Distance Learning and changes on teaching

September 22, 2020

Following one of my recent grade-level parent meetings, a parent asked me how teachers have changed their instructional approach due to Distance Learning.

This struck me as both a simple and yet very complex question, which drew my mind back more than 20 years, when I was working on implementing significant program changes in a large school district in Washington state as part of the overall trend in school reform. At the time, we focused on differentiating between first-order and second-order changes. Many schools in the United States had a history of reforming schools without improving schools.

First-order changes were made, but second-order changes did not necessarily occur. For example, schools would focus on reducing class size (a first-order change), with the hope that this would lead to greater differentiation and higher student achievement (a second-order change). Another example was a shift to longer 90-minute teaching blocks (another first-order change), in order to create collaborative ownership of learning (a second-order change).

Fast forward to our current situation in 2020 and the Distance Learning program we have in place. Is this a first-order change or a second-order change? It is initially a first-order change, required within the context of a pandemic that forced campuses to close. It is a strategy that has been put in place to ensure students can continue to access learning and teachers can continue to provide instruction.

But is the Distance Learning program leading to second-order change or an expanded philosophy of teaching and learning? My initial response would be “not necessarily”. All of us have been so focused on adapting to the nuts and bolts of Distance Learning, using Google Meet or Zoom, having cameras on and microphones muted, educating ourselves on tech options out there or online curriculum, recording lessons on Seesaw, etc., that we have had little time to pause and reflect.

However, educators and researchers around the world are beginning to engage in a collective reflection about this new context of learning, and one summary of this reflection is captured in the introduction to a recent publication, entitled The Distance Learning Playbook, Grades K-12: “Distance Learning is not an accelerator. It’s also not negative. That means the setting isn’t the deciding factor,” or, in other words, “What we do matters, not the medium for doing it”.

At EARJ, the expectation for teachers, regardless of the medium, is that they are able to differentiate for students, create purposeful engagement, with high quality planning, and meaningful use of educational technology. This expectation has not changed due to distance learning. Teachers and students, alike, however, have had to blaze new trails in working together online, offline, through email, chats, and posts, regardless of grade level.

In many ways, learning has changed more than teaching through the distance format. This experience has highlighted the importance of the attributes of the IB Learner Profile (details at this link) that we want to develop in all of our students. For example, engaging in inquiry, which includes knowing “how to learn independently and with others,” or communicating, which includes expressing “ourselves confidently, creatively, in more than one language, and in many ways,” or being risk-takers, who “work independently and cooperatively to explore new ideas and innovative strategies and are resourceful and resilient in the face of challenges and change”.

EARJ students have been compelled through distance learning to develop these attributes in order to learn in this context, and, for many, they are beginning to lead the way to finding their path!

Howard De Leeuw
Gávea Upper School Principal

Big Little Things

September 15, 2020

I recently heard a story about a young man who was taking an internship in the commercial area of a company. He really liked working there and learning about the business. The deals were very technical and would take weeks (sometimes months) to be closed. But every time someone in the team closed a deal, he/she would go to an old bell placed in the office to proudly ring it, under the “Bravo” words from the rest of the team.

Sadly, he was not able to manage both internship and academic responsibilities, and after a while he had to leave to focus on his studies. When he was saying goodbye to the team, he asked if he could ring the bell one last time, which he did, leaving the office in tears right after.

This story made me think about small motivations, little gestures, life expressions that help us build our character, that push us forward or at least help us go through difficult situations. Not rocket science, just popular sayings, traditions, either things that pass through generations, are part of a team celebration or just lines we randomly hear in a movie that stick to our heads throughout our journey, sending gentle reminders about values or even about goals we want to reach.

And how can we as parents influence these sayings or traditions in our kids, no matter if they are a “give me five”, lines of a poem or a bell ringing? 

I still remember when I was 11 and my grandfather asked me to read him the poem “If”, by Rudyard Kipling, explaining to me every line as I read; it has certainly guided me in many moments of my life and made me proud of myself everytime I followed Kipling’s/my grandfather’s advice. But what about Cinderella’s mom saying “Have courage and be kind”, or Thumper’s line on Bambi ” if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”?

What about the memories of our parents or our teachers recognizing our accomplishments, making us feel so proud inside we could explode of happiness? What was the weight that these simple words and celebrations had on the person I became, and values that pushed me to follow my dreams in life?

So, here’s a thing: in case you have never done this exercise, I invite you to sit together with your kids to write down post-its with things you cherish or just things you like to share in your own family, stick them all on the fridge and end with a special celebration of your own… Promise it will feel great!

Last, but not least… We have a bell of our own at EARJ that used to toll for our Panthers at the Leblon campus, and we now ring it every time there’s a new family joining us!

Cristina Conforto
Director of Advancement

Raising risk-taking children

September 9, 2020

In both the United States and Canada, the first Monday in September is Labor Day and represents the unofficial end of Summer. Ordinarily, the weekend would offer one last opportunity to enjoy time in the great outdoors in the company of family and friends and to reminisce about the Summer that was.

Circumstances this year did not allow me to return to my home country of Canada, but that didn’t stop me from reflecting on previous summers this past weekend. In doing so, one particular story came to mind…

Since the time my daughter, Haylee was very young, I’ve shared my love of sailing with her. She would often accompany me pleasure sailing in our Sunfish or in races on her grandfather’s Mirage 25.  She had always enjoyed the experiences and for many years she had essentially been along for the ride, but watching and learning all along.

That all changed when she was ten years old. One day, I returned to shore after an hour of windsurfing and was greeted by Haylee. She announced it was time. She wanted to windsurf.

Without giving it much thought, I immediately came up with a number of reasons why I felt she wasn’t ready, including the fact that she’d never sailed before on her own, couldn’t read the wind, and wasn’t physically strong enough to hold the sail. I did so as an overprotective father that didn’t want to see her fail.

To her credit, Haylee wouldn’t take no for an answer. So, after demonstrating a few elementary techniques, I put her on the water, not fully sure of what to expect. Initially, she struggled with her balance and had trouble lifting the sail. I encouraged her. She fell in the water. I encouraged her again. Through it all, she remained determined and before you know it, she had lifted the sail from the water and was windsurfing!  Haylee couldn’t have been prouder, nor could I.

I learned an important lesson that day. I realized that Haylee didn’t want what I thought she did. She actually wanted the struggle and she wanted the fight because she wanted the best feeling of all. She wanted the feeling you get when you overcome a challenge that does everything it can to beat you and you beat it!

There may be a lesson for all of us here. As much as we want to protect our children, we should also encourage them to challenge themselves so that they may realize their full potential.

Rather than always being comfortable, they need to be provided with opportunities, academic, athletic or otherwise, in which they are comfortably uncomfortable and that allow them to push themselves to even greater heights.

In doing so, we are encouraging them to be risk-takers who are resourceful and resilient, who at times may fail, so that ultimately, they will succeed. It is through this process that self-discovery occurs and the magic happens.

Scott Little
Barra Upper School Principal