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Part 2: Taekwondo as Lesson Study

ICYMI: The original post, Part 1: Taekwondo as Lesson Study can be found here:

You know that joke we’re all making about not knowing what day (or month or season) it is during quarantine? In our family, one of the few things that has kept us on track is virtual Taekwondo.

Schools closed in our town on March 13. On the morning of Saturday, March 14, our kids attended their last in-person Taekwondo class. The dojo was closed the week of March 16, but taekwondo was not cancelled: immediately, Master Park and his instructors posted video “challenges” on Facebook and reminded the students to check the form and kicking combination videos that are always available for their belts through an app for the school.

We learned halfway through the week of March 23 that schools would be closed in our state for the remainder of the school year. While the school system scrambled to figure out what online learning would look like, World Champion Taekwondo quickly set up a Google Classroom where kids could watch instructor videos and submit their own “work” (recordings of them copying the technique) specific to their belts and receive feedback. They also included a “challenge zone” for kids to submit for prizes, including one memorable challenge where the kids had to hold a particular kick pose while balancing a roll of toilet paper on their leg!

By March 30, the dojo had completely converted to remote learning classes via Zoom. I learned about Zoom breakout rooms from Taekwondo, long before I was experiencing them in my professional world. The schedule was posted on Google Classroom, we signed up via Signup Genius, and classes met 3-4 times per week, focusing on kicking, form, and fitness. By the next week, private lessons were also offered by recommendation for students needed additional support.

In early April, a family class was added on Saturdays. Every Saturday my husband and I would join our sons in a fun family class that allowed them to practice their sparring with a partner and helped us gain a better understanding of what the kids were expected to do, subtly training us in the techniques the instructors use seamlessly during in-person classes.

Both of my sons took their belt tests via Zoom. The school adapted the practices they used in person to a testing environment online that exactly simulated an in-person experience. We picked up new belts using social distancing precautions. They even posted a parent tutorial to show us how to hold the board that students break! (I am remedial in this skill, despite their best efforts - this picture from the school’s Facebook page shows a much more skilled parent!)

By the end of April, the school sent out a survey with a variety of reopening scenarios for parents to give feedback on. We continued with virtual classes through May, but in early June the school added an outdoor in-person class once a week. They used a parking lot behind the school, gave each kid their own mat, and followed strict procedures for cleanliness and distancing. A week after outdoor classes opened, a thunderstorm forced class inside and an immediate procedure for separating shoes, checking temperatures, and dropping off of students was implemented.

The kids are now back to in-person class twice a week, with virtual options four days a week. Families can determine their comfort level with returning. Class is limited to 1/4 of the participants normally in class. Bathrooms and water fountains are closed. Parents stay in their cars instead of spectating. Other than the temperature check at the opening of class, we have almost returned to “normal,” with safety procedures in place that my sons barely notice. They are just thrilled to be back!

What does this mean for public schools? As I read hundreds of pages of re-entry plans, listen to and read as colleagues talk about what is happening in their home districts, and face questions from neighbors and friends, I can’t help but think about Taekwondo and their week by week responsiveness. Here are some takeaways:

1. We never know what is coming next, so no promises are made from week to week. Each week the leadership of the school determines what will be best moving forward, based on their experiences from the previous week, constant feedback from the students and their parents, and what is happening in the world. While this may not be possible at the school district level, I cannot help but wonder:

What if individual schools were given decision-making power for procedures like drop off, pick up, schedules throughout the day and classroom setup?

2. Families have options based on their own circumstances and level of comfort. Options for in person and virtual classes are always available and we decide our own combination of three lessons a week from a wide variety of options. We never feel pressured toward a “correct” path, but we pick what works best for us and it can change from week to week.

What if schools provided a variety of blended learning options and families could pick from among those options, based on their individual circumstances, instead of creating districtwide plans designed for everyone but helping no one?

3. Technology tools are used for two reasons: efficiency and the familiarity of routine. The school balances between responsiveness to new needs as conditions change and keeping a consistent schedule so there are not a lot of questions from week to week. Both students enrolled in the same school use the same rules and routines, but the procedures are not rigid. They are carefully considered for their viability from week to week.

What if schools chose a consistent set of tools to use well and master, but still evaluated from week to week if they are the best tools to get the job done and gave clear rationale when a tool was changed?

4. Evaluation and assessment principles remain unchanged despite new delivery methods and conditions for learning. Students are still evaluated based on the same criteria as before, but the method of delivery has changed. Instructors changed their pace and delivery, but not their high expectations for real-world application of skills and content.

What if schools used this opportunity to deeply evaluate what they value in terms of assessment and find ways to communicate and deploy meaningful assessment, even in a remote environment, to ensure steady progress for all students?

5. Parents are partners. From formal instruments like surveys to informal conversations, parents are trusted and supported by the dojo. Specific meetings and training were deployed, but also subtle gestures such as a family class and asking parents questions throughout lessons, especially private lessons, provides a sense of partnership and shared value.

What if schools leaned into supporting parents as partners, not only recognizing their concerns and needs in terms of childcare, but also as long term allies in the quest to educate our students? What could this look like in the short and long term?

In summary, our Taekwondo studio has adapted their successful structure in a remote and blended environment. They stayed true to their core values and developed a strong sense of routine and shared understanding prior to the closure so that business can continue as usual, despite the changes in delivery. While most of the suggestions I make here are happening in some form or fashion across school districts, I have high hopes we will move beyond rhetoric and put procedures in place that benefit the most important “customers” of our schools: students and their families.


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