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A TIME TO REFOCUS

For many, 2020 heralded in a new beginning, the dawn of a new decade with so many exciting possibilities on the horizon. Fast forward four months and the world of 2019 seems a distant memory as COVID-19 changes our world for the foreseeable future.

Many families have been separated due to border restrictions; others are confined to their homes. Working from home is the new “normal” as is learning in an “online environment”. This scenario where isolation from family, friends and colleagues is counter-cultural in our relationship-centred world, we can still find comfort in the simple things of life, cooking a nice meal, reading a good book or listening to some of our favourite pieces of music. These acts of normalcy are important in times of change, particularly change of this magnitude.

The concept of change is one many people find confronting and while many of our younger generations have grown up in a time of constant change, they have not lived through war, economic depression and recessions, civil rights movements or the fight for gender equality that many of us have. For them COVID-19 presents new questions and challenges we are yet to discover or overcome. This is true for all of us as the last few months have shown.

Despite this, I have found most of our students very adept at taking these changes in their stride.

St Stephen’s School moved to an online mode of instruction a few weeks before the end of Term 1. This was to ensure the continuity of our teaching and learning program and to ensure the idea of “physical distance” could be better enforced, as per the government’s instructions. While online learning is not a new concept, shifting the curriculum to be delivered entirely online is something most schools have not adopted in the past.

A change in delivery and the pace of that change would usually take meticulous planning and testing. Given the current education landscape and the need for agility in a short timeframe, the likelihood for small disruptions or delays are very probable. As we continue to navigate how best to engage with students of various ages and digital abilities, I have been impressed by how well both staff and students have adapted.

Good teaching and learning practice requires connection and a sense of belonging. Working online has seen the connections between members of the school community evolve. People have been quick to offer help, send their best wishes and some parents have even cooked lunches as a thank you to staff for being calm and consistent for students at this time.

A few of the tools staff are using in their online environment to ensure engagement and motivation have been: creating interactive videos, students catching up for virtual ‘recess’ time, a focus on self-care and sharing tips on how to make the most out of every situation. As a leader, I have been privileged to witness a sense of camaraderie amongst our school community in a time of uncertainty and change.

We are lucky to live in a world where quality, personalised education can continue in such circumstances. I believe our focus on imparting what we know as ‘21st Century skills’ in recent years, such as critical thinking, agility, communication and innovation, have better prepared students to tackle this new “frontier”. Teaching our students on how to best handle change, and even thrive from it, will set them up for the future, no matter where that future leads them.

The months ahead will see all of us undertake a journey of self-discovery, learning how we tackle change and what we learn from it. In terms of education, we have the opportunity to rethink what we do as educators once “normality” re-emerges. Perhaps some of what we discover will change the way we instruct our students on a daily basis.

I write this in the spirit of hope that while 2020 may not have turned out as we all expected, it has presented itself as a lesson about connection, care and community with the promise of a new tomorrow.

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