"Times have changed. Our world has changed. Our jobs have changed. Just as jobs have evolved over the last 200 yers, so have the skills needed to thrive in a rapidly changing, complex world. Researchers agree that young people are going to need a wide range of skills to succeed in today's rapidly changing world - beyond just reading, writing, and arithmetic." - People for Education 2020/21 Research Report 'The New Basics' Canada
"Future-ready students need to exercise agency, in their own education and throughout life. Agency implies a sense of responsibility to participate in the world and, in so doing, to influence people, events and circumstances for the better. Agency requires the ability to frame a guiding purpose and identify actions to achieve a goal.
"To help enable agency, educators must not only recognise learners’ individuality, but also acknowledge the wider set of relationships – with their teachers, peers, families and communities – that influence their learning. A concept underlying the learning framework is “co-agency” – the interactive, mutually supportive relationships that help learners to progress towards their valued goals. In this context, everyone should be considered a learner, not only students but also teachers, school managers, parents and communities." - OECD 2020/21 Report: The Future of Education and Skills - Education 2030
One of the most challenging aspects of entering a third school year impacted by the pandemic is trying to stay aware of the future our students are still going to enter regardless of the implications and impact on learning that the pandemic might deposit in their lives, their feelings, their belief systems, their memories.
It is so urgent to keep the students safe from viral transmissions - especially in this fourth wave of variants with child-age vaccines so tantalizingly imminent in our future.
It is so urgent to remember they are learning for a lifetime, not just for this time of pandemic, and continue to lay a foundation of skills, understandings, ways of thinking that will need to serve them effectively in their very near future as well.
It is so urgent to sustain their opportunities to interact with others, to acknowledge 'their wider set of relationships' that influence their learning in so many positive ways, and open up the world for them to see, experience and learn.
It is so urgent to reduce their circle of contacts, to trace any transmissions, to isolate or quarantine, to keep them safe.
The balancing act of these dilemmas have not diminished through the three years of learning impacted by the pandemic. We have been online, we have been in person. We have masked and cohorted and been more virtual in our teaching and learning, our celebrating and sharing, than even the most forward-thinking educator might have ever envisioned for the years 2019-2020-2021.
We have also sought strategies to keep our learners connected with each other, to focus on the learning, to remember the pandemic will fade one day but their need for skills, understandings, relationships, innovation, communicating and especially reading, writing and mathematical thinking will only proliferate, not diminish.
Every day educators around the world - as well as in our school - face the dilemmas of pandemic learning and try to find a way to creatively, virtually, in-person, in writing, in video, in action encourage and support students advancing their learning skills, improving their understandings, developing their skills.
We seek a balancing point, a way to honour both intimidating demands - learn and be healthy; be healthy and learn. We share this balancing act with our families every day too as they attempt to make their best decisions about keeping children safe and keeping them learning as well.
Three school years - for some of our students, their entire academic career - have been interrupted, changed, disturbed, re-written, limited or enhanced by a pandemic situation no one in the world seemed to anticipate or be prepared for - even now, well into the third year of impact.
Yet their life stories continue, their thirst to learn, to connect, to engage in developing their own agency - their own abilities to identify purpose in life and in learning, and to know how to move forward to achieve their goals remains tantalizingly fresh and real despite the discouraging spectre of the pandemic. And, as educators and as families, we must find ways to nurture that zest for life, that love of learning even as we try to find the metaphoric 'bubble wrap' needed to keep them all healthy and safe until learning in it's truest formats are completely accessible again.
They are learning from this pandemic too - learning to be resilient and flexible, learning to care for the common good, learning healthy strategies that will continue to carry them through life long after the pandemic threat has retreated to the history books. They are learning to be responsive to the situation, to communicate as clearly as possible, that big problems have multiple layers of possible solutions. That they can be part of the solution, not just intimidated by the problem. That something as small as a mask and as easy as hand washing can be a safety precaution, just as much as a helmet or a seatbelt might be in different circumstances.
These are not easy days and they seem to be becoming more challenging as each day passes. They are not easy days for our children either - the past two years of pandemic influences have clearly shown us the emotional toll, the mental-wellbeing exhaustion, the frustration and reduced interactions with each other have a significant impact on our children. They worry, they get weary, they forget what the world was and imagining what could be becomes a much-reduced possibility as they consider possibilities within a framework that has primarily offered them restrictions for as long as they can remember.
Yet they are our future.
Our children will need to be the changemakers that anticipate and are better prepared for world events like a pandemic in the years to come. They will need to imagine possibilities for interrupting climate change, restoring hope and peace in a world that has been tilted for a great deal of their lives. And we, as educators and families, must be prepared to somehow continually nudge their learning while trying to find ways to keep them physically safe.
Such are the dilemmas of the pandemic - those that lead to sleep-interrupted nights, endless discussions as we puzzle through possibilities and weigh them from both points of view - the learning lens and the safety lens, trying to make best possible learning decisions for students in a world that has not known appropriate, spontaneous learning in many, many months.
At EHS our goal is to continue to let the children lead the way, to keep as many avenues of learning and communication and relationship open as possible with safe learning continually holding fast as our first lens of consideration.
An impossible task in an impossible time - yet we will persevere and be patient with a world that is not as familiar, not as comfortable, not as inviting as it was just three short years ago.
Because we know this, too, shall pass.
And the children will grow, create, innovate and change the world for the better. These children who are learning resilience, flexibility, shifting perspectives and learning platforms while wearing masks and balancing hula hoops - they are still finding ways to laugh and share and ask questions every single day.
Dilemmas still yield the future. And the future is always full of promise and possibility.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal, Eric Harvie School