During the war of July 2006 in Lebanon, I stayed at home for 33 days, like most of the Lebanese. I was 25 years old at that time and I used to work as a PYP teacher in a new candidate school. The start of the academic year was delayed by the ministry of education, and our principal decided that the whole induction week with the teachers will be focussed on “how to deal with the after-war situation, and how to make sure that everyone will have the opportunity to express their feelings and emotions.” The key words of the induction were: well-being and mental health. I had the opportunity to run a mini PD during that week about dealing with our emotions after a trauma.
After the induction week, teachers had to transfer what they experienced during the PD to their students. During the collaborative planning meeting, we decided as a whole team to change unit one and to work on concepts like: emotions, rights, war, conflict resolution, peace, social and emotional health, well-being, trauma. We had to write new central ideas or tweak older ones extensively.
This change led to a very strong start of the academic year, where students and teachers had a chance to express all their hidden emotions before kickstarting the academic year with less fear. During our verification visit the following year, the IB commended our action and how we dealt with this difficult situation within our school community.
Come April 2020 and across the world, we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic, one that has caused many of our schools to temporarily shut down and teachers to teach online. I’m 39 years old now and an international trainer and consultant.
Over the last few weeks, I have been monitoring conversations on various online educator groups. I was surprised to see many educators asking for help on how to teach online units related to solar systems, places we live in, plants and animals and so much more! These discussions provoked a series of questions in my mind:
- Are students living a normal life?
- Can the shift from face-to-face to online learning be seamless? Is this the new norm?
- What if a child’s family member has caught the virus?
- What if a child has limited access to devices or to the internet?
- What if a child’s parents are struggling financially?
The past month has been one of deep reflection for me. I’ve taken a step back and two big questions are constantly on my mind in terms of teaching and learning – what’s happening and why.
As I researched and read up on how teaching can, could, and should change, I made a note of my key takeaways. Before immersing in virtual learning, it is critical that you make sure:
- You and your students are emotionally stable
- Your virtual learning is not the same as your in-school learning
- You have realistic expectations from virtual learning
- You revise the content of the curriculum to be engaging, relevant, significant, and manageable
- Your new timetable is flexible and supports parents
- You are using this teachable / aha moment to educate for life and not just for school
While it is important that you find the right platforms to facilitate remote learning, it is equally key that you make sure your teaching and learning are significant, relevant, engaging, and challenging. Take a step back and revisit your current units to provide space for meaningful action.
Focus on the question – What do we need to teach!
The possibilities are endless when you situate learning in the current authentic context. Ask yourself and your team: What if the whole school decides to work on the same unit with different lines of inquiry? Can we integrate related concepts of health, systems, cause/effect, relationships into our current units? Can we add key concepts of causation, responsibility, and change? Can we provide all students around the world with the opportunity to connect and express their feelings and share their experiences? In our context, it is important to consider the PYP Approaches to Learning, Learner Profile Attributes, and Scope and Sequence.
Below are a few sample central ideas that would lend themselves to be strong units of inquiry during this time:
As educators, it is critical that we are inquirers and risk takers during this time. Take this opportunity to reimagine learning in your remote classrooms in pursuit of authentic agency and action. Let’s not forget the IB mission statement, we are teaching for a better and peaceful world.
Watch Ali share his ideas and strategies here.