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  • Writer's pictureKatie Knight

Covid-19 | A time for authentic inquiry

Covid-19 has thrust us into a global state of inquiry. Children and educators are navigating a brand new system - one that wasn’t planned and is evolving daily. But is there a danger that the system we are creating is simply a ‘band-aid’ solution - patch it up until we can go back to old way.

But what if we take this opportunity to investigate our new culture. What if we take an inquiry stance? What if we carefully tune in to what is happening, analyse what we are noticing, talk about it with others, ask ‘what if’ and ‘I wonder’ questions, and try to make sense of what works and what doesn’t. Maybe, we might be in a position to take some action for a different future?

We are now 6 or maybe 7 weeks into lockdown. Here are some of the things that I am noticing…

Days melt into each other. There is little difference between weekdays and weekends. Everyday has learning, of some sort… and outdoor time… and family time.

Work happens when there is a need. We are at our most productive when we have an authentic need to get something done. Sometimes that is an external deadline, like submitting a funding application, or completing the online shopping order before 11pm. Sometimes it is an intrinsic need, like making cakes to have with tea.

Thinking about work happens all the time. This is not a new phenomenon for many educators. In ‘normal’ times we were able to compartmentalise our lives (‘I’m not going to check my work emails now, it’s Sunday’) - but now that our routines are much more fluid and I am finding a daily balance and am much happier to think about work at any time of any day.

I am learning that there’s no rush. If we all sleep-in and have a lazy breakfast, it simply means that our routine has shifted. Maybe we’ll get the work done later, or maybe tomorrow will be an extra productive day. Parents that I have spoken to are noticing that their children can be immersed in play and self-chosen learning for much longer than they might expect. We are learning so much about our children - what makes them tick, what motivates them and what helps them overcome challenges. By going slower, we are able to listen intentionally to ourselves and our family.

When the sun shines - get outside. Ideas are generated when I take a walk or spend time in nature. I have learnt this. The moment the creativity stops, or work just gets a bit dull, is the time to step outside. Daniel Pink in his book ‘When’ advocates for stepping outside as ‘nature breaks replenish us the most’. I am often walking my dogs when my brain steps into action. Ideas come hurtling along and I have to be ready to catch them. I have learnt to always have my phone to hand, so that I can jot down a note, or record a memo, or send a message to someone. It acts as my thought collector, so I can continue walking and deal with those big ideas when I get home.

I am noticing that my children are proficient users of technology as a tool. When my younger daughter decided to make cake pops she used her phone to find a recipe, convert weights from cups to grams, photograph her work and share it on social media. My other daughter was watching a video on climate change (recommended by her science teacher) whilst she sketched in her art notebook. Her phone is on hand for looking up things that she doesn’t understand. Technology enables us be productive ‘in the moment’.

Pyjamas rock. And onesies. I have yet to see any difference in the quality of mine or my children’s work when we stay in our pyjamas (actually, I think it might be better). Beds seem to be a great place to read and work on the computer, and the kitchen table is ideal for large art creations. Oh and snacks are important too - whenever our tummies and brains tell us!

Teachers are working flat-out to offer online learning for their subject, but I am wondering how they are collaborating to ensure that an individual child’s potential workload is not overwhelming? Having looked at my children’s Moodle accounts, there is enough work on offer to keep them busy 20 hours a day. Over the past few weeks, free online resources, produced by teachers (such as the Oak National Academy) and organisations (RSPCA, the Science Museum etc) have flooded our social media accounts. These are often content-rich activities but offer surface-level learning opportunities.

There are a plethora of activities (busy work) to choose from - but who is choosing? Parents or children? We see children switched off or cajoled and bribed to complete activities that other people have chosen for them. Many children are lacking the skills of self-direction. Without guidance and support from parents and teachers, there is potential to become hugely stressed trying to manage their workload.

Student agency is a huge focus in many international schools at the moment. Covid-19 has given us the opportunity to put it into practice. Some schools have taken the pressure off, allowing children to choose their own learning, offering plenty of learning opportunities, but giving parents and children the opportunity to access as much or little as they feel suits their needs. My daughter has chosen to study maths, english, the sciences and french, plus the things she loves. She has been given agency by the school to not worry about ‘coverage’ subjects.

Our children are craving social interaction and time away from parents. They miss the ritual of going to school and being together. They miss the bus journey, and lunch time and choir and Eco-club. Shared experiences, with a variety of different people, are important. We all miss them.

If we take an inquiry stance to Covid-19, how might our observations could be used to reshape education?

I’m wondering, what if...

  • children could go to school when they wanted to - even at the weekend or in the evening?

  • children could take exams/mastery checks when they were ready?

  • children had choice over what they learned and how?

  • schools became a hub of ‘buzzy’ learning?

  • teachers were guides and mentors (google has all the content knowledge covered)?

  • physical resources were available for children to use when and how they wanted to?

  • children could eat whenever they needed?

  • children had choice over where they work (cafe style, sofa style), and spaces looked different?

  • technology was embraced as a creative tool, and social media was used as a way to connect with others to amplify learning?

  • children wear what they want - even pyjamas and onesies? (at Western Academy of Beijing this already happens!)

  • there was plenty of outdoor space (benches, forests, dens) that children could access whenever they wanted (for work or play)?

  • the day was fluid - a dedicated time to check-in with teachers and connect with their community, followed by different routines depending on the needs of the learner?

  • social interaction between children was valued and celebrated?

  • children were taught explicit skills of self-direction?

  • teachers collaborated and talked about individual students rather than content and exams?

  • teachers were able to guide children to amazing online resources and invite them to engage with the content on a deeper level, through thinking routines, creating and innovating?

  • children were given the opportunity to immerse themselves in an area of learning for hours/days/weeks?

I wonder what we will learn? How might we start to reimagine our education system? If we don’t do it now, when will we do it? It would be a shame if all this learning went to waste...


“When: the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.” When: the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, by Daniel H. Pink, Canongate, 2019.

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