Learning and Leadership

What Message Are You Delivering?

Insights from the Primary Principal at The Overseas School of Colombo

COVID-19 has turned our world upside down and has made educators rethink, reimagine and refocus how we plan for ‘school’.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were all faced with turbulent times in education.

 It was during this time that we raised the question when looking in the face of adversity, do we cower and succumb, or do we rise above and meet it head-on? The Overseas School of Colombo (OSC) chose the latter, and has risen to be an exemplar in education during the past 18 months, as we made a conscious decision to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to grow!

How we respond is in our control

In any organization, a key to success is to “get ahead of the game”, anticipate what may happen, and begin planning for the future… and that is exactly what OSC took on board.

Back in February 2020, planning for an online learning platform started to take shape as OSC’s leadership team began developing, what is now, our signature “Distance Learning Plan” (DLP).

Creating a plan without previous knowledge is an overwhelming process. Where do you start? What will it look like?

 How long should we plan for? So many questions and very few answers – what became a common theme in education around the globe. When building the DLP framework, all conditions for learning were considered in the plan. Then, while delivering the program, we continually adapted to the needs of our community… if at first, you don’t succeed, try and try again. Open, efficient and timely communication was imperative for successful implementation; continuously outlining routines, expectations and conditions for learning that were clear and attainable for all of our young learners.

Looking back, the key to our success was beginning with a clear and concise roadmap of expectations for students, teachers and parents. This allowed for the transition to our online learning platform with ease.

Upskilling teachers, parents and students with technology and new online platforms was the next hurdle. Teachers had to become technology experts overnight; revisioning how to move their classrooms to an online environment.

Across the Primary School, Seesaw was introduced as the main learning management system and all student work, teacher, parent and peer feedback were channelled through this platform.

Workshops for teachers, parents and students were extensive and our OSC community became masters with both Zoom and Google Meet. Breakout rooms for small group work, peer feedback and teacher conferencing increased student engagement and provided for more student voice, choice and ownership. Parents of our primary students have become engaged as ‘teaching partners’ for their children and the main facilitators of education as we moved to complete online platforms.

Flexibility and adaptability with the DLP have been essential to meet the changing needs of our community, which became more evident the longer we continued in the DLP.

We shortened the length of our lessons to reduce screen time, allowing for frequent movement breaks. We moved to a “screen free” lesson at the end of each day to foster creativity and innovation, and we established “IBe Well” and “IBe Active” days once a month for a day filled with creativity, action and service projects. Keeping students engaged was a challenge, but we soon saw how these little changes rejuvenated the spirit of our young learners.

Moving forward and embracing the opportunity

Over the past year and a half, students, teachers and parents at OSC came together to learn new skill sets to make our online DLP successful. Students have a whole new level of independence, organization and the ability to navigate through a sea of websites and online applications.

We see even our youngest learners demonstrating a whole new level of resilience, grit and perseverance; key personality traits that CEO’s now deem essential for entering the workforce.

As leaders, the main goal at the start of the 2021-22 school year was to move our energy away from ‘managing crisis’ back to a focus on student learning.

As such, this has changed the mindset of our educators and brought excitement and joy back to the craft of teaching. Don’t get me wrong, crisis management is still in the background, but at the forefront are conversations about ‘learning’ with a focus on new opportunities for both students and teachers.

Return to normalcy?

Can we go back to “normal”? This pandemic has had an enormous effect on education worldwide and has made all of us realize the importance of balance. Where do we focus our energy? Is it on assessments, testing, exams and results? Or is it on fostering student well-being, relationships and resilience?

The current education model is now being questioned and scrutinized… how will we revision the future of education? This pandemic has come at an important time in history and the new direction we take with education will be significant.

We must embrace this change and reset our goals, priorities and educational philosophies to adapt to the needs of our young learners.

Words of Wisdom

As an educator, school leader and father of a June 2022 graduate, I encourage today’s students to embrace adversity, change and uncertainty and regard this time as opportunity to grow and develop personally and professionally.

Each action we take will have an outcome and direct impact on the direction we decide to take our journey. As author M. Scott Peck notes in his book, “The Road Less Traveled”, confronting and solving problems is a painful process that most of us attempt to avoid. The sooner we regard the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity, and shift our thinking away from traditional education, the quicker we will have an impact on our young learners with the values and skill-sets they will bring forward with our next generation.