This post is the third part of a blog series by Aminah Ottosdotter Davidsson reflecting on technology in education and educational leadership as part of her MBA studies in Educational Leadership at TAMK.
The Story of the Pandemic and Education
“The stories we tell literally make the world. If you want to change the world, you need to change your story. This truth applies both to individuals and institutions.” Michael Margolis
One thing that we have seen during the pandemic is definitely that learning never stops. Education institutes, teachers and students have shown an eagerness to continue teaching and learning, always exploring new ways. Many of these ways have involved technology of some sort due to the pandemic circumstances. We have also seen that many education institutes and educators around the globe are innately very flexible, always ready to create the best learning situations for our students. True resilience has been displayed amongst our teachers and students, and a positivity that this experience will make us stronger. This, if anything shows that we should have faith in our teachers and our students and that there really isn’t any reason to fret and panic about the future. Nevertheless, winds of change have come, and we are already talking about a ‘new normal’ in the field of education. As educational leaders and educators who are in this ourselves, we are part of creating the new normal. We are living the narrative. So, what would you want your story to be like in education, while looking back at the pandemic? And what would you like the new normal to be like for the future?
Even though the above mentioned positives have become evident, we cannot ignore the many challenges the new situation has also lead to. Yes, we should show resilience, perseverance and creativity in these times, but not at the expense of educators losing themselves and their professional identity due to the new situation. The borders have been pushed between education and technology as have the borders between work and private life. And despite technology offering solutions to many of us during this time, it also risks jeopardizing the well-being of our educators and thus also our students.
This is where your story comes in…
Michael Margolis’ reflects on the link between immunity, boundaries and crafting a new story in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. He speaks about how establishing healthy boundaries is “one of the most powerful tools” at our disposal during these challenging times. “There is so much we don’t and can’t control right now, but your boundaries are yours to calibrate”, he says. And it is between these boundaries that I see the new normal, your story to tell.
Maureen Robinson describes the challenges for educators as being “technical (how to teach at a distance), emotional (how to cope in this new situation) as well as pedagogical (how to offer good quality teaching).” On top of this, educators, like everybody else have to face the personal strain of “lockdown regulations and a fear of exposure to the virus.” I’d like to add ‘managerial’ to this list in terms of ‘how to balance, support and facilitate everything’. So due to the multifaceted reality, it’s to no surprise that everybody involved can feel somewhat overwhelmed by the situation, with many teaching and learning online for the first time, or teachers and students not having the resources and home conditions suitable for online learning, or teachers taking the ‘pedagogy of care’ to a new level when trying to care for and support not only students, but also leaders, colleagues and parents 24/7, and all the while many are also caring for family members who are most likely with them 24/7. So it is not ‘business as usual’ and it definitely calls for some boundaries.
Now, these boundaries are very personal and each individual would probably set them differently. Examples of areas that call for some boundaries can be related to something as deep as our values, or as professional as our work ethics or as simple as time management. The choices we make today will be part of our narratives and our lives tomorrow, so what choices do we make? An example that has stuck with me from one of my fellow MEL colleagues, who works as an educational leader, is to use technology to set boundaries. To avoid her staff being bombarded with emails at any time of the day (and night for that matter), she adjusted the settings to only deliver emails to staff during official working hours. So even though a parent, student or colleague drops an email at midnight, it won’t be delivered until 8am. So, no peeking in the email at midnight there!
Connecting to the previous post on ‘less is more’, it also becomes important to set boundaries related to the amount of material that we are expecting our teachers and students to work with and how many apps, platforms and gadgets we are using. In a survey conducted by Sokal et.al, it was found that teachers “who were flooded with websites, learning platforms and other resources often viewed them not as resources, but as demands, leading to more teacher burnout.” These findings call for a conscious and critical selection, from both educational leaders and educators, of what technology to use in our classrooms and in our work in general. So, to choose purposefully.
A final point to ponder on is to choose and use technology within our boundaries. Technology is proven to shape the way we think and therefore we need to select it with care. Jim Taylor reflects on How Technology Is Changing the Way Children Think and Focus and highlights “that technology can be both beneficial and harmful to different ways in which children think.” When looking at technology from the perspective of its powerful impact, it opens up for a deeper contemplation on the importance of being selective and connecting our choices to deeper significations. So bearing this in mind, we need to question whether the technology that we are implementing is in reality supporting the kind of learning we want and need in the future.
Jim Taylor further reflects on this perspective, comparing the past to the present:
In generations past, for example, children directed considerable amounts of their time to reading, an activity that offered few distractions and required intense and sustained attention, imagination, and memory. The advent of television altered that attention by offering children visual stimuli, fragmented attention, and little need for imagination. Then the Internet was invented and children were thrust into a vastly different environment in which, because distraction is the norm, consistent attention is impossible, imagination is unnecessary, and memory is inhibited.
Now, this was written eight years before the pandemic and the impact of technology on our brains is most likely even greater today. But with today’s experience, would you still agree that “consistent attention is impossible, imagination is unnecessary, and memory is inhibited”? Well, I guess it is your story to tell. So what will your story be of the pandemic and education?
In short, creating your narrative is very personal and could be connected to setting boundaries, making conscious decisions and sharing your perspective of things. The idea is that it will ultimately support and create a healthy work environment for our educators and students.
In the next post, I will reflect on the role of educational leaders in supporting and creating this healthy work environment for their staff and students.
Aminah Ottosdotter Davidsson
Babb, J., Sokal, L., & Trudel, L. E. (2020, June 17). How to prevent teacher burnout during the coronavirus pandemic. The Conversation. http://theconversation.com/how-to-prevent-teacher-burnout-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-139353
Fataar, A. (2020, June 21). OP-ED: A pedagogy of care: Teachers rise to the challenge of the ‘new normal’. Daily Maverick. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2020-06-22-a-pedagogy-of-care-teachers-rise-to-the-challenge-of-the-new-normal/
Margolis, M. (2020, April 6). Us vs. Them: The Surprising Link Between Immunity, Boundaries, and Crafting a New Story. Michael Margolis / Storied. https://medium.com/@getstoried/us-vs-them-the-surprising-link-between-immunity-boundaries-and-crafting-a-new-story-c38cc2dbd31d
Robinson, M. (2020, August 4). The Multifaceted Challenges for South Africa’s Educators and Student Teachers During the Pandemic. Global Ed Leadership. https://globaledleadership.org/2020/08/04/the-multifaceted-challenges-for-south-africas-educators-and-student-teachers-during-the-pandemic/
Tampere University of Applied Sciences. (n.a). Educational Leadership | Tampere universities. Tampere Universities. https://www.tuni.fi/en/study-with-us/educational-leadership
Taylor, J. (2012, December 4). How Technology Is Changing the Way Children Think and Focus. Psychology Today. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201212/how-technology-is-changing-the-way-children-think-and-focus