Edjacent note: This post was written by Edjacent fan and early supporter Chris Jacobs just days into the pandemic. Chris has since started his own writing venture on Substack, where he and his wife write about their travels. You can also learn a lot about Chris as an educator by following him at @chrisjacobsGRHS.
I am currently the co-founder and lead teacher of the Green Run High School Innovation Lab (iLab) at Green Run High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The iLab is a disruptive public school program focused on social and emotional learning, interdisciplinary learning, and learning expeditions. You can find a day to day history of our program for the past three years on Twitter @GRHSiLab. I am also a 25-year veteran traditional classroom teacher. Additionally, I was a Virtual Virginia Beach online instructor and online teacher trainer for many years.
In the grips of this horrific global pandemic, if we can survive through worldwide disciplined mitigation and suppression efforts, we will have an opportunity in the days, months, and years ahead to radically alter education, learning, and the lives of millions of students, teachers, and parents. It is mind boggling to think about how much our world has already changed in such a short period of time. Just last Friday feels like a lifetime ago. Massive events like we are experiencing occur periodically throughout human history and often lead to INNOVATIVE changes to our way of life, our thinking, and how our societies, governments, and economies are structured.
We will have much time in the days ahead to brainstorm, model, dream, and create new ways of learning outside of traditional school buildings, structures, and routines. We will also see unprecedented opportunities for students, teachers, and parents to use their creativity in ways previously unseen or unimagined in our systems of public education. The coronavirus pandemic will give speed and power to reimagining so much about life and education.
Here are a couple of early thoughts I’d like to share as we start this reimagining process.
Immediate (now and for the next 18 months)
ENABLE TEACHERS TO KEEP THEIR CURRENT STUDENTS THROUGH THE END OF THE YEAR THIS YEAR AND INTO THE NEXT SCHOOL YEAR IN AS MANY GRADES AND COURSES AS POSSIBLE.
In the immediate short term and particularly after the initial newness of the online learning experience wears off, productive online education may be tough to sustain. Online learning has not proven to be effective for many different types of learners and for multiple reasons; however, for the next 18 months it may be all we have to utilize. We will need to make the best of it!
Relationships are very hard to build and sustain through online learning alone. One crucial way we can harness the power of relationships and continue to build community while living in relative isolation and using online platforms, is to keep our current students through the end of this year and into next year in as many grades and courses as possible with the same teacher.
It will be much easier to have teachers of all grades and subjects learn the material of the next grade or course and migrate up together if we are still largely confined to our houses and neighborhoods. This works easiest at the elementary school level. At the middle and high school levels, it may not work in all situations but will for most core subjects and progressions. It also may require the state to provide waivers for teacher credentialing.
In the Innovation Lab at Green Run High School, we have been successful with a version of this model. Our 9th graders take Oceanography with one science teacher and the same cohort of students; then, they take Environmental Science with the same teacher and cohort of students as 10th graders. The same cohort of students takes English 9 Honors with one teacher, then English 10 Honors, and English 11 Honors with the same teacher and students. Our 9th graders take World Geography with one teacher then matriculate with their classmates and teacher to Virginia and U.S. Government in 10th grade, and Virginia and U.S. History in 11th grade. The close relationships developed over time are the ties that bind us together and make accountability, support, and learning easier to sustain and develop further.
In these stressful times, previously established teacher/student and student/student relationships could prove crucial to our teachers and students social and emotional well-being and to higher levels of success in an online learning environment.
Brainstorming Long Term Ideas (Post Pandemic)
STUDENTS SHOULD NEVER SIT IN DESKS ALL DAY LONG EVER AGAIN!
School buildings and school routines should never be used the same again either! 😊 We should never again force every student to come to school at the same time. At the high school level, students could sleep in, complete much of their work at home online, and come to school for additional 1:1 instruction, counseling, physical activities, and extra-curricular activities. School buildings should be used in completely different ways! Classrooms should be set up for student choices. Want to learn about coding for the next 4 weeks? Go to room 118 with Mr. Jones from 1:00-2:30. Want to study film making from the 1950’s? Sign up for Mrs. DeSarro’s class in room 120 from 3:00-4:30 MWF. The possibilities will be endless.
After the pandemic passes, if we go back to what we were doing before, it will be a tragedy.
It feels like we were in a prison for decades and we have only been free for less than a week! If this idea is too much change for schools…
ESTABLISH A 4-DAY TRADITIONAL WEEK WITH A 5TH DAY FOR ONLINE LEARNING AND INTERNSHIPS.
Traditional schooling is about controlling large numbers of students. It is about confining and corralling people. It is about set times, routines, and bell changes. The amount of creativity and curiosity being expressed in the first week of the pandemic due to the unshackling of teachers, students, and parents is incredible. Set students and teachers free! A four day traditional week with every Friday being used for online learning options, school conferencing, and major activities currently held at night or on Saturdays, should be an easy sell after the pandemic passes! Do you know what teachers and students could do with only half the students in the building at a time on Fridays? Fridays could see some students working from home, some at internships, some playing intramural sports at school, some working…
Again, the possibilities are endless!
Chris Jacobs M.A. in Education and Human Development, The George Washington University Ed.S. in Educational Leadership, Old Dominion University