Reading Time: 6 minutes

By: Dee Saran

Having now been entangled in over a year of disruption, there is no real surprise that many of us are yearning for a sense of normalcy. Be it the smell of opening up a fresh set of exercise books or being able to see all of our students in their entirety, face to face or without their masks, there is no doubt that some aspects of what used to be, were better, or perhaps just more familiar.

Whilst we may be exhausted from grappling with simultaneously living in multiple times, one day this will subside and in some ways, the pandemic may have set us on a new path. Looking back at past pandemics and Christakis’ recent analysis, he reminds us of the longevity of what lies ahead. He labels the stages as ‘the immediate pandemic period’, ‘the intermediate pandemic period’ and ‘the post-pandemic period’ – a time span covering 2020 to 2024. In practical terms, humans will grapple with chaos, survival, innovative breakthroughs, destructive elements, and more. In preparation of the unknown, the best stance we can take is to know that almost everything will be different. In short, this prolonged ambiguity creates a tangible opportunity to make some positive changes…

Develop Pedagogies of Social Knowledge and Collaborative Intelligence

There has been so much pedagogical imagination deployed during the pandemic, it has been truly inspiring. The knowledge and experience gained by engaging in various modalities of remote and blended learning are assets that could be deepened and deployed in the future. The focus should be on using these to create a more personalised learning experience for students that are not bound by time or physicality. Technology has really helped to enhance personalisation and accelerate learning when adapted in a flipped context. Learning needs to be a more open and flexible process allowing each student to grow and find their own niche in life. 

By the same token, it is important that leaders take stock of the lessons learned from this period to ensure that they are systematically collected and evaluated. Whilst the integration of breakout rooms and turning to your immediate (but socially distanced) partner have plugged the pedagogical gap, it has been abundantly clear from our pulse surveys that what students miss most is the opportunities to collaborate and engage in meaningful dialogue.

The focus on dialogic learning will not only help in the race to recover the loss of learning that some schools face, but it will help students to articulate their feelings about learning which will be an essential component in helping students to stay resilient and reassured by their teachers on both a pastoral and academic front.

There is no doubt that learning whilst online places greater demands on autonomy, capacity for independent learning, executive functioning, self-monitoring, and the motivation to learn online. These are all essential skills for now and for the future. It is likely that some students are more proficient in their metacognitive ability than others and that, as a result, they are able to learn more than their peers while not physically being in school. The plans to return to normalcy should therefore focus on more intentional efforts to cultivate these essential skills amongst all students. The OECD’s report of the Future of Education and Skills for 2030 also highlights the importance of these metacognitive skills, “as trends such as globalisation and advances in artificial intelligence change the demands of the labour market and the skills needed for workers to succeed, people need to rely even more on their ability to ‘learn to learn’ throughout their life.”

For these skills to be truly valued we must shift the goal post and broaden perspectives to a more expansive view of what success looks like, beyond the academic. Students’ ability to communicate, listen, reflect, self-regulate and develop their social and emotional intelligence must be incorporated into what we assess, too often we focus on the outcome rather than the process of learning. After all, what you measure is what you treasure.

Interestingly, the areas that we felt to be most pertinent in developing, based on our data, mirrored all of those mentioned above and by so many others who highlight the importance of these deep pedagogies (figure 1).

Dubai College Innovative Pedagogies (figure 1)

Technological Advancements

With so many schools having accelerated their use of digital over the last six months it is now time to re-evaluate how we should use technology to enhance learning and teaching. Having spent some time developing a digital strategy with our Head of Digital Skills it became very clear that our technological approach should marry with our pedagogical vision.

Our evidence-informed approach led us to draw on the work of Professor Rose Luckin when designing our digital strategy as it married so well with our pedagogical vision. She recognises that educators’ lives are going to change in significant ways, ‘not because their roles are likely to be automated away, but because they will need to teach a different curriculum and probably teach in a different way’ (p 95). We are overly impressed by machines, says Luckin, because we ‘undervalue what it means to be human rather than being a real reflection of the intelligence of the technologies’ (p 62). Just last month Forbes published an article on how soft skills are the future of work, stating “as technological advances come more rapidly, hiring for adaptability and resilience is critical. You need open-minded people who can shift gears and take on different responsibilities as needed, adapt their behaviours to their teammates’ needs, manage uncertainty and find the positive when things go wrong. Agility and flexibility — which go hand in hand with adaptability — allow workers to bring and implement fresh ideas”. We have begun to embed these skills into our KS3 curricula and create systems where we have the space and opportunity to value creativity and adaptability to take centre stage.

Today’s innovations often become tomorrow’s commonplace, we now need to think critically about how to deploy technology strategically. As school leaders, we should be creating, designing and imagining a future where technology should be used in service of that vision rather than dictating it. Too often technological determinism overshadows our real needs, we should always start with the learner and the learning at the forefront of these decisions. By involving learners in the decision making, they will feel a shared sense of responsibility in their decisions that will impact their future. When students and teachers have the agency and capability to positively influence their own lives and the world around them as well as the capacity to set their own goals, reflecting and acting responsibly to effect change, they will collectively form a sense of belonging. This sense of belonging is paramount to creating a stable but progressive future where everyone can flourish.

Our Purpose: Our Drivers

During the pandemic there has been a lot of acknowledgement on how important teachers are. Looking back to just a decade ago there was a lot of enthusiasm around technology solving the teacher supply problems and discussions around how technology can replace the role of the teacher. I think we can honestly stop talking about this now as one thing that this pandemic has cemented is the realisation that human connections and interactions are at the heart of education. At this time, it’s become abundantly clear that the role of the teacher in the school community is irreplaceable.

There has been a sudden realisation of the many hats that teachers wear, perhaps there is even an argument for giving them more time to develop and nurture the social and emotional lives of our students instead of seeing this as a predefined expectation of the role. Are leaders, governors and governments ready to support the multifaceted role of the teacher and allow schools the autonomy and time to focus on nurturing the minds and souls of our future?

For this to change there needs to be a move away from the cyclical short term annual school evaluations, and time and space to realign our purpose and drivers. Michael Fullan, a worldwide authority on educational reform has written a fascinating report this month entitled The Right Drivers for Whole System Success. He argues for many of the things explored in this article, a shift from academic obsession to wellbeing and learning, an emphasis on social intelligence equality and systemness.

(Fullan, 2021)

To make the human paradigm a reality, leaders need space and autonomy to spend time on long term strategic planning. This is going to take a real commitment and a new leadership paradigm from the very upper echelons. We need leaders who value listening, allow for transparency and vulnerability, who seek compassion to drive away from the fragmented ‘bloodless’ paradigm.

The future is not an abstraction, it is what is happening right now, and we need to take this moment of disruption and use it as an opportunity to redefine and reshape our drivers. In the words of the famous computer scientist Alan Kay, “the best way to predict the future, is to invent it.”

Christakis, N (2020) Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live, Little, Brown Spark, New York.

Fullan, M, (2021) The Right Drivers for Whole System Success,Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA.

Fullan, M, Quinn, J and McEachen, J (2018) Deep Learning: Engage the World Change the World, Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA.

Luckin, R (2018) Machine Learning and Human Intelligence, UCL Institute of Education Press, London.

Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (2018) The Future of Education and Skills 2030, OECD, Paris.

Wiliam, D (2020) ‘Curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, in that order’, Keynote, ASCL Annual Conference, Association of School and College Leaders, Leicester, UK