5 More Lessons Learned 8 Weeks In: Inquiring into Remote Learning in Real Time

The Mabin School was founded on the belief that children are capable and competent, and their questions should guide their learning. We have always been a place where play and inquiry were central to our pedagogy, and we learn from our interactions with each other and the world around us.

The current situation, where we are prevented from being together and unable to share in the experience of concrete materials except for at a distance, has been strange, to say the least. Teachers, students, and parents have all been required to learn and adapt quickly to a vastly different reality, one that challenges our most fundamental beliefs about children and learning.

And out of necessity, we have, indeed, adapted! 8 weeks in, the creativity we have witnessed from children and adults alike has been inspiring. Both teachers and students have adopted new tools to explore essential skills and questions. Through trial and error, soliciting parent and student feedback, we continue to learn important lessons as we go.

Lesson 1: Connection and relationship remain critical to learning. In our remote learning plan, we have created opportunities to connect as a class, in small groups, and 1:1 with both teachers and students, and as a school. As one parent wrote today: Our children feel wonderfully buoyed by the Mabin community, and daily staples, like sports with Andy and the lunch time integration, are high points in their day.”

Lesson 2: Routine continues to be important. We have tried to create some consistent routines — a daily schedule published each morning, class meetings at specific times, a sacred lunch hour, daily storytime, and weekly assemblies. We have modelled our routine on life at school, but tried to inject both learning and fun into the day. The routine provides predictability and comfort for many of our students.

Lesson 3: Different students need different things. Although we have established a routine, we understand that different families will participate in it more or less than others, depending on their circumstances. Some students need more social interaction, and for them we are finding additional ways to connect with friends (e.g. Dungeons and Dragons club; check-ins with teachers; games with a bigger buddy; on-line playdates). Some students need more academic support, and for them we are scheduling extra time in small groups or one-on-one with a teacher. 

Lesson 4: Online learning can really work! Our teachers have found numerous ways to make online learning meaningful and effective. Some have simultaneous small group hangouts happening and monitor progress through collaboratively written Google documents; others provide pre-recorded lessons and have students record themselves completing their tasks; others create small group meetings with students at similar skill levels to teach and reinforce specific skills; still others have mastered teaching a lesson to the whole group at once, using features of the technology to monitor attention and understanding. As in all classrooms, different teachers rely on different tools, depending on their own strengths and circumstances. What ties them all together is a deep love for their students and teaching, which comes through regardless of the tools they choose.

Lesson 5: Learning remotely doesn’t always involve screens. We all know that parents are their children’s first teachers. The learning that is happening at home right now is very much a product of parent modelling and support. Whether families are engaged in the formal curriculum we are providing, or instead spending time together as a family playing, cooking or exploring nature, children are learning. Many of our assignments are meant to provoke creation away from the screen — maker challenges, physical education activities, music making, art with found materials. While we are using screens to communicate ideas, not all learning is happening at screens, and we like it that way.

A good friend and mentor used to say, “If it doesn’t hurt, you aren’t learning.” She would illustrate this point by describing how babies learn to walk. At first each step is a struggle. Babies fall and cry as they are learning to balance. But with time and practice, walking becomes, for most, automatic. Once mastered, no thinking is required. So it works with all new learning. At first, it can be frustrating, maddening, inducing tears and extreme effort. With time and practice, though, even the hardest situations get easier. When we persist through challenge, we not only grow our brains, but build our resilience. Being jolted into an unfamiliar way of teaching and learning has been challenging, and even, at times, painful. And yet, the learning has been deep, and will be lasting, for everyone involved.