Six Weeks In: The All-You-Can-Eat Approach to Remote Learning

The move to Remote Learning was sudden and unexpected. As one of Canada’s first Ashoka Changemaker Schools, The Mabin School is used to putting relationships and empathy at the heart of all learning. When we are together in our little school house, it is remarkable to watch our teachers intuitively shift and adapt in response to the signals and cues they observe in the children, differentiating on the go. Separated by physical distance and limited to virtual connections, we are becoming conscious of how much more challenging it is to “read” our students when we do not have the luxury of being near them as they learn. Likewise, the casual, easy collaboration that happens not just daily but hourly among colleagues needs to be more formally planned and scheduled when we are no longer in the same location.

Throughout this emergency transition into e-learning, we have used our creativity and ingenuity to both discover and meet the needs of our students. From the start, we constructed a plan for learning that relied on our school’s core values and mirrored, as much as possible, a typical day at The Mabin School, where structured learning is interspersed with opportunities to play and move. Our priorities were, and remain, the continuous learning and well-being of our students, staff, and families, and we aimed to incorporate our core values: inquiry, integration, reflection, and community. In our plan, we referenced the Habits of Mind, and relied on our students and their families to continue the hard work of learning to listen with empathy, persist through challenge, take responsible risks, and manage impulsivity. In the pursuit of the right balance of structure and flexibility, we have relied on student, staff, and parent feedback to amend the plan along the way.

Six weeks in, we have realized that from where we stand, it is much more difficult to assess the experience each student is having than it is when we are together in the classroom. We must rely on students and their families to reflect and make choices based on the realities of their particular homes and circumstances. Each family is struggling with their own challenges, thrown into some level of chaos by the surprising intrusion of this pandemic. We have begun to liken the remote learning program to an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet, where each family is encouraged to take what appeals to them, and leave the rest. Our goal is to serve up a delicious meal, with varied, quality ingredients. Each family must decide how much is enough and how much is too much. 

Our teachers are working harder than ever to provide engaging lessons and tasks, making themselves available throughout the day to support students in small groups and individually. Parents are working harder than ever to help their children manage the learning and to make judicious choices about how much to demand. In a time rife with stress and fear, finding that perfect balance of pressure and support is tricky at best. Working in partnership, we are hoping that parents, teachers, and students can find the right mix of meaningful learning opportunities, a routine that makes sense, and the internal resources to persist through challenge. 

We know that some families are worried that they must do everything assigned. This is a mistake, akin to eating everything at the buffet rather than picking and choosing according to individual tastes. The need to make choices, however, inevitably causes a different kind of  stress in parents — an existential stress:  Is what we are doing enough? How will my child be affected by this choice? Are we missing out on something important? How might my decisions hurt my child’s future? Some parents are worried that they are letting their children down by not pushing them hard enough. 

We say — trust your gut. You have the best perspective on how your child is doing during this unusual time.  We are relying on you to understand their needs in a way that we simply cannot do from a distance. These are exceptional times. Take good care of yourself. Take good care of your children. And we will do our best to do the same. Nothing is perfect about this situation, but together, we can make sure that your child’s experience is “good enough.” “Good enough” is pretty great in this extraordinary moment. As we enter Children’s Mental Health Week, let’s remember that learning only happens in the context of relationships, and our relationships right now are more important than anything.

So let’s give ourselves permission to enjoy the buffet! Let’s eat mindfully, and enjoy each taste thoroughly. Let’s enjoy the conversation and laughter as much as the food itself. As always, at The Mabin School, we believe less is more — we believe in depth over speed; quality over quantity. Let a spirit of fun and joy guide your decision-making as much as possible. Let’s focus on getting the most important things done, and not worry too much about what doesn’t get done. We are going to get through this, and we will be amazed at what we have all learned when we are back together again.