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Blog post Part of series: Covid-19, education and educational research

Agility, return and recovery: Our new Covid context for schooling and teacher education?

Warren Kidd, Cass School of Education and Communities, University of East London

Previously on the BERA blog (Kidd, 2020a) I have drawn attention to the work of Glade Primary School, an east-London school in the borough of Redbridge, England, and their ‘agile’ adoption of video conferencing (VC) technology during the Covid pandemic (see Kidd, 2020b). My ongoing ethnography with the school suggests a ‘pedagogic agility’ – the flexible and in-time adoption of new technology practices in a meaningful yet pragmatic way. I frame this as a matter of the ethics around ‘craft practice’ (Sennett, 2008): an issue of community building as well as the learning and teaching of the curriculum.

However, in the light of the recent National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) report by Lucas, Nelson and Sims (2020), the story of Glade Primary seems perhaps more unusual than usual: these authors present a widening gap across school provision and responsiveness as the Covid-19 crisis continues. Green (2020) echoes similar warnings, noting the potential ‘generational threat’ of school closure. Alongside this, the seeming decrease in Teach First numbers (as reported by Whittaker, 2020) also shows that while schools are facing troubling times, teacher education might not be far behind. In the case of Glade Primary, and other schools adopting similar remote models, VC teaching is not simply a case of supporting the curriculum but it is also a means of future-proofing, in an agile way, craft practices in the light of the continuation of the Covid context. As one teacher notes, ‘we are having to cope with the unintended… but are better teachers for it’; ‘I am the same me now I am online, but I feel even closer to my children and their families than ever before’.

In this apparent widening gap between schools maintaining community and those unable to do so, we become conscious of the need for leadership around how to work within the spaces created by this gap. In exploring the slow (maybe phased) return to schooling in September we must recognise the massive logistical challenges ahead for schools and school communities. On top of this return, we also have what the Scottish government’s recent report (2020) refers to as the ‘recovery phase’ – a hybrid approach to the places and spaces of learning and teaching that involves a commitment to a blended model of home-online-school learning for an extended yet interim period. For Carpenter and Carpenter (2020), a ‘recovery curriculum’ warns against the removal of regular daily routines, which leads to isolation or atomisation and has potentially serious consequences for pupils’ wellbeing. The ‘recovery curriculum’, then, is about recovering interaction and the emotional and psychological benefits it brings. Although, in its usage by the Scottish government’s education recovery group (2020), we can see how the notion of ‘recovery’ can also be applied not only to routines and relationships but to a catch-up curriculum itself – an attempt to make up for lost time.

In Glade Primary School, we see a school committed to wellbeing and community as key drivers for the adoption of their VC practices. This agility around community brings, to teachers, ‘…a sense of happiness that I can see the children. I never signed-up for this, but I am glad it is still working for us’.

‘Although they are now conducted in a new space, relationships are only possible due to the old spatiality: the “new space” is dependent upon the relational qualities of the old.’

For the teachers at Glade, the use of technology as a solution to the loss of community is a change to, but not a replacement of (or a challenge to) the modernity of the traditional classroom. Although they are now conducted in a new space, relationships are only possible due to the old spatiality: the ‘new space’ is dependent upon the relational qualities of the old; new, agile possibilities exist due to the craft practices from the previous, traditional classroom. Despite the continuation of the Glade community, there is still the recognition of the need for ‘recovery’: ‘we will need to work hard next year; make sure everyone is welcomed back and feels safe’; ‘we need to make-up for lost-time’. Despite the agility, recovery is foremost in the school community’s mind, as it will be in all school communities.

These three aspects – (phased) return, recovery and agility– will play out in complex ways in schools come the new academic year. The pressures of Covid-19 will be felt in various contexts – not just in schools and schooling, nor solely on learners, families and their wellbeing, but also on the practices and processes of teacher education, supporting novice entrants into this new, changed profession. We all need to be agile educators, exploring how best to ‘recover’, while using the hybrid spaces and tools we have in the meantime, along the way.


Endnote

*Please note the school name is identified here with the permission of the headteacher.


References

Carpenter, B., & Carpenter, M. (2020, April 23). A recovery curriculum: Loss and life for our children and schools post pandemic [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.evidenceforlearning.net/recoverycurriculum/

Green, F. (2020). Schoolwork in lockdown: New evidence on the epidemic of educational poverty. Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies. London: Centre for Research on Learning and Life Chances. https://www.llakes.ac.uk/sites/default/files/LLAKES%20Working%20Paper%2067_0.pdf

Kidd, W. (2020a). The rise of the flexible and remote teacher: A primary school’s response to the Covid-19 context in London [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/the-rise-of-the-flexible-and-remote-teacher-a-primary-schools-response-to-the-covid-19-context-in-london

Kidd, W, (2020b). An ethnographic perspective on teachers-as-designers in video conferencing pedagogy: A matter of craft, ethics and identity. Research in Teacher Education, 9(2).

Lucas, M., Nelson, J., & Sims, D. (2020). Schools’ response to Covid-19: Pupil engagement in remote learning. Slough: National Foundation for Educational Research.

Scottish Government (2020, May). Excellence and equity during the Covid-19 pandemic: A strategic framework for reopening schools, early learning and childcare provision in Scotland. Edinburgh. Retrieved from https://www.gov.scot/publications/excellent-equity-during-covid-19-pandemic-strategic-framework-reopening-schools-early-learning-childcare-provision-scotland

Sennett, R. (2008). The craftsman. London: Penguin Books.

Whittaker, F. (2020, June 17). Coronavirus: Teach First drops 120 trainees as schools halt recruitment. Schoolsweek. Retrieved from https://schoolsweek.co.uk/coronavirus-teach-first-drops-120-trainees-as-schools-halt-recruitment/