By Dawn Haywood, Deputy CEO and Education Director, Windsor Academy Trust
Out of adversity comes opportunity - Benjamin Franklin
COVID-19 has undoubtedly brought many challenges and struggles and yet through the hardship, we have been courageous, resilient and innovative. Many stars have shone through the darkness and if we harness all that has glowed brightly we will emerge stronger.
We have a unique teachable moment in education if we remember our struggles and triumphs. It is important that, while we are in what Stephen Covey describes as ‘white water’ (preoccupied with the ‘urgent’ and frantically planning for a full reopening of schools in September), we take time to reflect and capture what has gone well in order to build a brighter future.
At Windsor Academy Trust we are creating a COVID-19 journal – with an accompanying short video – including contributions from staff, students and parents about their lessons learned and ideas on how we capitalise on the collective wisdom to create a future of hope and promise.
I am not of the view that education needs a radical overhaul. There is so much about it that is already impressive. I do, however, believe that the way we educate our young people could be significantly enhanced.
A part of the legacy of the disruption caused by COVID-19 could be to bend the curve of educational progression, to create an inflection point where educating the nation’s children is poised for greater things.
We have the opportunity to forge an agile, robust, innovative, honourable and future-focused system that allows the coming generations to flourish.
We hear much about ‘catch-up’ for children that have fallen behind. Yet the very phrase has negative connotations, creating anxieties for the actors in the system. Instead, at Windsor Academy Trust, we are using the more positive narrative of ‘accelerating learning’ – an expedited journey over a period of time.
When we reflect on the children who have thrived through COVID-19 remote education, a common feature is learner self-regulation. Alongside a curriculum that equips our young with knowledge we can intentionally furnish them with learning strategies and skills so that they can navigate their journey. Next academic year the WAT Leaner Rucksack will contain the learning skills of organisation, feedback, becoming unstuck, self-quizzing, collaboration and great talk.
Learning and working through COVID-19 has been powered by technology. In our Trust family, we have embraced online learning through Google Classrooms and live lessons via Google Meet.
As we gather impact evidence we can augment what has worked best with face-to-face learning. A new effective approach to blended learning will emerge and prevail.
James Lane Allen famously said,
adversity does not build character, it reveals it.
We have repeatedly seen how COVID-19 has brought out the best and worst in people, both young and old.
Like many school trusts, we have been intentional about character development, utilising The Jubilee Centre Framework for Character Education in Schools. The Lockdown WAT 50 Character Challenges and the Hope Curriculum have enabled students to ‘learn’ about character virtues and, more importantly, to ‘live’ them. As we move forward we can be more deliberate about how character is ‘taught, caught and sought.’
Children and staff alike have experienced varying levels of COVID-19 induced social dislocation, trauma and impacted mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. We have seen creativity in nurturing the wellbeing of those in our educational family through examples like pastoral Google Classrooms, weekly wellbeing surveys, staff training to support those experiencing trauma, and wellbeing days in the virtual Hope Curriculum. These and other developments must not peter out; they ought to become integral to our advancing education.
Trust leaders around the country will be brimming with pride for their exceptional staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have ‘bubbled-up’, demonstrating hidden talents that we must now maximise and create the conditions for previously unseen talents to surface. We have found new creative online approaches to staff professional learning. Going forward, how and when staff learn and develop will be more fluid and vibrant.
The choppy waters of COVID-19 has required leaders to know what to do when they don’t know what to. We have learned leadership lessons previous generations of educators could not have imagined would be necessary and we have a duty to pass these on. Tim McGraw’s song ‘Humble and Kind’ sums up our duty to future leaders: “When you get where you’re going, don’t forget to turn back around and help the next one in line”.
Parents have learnt the language of learning, through ‘being teachers’ of their own children at home. They have new insights and contributions to make. Moreover, we have opened the door to greater participation and support for their child’s learning aligned to collaboration with their teachers.
Periods of disruption (COVID-19 is, perhaps, the most extreme example) can provide a seed-bed for innovation. The challenges we all have faced during the pandemic have required radical thinking. That solutions were found is proof that creativity can flourish in adversity.
Our role now is to create the culture and climate for innovation to continue to thrive.
School trusts have not just survived COVID-19. We have excelled through the power of collaboration; between staff, schools, school trusts and with wider organisations. COVID-19 has revealed how interdependent the education ecosystem is within education and with other aspects of society. The generosity of collaboration must endure.
The challenges, anxieties and disruption of COVID-19 will live long in our memories. But, ‘lest we forget’ the wonderful things that have also materialised, and harness these to emerge stronger. We have a unique moment in time to impact for the better the learning and lives of the children we serve. That, surely, is a gift.