school buses lined up

Kids are now on their own. This is what each of us as educators strive for – for our students to be able to learn on their own, to be self-directed, and to grow based on their time with us. And yet, this situation is very difficult.

There will be a period of adjustment. This period is sometimes known as “deschooling,” and it is a process that most of us are facing as well. Structure has been destabilized and removed altogether.  We may have our own ways of creating a new structure, but those are guidelines at best now that there are no school bells, lunch schedules, bus duty, or meetings.

For some of us, the period of adjustment is short and brief. We flow more easily into a less organized and less structured routine. For others, the period of adjustment is long and difficult.  We may notice it as binge-watching shows, spending more time on hobbies, and just plain finding new ways to use all of the time we have at home.

This adjustment period is not one-size-fits-all.  Give yourself grace, give your colleagues grace, and give students grace. We are all currently moving from a hierarchical management structure to one that is much more organic. The current crisis has called for that, so our understanding of school may have to change to match. There are examples out there to guide us, such as the Free School Movement and the Summerhill School, among others.

John Bremer from the Parkway Program in Philadelphia stated: “Learning is not something that goes on only in special places called classrooms, or in special buildings called schools; rather, it is a quality of life appropriate to any and every phase of human existence, or more strictly, it is human life itself.”

Schools that function in the Free School Movement had (and have) philosophies centered on the person first. Their ideologies operate consistently “on the basis of personal encounter, dealing with our feelings as they emerged, working through our differences, and confronting our angers, fears, frustrations, and joys. … The style which developed permitted no easy refuge in the theories, abstract commitments, or rules, but demanded personal and fairly constant contact.”

Learning occurs every day. And we all learn based on our experiences, circumstances, surroundings, and interests. This is a great time to guide the school community toward a more organic approach to learning. Facilitate conversations about life, and what is going on in lives.

Give space for those connections, and let academics flow with it. As we all get more comfortable with remote learning and with less structure, there is a great opportunity to build students’ skills towards inquiry, reflection, critique, and communication. There is great opportunity to play off of students’ newfound interest or hobbies at home or different things they discover throughout each day.  Ask questions to promote further interest and individual learning and ask for reports back.

John Dewey, a century ago, stated: “Education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.”

As times have forced us to change, we are still educators. Check in on student lives, give them and yourself grace to adjust to this new process, and then jump when the opportunity provides itself to get a student to dig further into their own interests.

For more COVID-19 support and resources for school leaders, please visit our blog page devoted to this topic.

The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.