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Global Focus: Lessons learned from school closures in China

By Sandra Chow
June 24, 2020
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In January, the coronavirus reached a critical point in China and many schools were forced to close without notice. Having learned from the previous SARS outbreak and H1N1, schools put plans in motion for learning to continue despite school closures.

In a movement now familiar to schools worldwide, online learning plans material­ized within days. Edtech and digital coaches scrambled to create resources, training videos and infographics to support teachers and students for what would soon become a longer-term experiment. Administrators communicated their best-laid plans with parents, teachers and students.

What became evident as this unfolded in China was that schools were more equipped than ever to allow business to run as usual even when school facilities are closed. 

A few months later, schools around the world took the same steps we did. The ex­perience led me to wonder what we might learn from schools’ response to COVID-19 to prepare ourselves for similar events in the future.

Here are our key takeaways:  

Be purpose-driven. When Keystone Academy in Beijing first began classes online, our purpose was simple: Continue to provide learning opportunities for our students through a remote and digital en­vironment. We were in survival mode, and this purpose helped us to quickly make deci­sions about technology distribution, plan for training and communicate our next steps to our learning community. 

As online learning days stretched into months, we found our purpose calibrat­ing back to our school mission, values and definition of learning. We prioritized based on the core principles of our school. Our learning embraced inquiry and real-life con­nections, we emphasized character develop­ment through online interactions, designed assessments with process and feedback in mind, and celebrated and encouraged ser­vice learning.

Remembering your purpose gives you focus and guidance when your team needs to make tough decisions. As a community, it’s important that we always steer each other to­ward our students and their learning. That’s our calling as educators.

Practice the art of simplicity. As we quickly learned, it’s easy to over-complicate plans, lessons and assessments, but sim-plicity is best. Stick with resources everyone is already familiar with and use them well. More tools do not equal more – or better – learning.

We found it was best to choose one tool that was an anchor and method of commu­nication (e.g. email, LMS, Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, Seesaw). This allowed us to build flexibility for adventurous and pioneering educators, while allowing the majority of staff and students to focus on developing skills with one technology. 

Simplicity also came into play with scheduling and workload. Because students didn’t have as much help or the same tech re­sources they had in school, everything they were doing took two or three times longer. In a classroom setting, teachers adjust their lessons as they observe students’ progress and reactions; this was more challenging in an online environment. But by planning shorter scaffolded lessons that allowed for feedback, students felt successful without becoming overwhelmed.

Choose kindness. A last key lesson: A little bit of kindness goes a long way, and it starts with being kind to yourself.  

As all educators can now attest, during school closures, it felt like time was working against us and that everything needed to be polished and completed yesterday. But when we gave ourselves permission to let go of perfection, many things worked out fine. 

This also applied to the time spent experimenting with new applications, learning new skills and exploring new meth­odologies of teaching. Sometimes the tech cooperated and plans worked. Sometimes it failed and we adjusted. 

Either way, we should celebrate our growth. 

Sandra Chow is the director of innovation and digital learning at Keystone Academy in Beijing, China.