One way Carlos Nascimento Jr., coordinator of grades 4-9 at the Concept School in Brazil, got through the challenging 2020-21 school year was by leveraging the Habits of Mind.
“The Habits of Mind were very powerful during the pandemic,” Nascimento told Allison Zmuda during an interview, “because it helped us to bring students to the focus. When we ask them to focus, for example, in persistence, in listening with empathy and understanding, they already know what we are talking about, we don’t need to explain every time we say that.”
As difficult as the school year was, Nascimento did pull two important takeaways from the experience.
Takeaway 1: Students Must Wish to Be In School
“Schools are changing,” Nascimento pointed out during the interview. “And the pandemic is helping us to change our mindset about that.”
Prior to March of 2020, the popular line of thinking was that children and teenagers had to go to school; that was their job, so to speak, and they had very little say in what happened between the first bell of the day and the last. As Nascimento framed it, they “must surrender to this obligation… they should find a way of adapting to this inevitable duty, and just go. When they are surrounded by walls, they really have no options.”
The pandemic changed all that. Zooming into their classes while at home, students could turn off their cameras, mute their microphones, or claim that their internet was not working. In order for schooling to work, teachers needed to actively engage and convince students to be part of what was happening.
“We found out that the thinking routines, for example, are powerful strategies to connect students with what’s happening during a lesson, during a class. Asking questions and listening to what they want to say, what they want to share.”
This practice of cultivating learner discourse will continue to be beneficial for students as we return to in-person learning.
“We can make the school a place where children want to go and stay… We as leaders have to ask always, often: how do we provide a welcoming environment every day, every week?”
Takeaway 2: Educators Must Avoid Teaching Through Timetables
During our year of virtual learning, it became clear that keeping students in front of a screen “in class” for the entirety of a normal school day was not possible– and not necessary.
“It was very relieving in a way, to understand that not necessarily all students have to be doing the same thing at the same time,” Nascimento said. “The moment brings us the perspective of having students doing what they need, and not just what they have to do.”
Instead, it became vital that educators and parents coach students towards becoming more self-directed: learning to better prioritize their work, integrate feedback, and manage their time. The work needed to be done, but once it was done, a student’s time was their own; after all, they were at home.
The takeaway here for Nascimento was the need to rethink time and spaces to personalize the learning experience.
- “What if we had a flex time when students in need can be supported and other students can be challenged?”
- “How can I organize the schedule so I can have time to personalize learning?”
- “Are we taking advantage of flexible timetables?”
This fall, school may be returning to “normal,” but we as leaders need to commit to the idea that we can’t ever go backwards.
It is crucial that we take these lessons learned and hold true to making learning meaningful– to continue to be flexible in our approaches, giving students a little more ownership and agency over their own learning so that school is something they want to return to.