The educational landscape has been full of questions since the pandemic hit: how far behind are the students? What have they missed out on? How will they catch up? What gaps need to be filled? Will this be a lost generation?
These are valid queries, but there are other things we should be asking ourselves: what skills have our students gained? How can these be cultivated to ensure success? How are our conversations around their education and the pandemic shaping their futures?
It reminds me of the line in the poem What If I Fall? by Erin Hanson: “Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?”
Skills students have developed in coronavirus crisis
Since beginning online learning in March, then returning to school in September and now returning to online learning, I have noticed three life skills that my amazing students have developed:
1. Independent study
Thanks to online learning, students now manage their study time effectively, set up effective working environments, access resources to support their learning, ask for feedback and make improvements to their work independently.
I only learned many of these skills when attending university. These capabilities are crucial in both being successful in tertiary education and the workplace.
As teachers, we must ensure that we recognise these independent skills and continue to incorporate these types of learning opportunities into our lessons.
2. Digital balance
Last year, we asked pupils to complete their fictional perfect day as part of a pre-assessment for our Digital Citizen topic.
We used this to get an understanding of students' abilities to balance their online experiences and overall wellbeing.
Most students filled their imaginary day with online games, social media and messaging their friends.
However, when asked to complete the same activity after lockdown, every single member of the class included sports, face-to-face social time and periods spent outside.
After years of teaching forest schools, wellbeing lessons and digital citizenship, I've found that 2020 has finally given students an understanding of the importance of balancing online and offline experiences.
3. Appreciation of face-to-face education
When home learning was announced, the corridors resounded with cheers at the idea of what the pupils thought would be a few days without school. We did not know the magnitude of what lay before us.
The second time it was announced, the mood was sombre and students wanted to stay in school with their teachers and friends.
One pupil even requested to stay in class five minutes longer on the last day, just to soak in the classroom atmosphere.
This comparison showed me that my students have gained an appreciation of what school means to them: teacher connections, friends and time to grow and learn as individuals.
The value of coming to school was hard to see when it was an everyday occurrence. Now school has become a kind of luxury.
This love of learning and appreciation of the school community is a gift. How can we foster this and ensure that our pupils and families thrive from it?
These skills may not have been acquired so early on in my students' education if distance learning had not occurred, and for that I am grateful.
What if our students don’t fall? What if they "fly" because of the pandemic? If we are honest, parents, educators and world leaders don’t know what the next generation is going to look like or how they will develop from this.
But if we focus on what has been gained as much as what students have lost, based on measuring them against pre-pandemic standards, it can only add to their inner confidence and optimism about their future.
The language that we use will shape their inner thoughts and sense of self-worth, and our ability to focus on the skills gained will ensure their progress.
Although it can be tempting to venture into a spiral of despair and worry, I am making a pledge to myself and to my students to create a positive narrative around their learning experiences in 2020.
I hope you will join me.
Sarah Steen is a Year 5 class teacher at Alice Smith School in Kuala Lumpur