ And it is still true, no matter how old you are-when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”
Over the last 150 years, hard earned victories through major societal struggles by “holding hands and sticking together” have happened. Women got the right to vote, we achieved almost universal elementary schooling, LGBTQ2IS+ rights have evolved, polio was eradicated and so much more simply by rallying together. It was painfully slow in many instances. Was the world perfect pre-Covid? Definitely not, many battles were still raging like Black lives Matter, Me Too and the reconciliation movement. The Digital Age was already disrupting society at an incredible pace putting intense pressure on the institutional pillars of democracy, widening the inequity gap and jeopardizing the opportunities for humanity to continue trying to grow and flourish together.
Although these patterns may have begun in the Digital Age, Covid has clearly accelerated and amplified the inequity gap that is growing at an alarming rate, by wreaking havoc in all sectors. The flaws and gaps in all aspects of our societies now lay bare for all to witness and progress has not included everyone, it has not been equitable. The trust in our institutions is gone and that has eroded our dialogue, common decency, and humanity. So, a return to normal is not acceptable. We need to build back better in an inclusive and equitable way.
Make no mistake, wherever you are in the world, progress has gone hand in hand with strong public education, but this progress was not shared throughout society. Therefore, decisions we make in this crisis from a micro to macro level need to address a more equitable and inclusive public education for all students.
- Trust, relationships, and professional autonomy – Trust is the cornerstone of any relationship. The undermining of education and teachers over the last ten years has created the perfect storm in many jurisdictions. You can clearly see the schools that are built on trust/relationships versus the schools that are built on micro-management during this crisis. Professional autonomy is required to resolve the myriad of issues this pandemic has caused. But that requires an environment of trust that takes time to create.
- Teacher Wellness – The workload hasdoubled. Elementary, Middle and High School are all meeting unrealistic demands at the moment such as hours of duty, the health operational plan, students’ needs, digital issues, equity issues, motivational issues not to mention planning for classroom and virtual teaching at the exact same time. Teachers are taxed, overwhelmed and exhausted and we are four weeks in. This combined with navigating the digital issues while becoming a de-facto health care and cleaning professional inside the classroom. This is not sustainable. Teachers need to make their realities known and all solutions should be explored to alleviate the workload and avoid mass burnouts.
- Reinventing ourselves - During the Pandemic, we have been asked to reinvent ourselves: How we build those critical relationships, our pedagogical practice, the logistics, technology, computational thinking, and new health procedures etc. It is like being thrown out the plane and trying to build a parachute with almost nothing there apart from your wits. Teachers know the critical importance of education and are passionate to deliver this most important civil service. This reinvention takes a phenomenal amount of professional development.
- Truth about Technology Myth - While online teaching has been a wonderful bandage during the hemorrhage of Covid19, technology was not able to replace the experience of learning that Ed Tech proponents predicted. Learning is hard work and very personal. So much depends on the trust between student and teacher as well as the autonomy/agency of the student. The timing is critical. Teachers use body language and look into student’s eyes to know when to let them struggle, when to give a hint and when to give the full solution, let alone to know when the content needs to take a back seat to deal with the heightened stress around Social-emotional trauma from isolation, loss of income, food insecurity and loss of loved ones. Technology is a wonderful tool to supplement modern teaching that they did not have in 1918 during the last pandemic, but it is NOT a blanket solution when we build back better. It is a tool.
- Evolving Education - Education must endure but not in the way we were pushed to believe. Public Education has been at the forefront of the world’s evolution over the last 100 to 150 years and it is ready for an upgrade. Covid has highlighted that these changes need to be about closing the equity gap, leveraging ethical technology integration with great pedagogy and building relationships, “Maslow before Bloom”. Interestingly, the first casualty of education during Covid-19 was the temporary sidelining of high stakes standardized testing. Covid has reminded us with abundant clarity what our priorities should be going forward. Standardized testing for accountability measures needs to be replaced by a system built on trust that help kids flourish in all aspects of their lives building on their strengths.
- Collaboration and Trust –The constant attacks on teachers in some jurisdictions have create no win situations. The trust between teachers and government and between teachers and the community have been completely eroded through the politicizing of education for privatization motives. Also, it is obvious that teacher-government relationships is key. The ones who have collaborated together are the ones reporting success so far in this pandemic such as Denmark, Argentina, Scotland and New Zealand. The systems that are struggling are the ones in which trust was eroded through nasty dialogue, public posturing, and politicizing education issues.
- Public Education – No to privatization – We are seeing it creep up with pods for the rich. We are already seeing austerity measures. The privatization of impromptu COVID-POD teaching and widespread amateur charter schools threaten the very fabric of a well-balanced equitable democracy which, in turn, threatens our humanity.
- Equity Gap – The equity gap is the biggest issue keeping our children from learning and reaching their potential. We quickly discovered that in addition to nourishing the hearts and minds of our students with school, school is also a main source of food and many other services. The closure of schools had an impact on more than just curriculum and social-emotional development. Even in wealthy jurisdictions, there is significant social need.
- Internet Connectivity - should be a human right like the right to clean water. Some students and teachers were ready to move to crisis online learning within just a couple of days following school closures because they had connectivity, devices, digital resources, IT savvy teachers, and a capable platform. It became obvious how large a problem inequity in technology really is. Not all families have tech, some live outside of high-speed internet areas, not all teachers have resources or training in using IT solutions, and districts still do not have uniform secure platforms.
- Protect the right to education - We need to protect the integrity of public education. Short-term thinking and short-term decision making are eating away at hard fought rights for our children. Students are being pressured by employers and family to work on days not at school, or not to return at all for many different reasons. Young people feel like they cannot say no because they or their family need the cash. We need to protect the sanctity of our children’s educations.
My hope is that the world learns on World Teachers Day that our collective humanity cannot be taken for granted and that our collective learnings lead us to real inclusive change in education.
On 5 October, Education International marks World Teachers’ Day with a 24-hour virtual broadcast spanning the globe. Teachers everywhere will come together to share what they have learned as a profession and how we can ensure inclusive equitable quality education for all moving forward.
The full programme, featuring teachers from across the globe, as well as Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers of Education, heads of international organisations, famous journalists and scientists, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and many more, is available at >www.5oct.org/programme/>.
The event will be livestreamed across all Education International platforms and you can register here.
All streaming links will be available on the day at >www.5oct.org/watch/>, with interpretation to English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, Russian and Japanese.
Join the global conversation on October 5!