Amid all of the conversation and consternation about school this year — will it be a lost year, for whom, and in what ways? — I have been trying turn the dial down on panic and up on calm. That’s not easy to do, especially when my own child tells me that she is starting to hate what she used to love – but I’m trying.
Without a doubt, we are experiencing loss. Things we have always expected of the school year – familiar cadences of morning and evening, gatherings and leave-takings, concerns and certainties – and of life in general have suddenly shifted, changed, or disappeared. Still, we are in a time of intense learning, with no chance that we will be less intelligent or ready for the future when this moment of seismic change is normalized or comes to an end.
As a personal and professional north star this fall, I have been focusing on a single question: what do we really need to learn, and in order to learn?
Three things stand out to me:
- What we really need to learn is who we are right now. For young learners, this might look like knowing how to ask for help while practicing taking on challenges by ourselves rather than wait for help. For lifelong learners, this might look like letting go of how we have always done things and throwing ourselves into discomfort. Who we are right now is different from who we have always been because what we are living through is different from what we prepared for. Right now I am more parent than professional, more student than teacher. Knowing who I am right now helps me to be more adaptive than I ever thought possible.
- What we really need to learn is how to communicate effectively with other people – those we know and those we don’t know – from a distance. For young learners, this might look like following and watching other people online and creating and sharing into those online spaces, whether virtual classrooms, social media feeds, or other digital sharing platforms. For lifelong learners, this might look like overhauling our schedules to hold time for 1-1 and small group virtual meetings and to watch, create, and share digital content. Knowing how to communicate with people I do and don’t know over digital channels, the phone, and from a safe distance helps me to feel connected at a moment of extreme physical disconnect, which is critical to #3.
- What we really need in order to learn is still, as it always has been and always will be, other people. For young learners, this might look like reaching out beyond known groups of friends to see and invite the previously unknown in our schools and social networks to play and to talk. For lifelong learners, this might look like intentionally joining conversations, political action committees, and public discourse whereas in the past, with our local and familiar networks still intact, we never had the time or the will.
There are obviously many more things we need to learn — how to read, write, speak, compute, problem solve — and in order to learn — safety, nourishment, access, equity, feedback — but for me, these things flow from the fundamentals listed above.
It has been six months since COVID-19 shut the world down and disrupted everyday life. The disruption has upended too many things to list here. But it has also ushered in an era of intense clarity about what matters most for learners of all ages and catalyzed us to invest and reinvest in our greatest source of learning: each other.