As Coronavirus continues its journey around the globe, some media outlets are gleefully beside themselves that such an opportunity to spread panic and hysteria has presented itself.
The vast majority of people, of course, have adopted a sensible reaction to this development. COVID-19 is something to be prepared for, but it should also not be a cause for sleepless nights or deep anxiety for most people. The prospect of a viral pandemic does present some significant challenges, of course. Like all challenges, however, we have the capacity to respond in appropriate, sensible and innovative ways.
It’s been particularly interesting during this time to work in a school environment. I’ll put my bias upfront: I believe The International School of Brussels to be among the very best schools in the world. I say this as a parent of two graduates of the school, someone who has the privilege to work with exceptional colleagues and trustees, but also – most notably – someone who particularly enjoys working with inspiring young people.
As we returned from our winter break, just a week ago, we entered a period of understandable nervousness and some uncertainty. As a Leadership and Crisis Response Team, we made a very simple decision: let’s communicate openly, clearly, honestly, and often. Our community response has been remarkable. What began as a time of uncertainty has brought us closer together as a community. The level of interaction and communication from parents has been constant, most welcome, and has been characterised – even for those experiencing some quite natural anxiety – by support, understanding, gratitude, and offers of help. There is a real, shared sense that, we are in this together and we will be fine … because we are in this together.
A crisis like this brings out the best in all of us in a strong community. It has been heartening to note how generous schools have been all over the world, sharing ideas, resources, and plans. Sidestepping all the scaremongering on social media, I was, however, also perturbed to come across articles, tweets, and blogs (not worth sharing) that suggested, essentially, that Coronavirus forcing schools to go “online” was confirmation that “the old model of bricks and mortar schooling is finished for good.” Ironically, the current situation actually confirms the very opposite.
Speaking with students this week has been a revelation – though, on reflection – not a surprise. Initial questions about school closure have been quickly qualified throughout the week by a clearer perspective. “We’d love a day or two off, like snow days, but not longer. We like school. We want to be able to come to school.” This is a sincere view and these are views not exclusive to our school. As our Distance Learning Plan makes clear, you simply can’t replicate teaching and learning in a virtual setting. When it comes to learning – and learning is a more substantial idea than the broader concepts of schooling and education – it is impossible to replicate the essential relationships and interactions between teacher and student, student and student, support staff and community, parents and school in any meaningful way.
If we have to, we have a contingency plan to work remotely which is shared below for all of our global colleagues who are generously sharing with us. While our campus may close, our school will not. Learning will continue. It’s a short-term, precautionary measure that we will use if we need to safeguard the wellbeing of our community. We are confident that it will work well in the short-term because of the commitment of our faculty and staff, the support of our local and international communities, and the understanding of our students and families. But we delude ourselves severely if we think we can ever substitute the human elements of learning by attempting to replicate it exclusively online.
Learning is about relationships and community interactions. These things have never been clearer.