Right now, we have millions of parents shouldered up to their children trying to help them do school. I’m reading a fair share of both funny and sad accounts of parents who are trying to navigate this new role of surrogate teacher or coach in terms of setting schedules or giving feedback or making the technology work or just getting “coverage”. Frustration levels are high, and my sense is that most parents can’t wait for this to be over and will be happy to send their kids back to school. Not all, but most.
For progressive educators who are looking to this “crisis” as a way to make real change happen in schools, the opportunity right now is not to change practice but to change minds. Now is not the time to figure out what parts of the school experience are truly broken and what we need to create as an alternative. As an old friend reminded me recently, now is about “getting thru,” about making sure that we survive the disruption not just in a curriculum outcomes sense but in a health and wellness sense as well. People are grieving. Forced change like this is stressful to the max. We need to minimize the upset, not create more.
That said, I think all of us would be remiss if we didn’t use this moment to begin to build a different conversation around learning. Again, all these millions of parents in close proximity to their kids, observing “learning” right in front of them. It’s a moment that will be relatively (I hope) short-lived, yet it’s also a moment where we if we seize it, allows us to reflect deeply as school communities about the central commitment that we share for our kids, that they become powerful learners in the world. It’s a moment where we can begin to change the larger story of school.
In other words, now is the time to get meta with parents, students, and teachers about learning. And we can do it in the service of learning about learning. Whether through survey or live Zoom discussions or email or whatever else, right now is when we need to be asking these questions and engaging in these conversations:
- When is your child most engaged with their online school experience? Why? What drives that engagement?
- When is your child bored or disengaged? Why?
- When do your children feel joy in learning? What circumstances lead to that?
- What are you learning about your children during this experience? How does that learning happen?
- How are your children’s learning skills improving during this time? What’s changing about them as learners?
I’m sure there are others, and we can vary them for the audience, but you get the idea. We can collect and share these answers at the appropriate time as a way of sparking a larger conversation about what learning really is, what aspects of school really aren’t working, and how we can bring more joy and love of learning to “real” school moving forward. And it would be a spark built on our personal, collective experience as qualitative researchers asking relevant, important questions about our kids.
Let me say it again: we need to do this work now. I really believe this is the real opportunity of this crisis for those who have been itching to reimagine school. Real change has to start with a community-wide, shared understanding of what learning actually is, how it happens, and what constrains it. This moment, when so many families are huddled inside together trying to make sense of school, we can be creating a powerful conversation about learning that will serve us all when we’re done “getting thru.”