What schools can learn from the COVID-19 disruption

What schools can learn from the COVID-19 disruption

The past nine weeks have seen one of the most significant disruptions to Australia’s education system in living memory, but with students in some states now returning to face-to-face classes, the dust is starting to settle.

On 25 May, NSW teachers have been focused on getting students into a new routine and assessing the impact of the disruption on student progress and wellbeing.

In its Every Student Podcast last week, the NSW Education Department hosted renowned education expert, Laureate Professor John Hattie from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

In the Podcast, Professor Hattie told NSW Department Secretary Mark Scott that there is much to learn from the period students have spent learning remotely at home.

“It’s kind of like an unplanned experiment as we’ve asked teachers to take on an incredible load and switch to a new way of teaching,” Professor Hattie said.

“I’m pretty optimistic that we’re going to make a full recovery from this, and in many cases, there is going to be even some benefits from what’s happened”.

Professor Hattie has previously examined the impact of disruption on student learning when schools close, researching examples of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake and Hurricane Katrina which hit New Orleans in 2005.

“In many of those cases the actual students did better in the year in which they had the disruption,” Professor Hattie said.

“During these times, teachers take on a much more refined focus on individual students and following them through”.

Professor Hattie pointed to the Christchurch earthquake as an example, saying following the quake, student performance went up before receding again the following year when things returned to normal.

As teachers quickly adapt and learn to deal with the “new normal”, Professor Hattie hopes educators spend time diagnosing what students have learned, continue listening to them and foster the critical skill of self-regulation.

“It’s that ability to know what to do when you don’t know what to do. It’s the ability to seek and ask for help and not just sit there and let the river go over you,” he said.

“We’re finding quite positive things have been happening during COVID with kids who have that skill”.

He said teachers also have the ability to offer students coping mechanisms and strategies to deal with and manage the stresses of the pandemic as families face enormous levels of economic pressure and uncertainty.

However, Professor Hattie noted that school leaders and teachers need to be aware of their own health and wellbeing, too.

“I don’t think there’s any easy answer, but I think that’s the thing we have to worry more about than the children passing on COVID-19,” Professor Hattie said.

As teaching becomes more collaborative with new graduates entering the profession, Professor Hattie believes schools that work together and have built professional learning communities will be more successful as they come through the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also helped remind society that the teaching profession is one full of expertise and should be held in esteem with high standards.

“We have to remind parents, voters, politicians and the press that teaching does have an incredible amount of expertise,” Professor Hattie said.

“That expertise we need to value, we need to nurture, and we need to capture.”

The original version of this article appeared on the NSW Education Department’s website.