Alfonso Pinkus Middle & High School Dean of Social and Emotional Learning
One of the best things about a school is that it is such a live entity. Not only in its day-to-day comings and goings, but also as an institution that is continuously pushed by society to evolve and fit to its time and place. The study of pedagogy transforms with new scientific discoveries; over time it has tried to embrace the needs of the majority and, in the last century, big changes have taken place regarding the way we teach, switching the focus to the way we learn. School has warped as well, over the first two decades of this century, to try to adapt to new technologies stemming from the Digital Revolution. With this year’s pandemic, education unequivocally has had to revamp the way it works to make all these decades of theorizing fall back into place through a distance learning environment (or what we call online learning).
One example is how we have all responded to on-screen time. When in school, students that get tired of being seated usually move around in their seats, grab their hallway passes to go to the bathroom or for a breath of fresh air, and eventually find themselves socializing in an outdoor environment on breaks. When learning moved online, this became impossible at first due to students being attached to a screen, yet a synchronous/asynchronous scheme has arisen where the guidance of a teacher is not only as a lecturer, but also as a challenge designer. A teacher designs a class that guides a student into learning by devising a series of steps that will help said student learn a skill or expand their knowledge of a subject, making it much more student-oriented because of the nature of the process.
In addition, tackling social and emotional learning is key. A school is (and has always been) about much more than academic learning. As a place where students learn how to relate to one another in a healthy way, as well as acquire other important skills like teamwork, problem solving, or empathy, we have had to press for projects where students take a more leading role. The SGA-led Student Council, continuous professional development for teachers in the matter of Social and Emotional Learning, and the opening of more spaces for students to socialize, like our first experiment with online Halloween events, are some such projects.
Of course, it has been quite a trial and error process, which keeps us adults learning as well. The challenge we –as parents, students, and teachers– have undertaken in the last couple of months has been enormous, yet the fruits of this effort have been rich and I’m certain we will be able to appreciate them widely in the future. In just a matter of months we, as a community, have been able to make adjustments (and we keep doing so) to meet the needs of our students and families in these digital spaces that work very differently from our physical ones. Thus, changes that had been coming to fruition in the field of pedagogy over decades have had to materialize in just weeks – and this has been impressive to watch as we continue revamping school.