The COVID-19 virus continues to place a lot of disruption in our family lives and now across the globe. Schools in Hong Kong are closed until mid-April, so homeschooling, virtual classrooms, and online learning have become our (temporary) reality.
As all of us are forced to re-work our patterns of behavior and change the narrative around education, The Harbour School Hong Kong’s Head of School Dr. Jadis Blurton and Principal Christine Greenberg are busier than usual – or rather a different kind of busy. The Harbour School is working on a progressive educational model that works and tweaking it in real-time. Though they point out that they are also learning as they go. The journey The Harbour School has been on since November has a lot to teach us about navigating and making the most of this unprecedented situation, as well as education in general and approaching life as the ultimate resiliency workshop.
First things first, Dr. Blurton points out that our vocabulary needs to be re-worked – schools are not closed as all you need for school are kids, teachers and the world around us. What is closed are school buildings, and what we need is an approach to school that doesn’t include them. The Harbour School is on the third iteration of their VC@T virtual classroom, the first version of an interactive online learning platform that was launched back in November in response to the escalating protests. They looked at the situation as a growth opportunity and approached it as if a long-term solution was needed.
VC@T is a continuous work in process, but the first iteration already got overwhelmingly positive feedback as there was no need to adjust the school calendar, kids were kept engaged, and teachers kept finding new ways to make the most of the situation, while they themselves didn’t feel directionless or frustrated – which transfers to the rest of the community. Some tweaks that were made from iteration 1.0 to 3.0 is an addition of instructions on online etiquette and online tools and a supervision component for the teachers who are required to do things they’ve never done before. VC@T allows for pull-out sessions for gifted and special needs children as well, and they very much kept in mind that social connection, one of the most important and beautiful aspects of going to school, needs to be integrated into online learning.
It’s important to address your own socio-emotional health first as kids are amazing at picking up your mood. Breaking the pattern, finding new ways to connect with loved ones, helping them and strangers, as well as exercising are some of the practices that you can consciously choose to engage in to keep your sanity. Set goals for today, this week, this month, as small as necessary, and try to follow through to build your confidence.
The narrative around education is shifting – online school really is school. Consequently, our vocabulary should be tweaked as well. Rather than calling this a crisis, these two education experts and enthusiasts suggest calling it an unexpected event. Crises require a flight or fight response, and we are not in an immediate crisis – we are inconvenienced, but also in a position to re-examine our behavioral patterns and make the most of this unique time in our lives that our kids won’t ever forget. Life is the ultimate resiliency workshop, and this is a perspective that should be modeled to our children.
The classes themselves should keep things engaged, it shouldn’t be the job of parents. Everybody has a different reaction to this format that is still being tweaked. One of the fallacies about virtual learning is that it’s easy – yet you don’t just turn on the webcam and deliver the content. For a start, logging on and off is not straightforward for all age groups. The Harbour School’s teachers are going above and beyond to keep kids engaged, include tasks that are to be completed offline after an online introduction, differentiate outcomes, etc.
What parents can do is change their narrative on screen time. Here, technology is used as a tool, not a toy – and it has saved us in this situation, but not through its mere existence, but through a collaboration of the whole community and smart use of the benefits it offers. You can help kids differentiate between those two categories. Dr. Jadis Blurton and Christine Greenberg suggest you try to do things outdoors in a socially distant, safe day as much as possible, start a new tradition or a new hobby, or even use technology to be creative with the whole family. You’ll never get this time again, so make it special.