It’s Time to Check Our Privilege: A Distance Learning Reflection

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Believe it or not, we’re only in week three of distance learning. I can’t even believe that all of what we are experiencing is still so new. Personally for me, the days are a blur. Between working from home, mourning the loss of a dear family friend from COVID-19 and doing my best to be an active dad and partner in the homeschooling of my two elementary school-aged children, the past three weeks have seemed like a three month marathon.  Regardless, as my high school English teacher wife and I work to balance our days, we know that our situation is one of great privilege. This is a privilege that we are very aware of and one we have engaged our own children in.

My wife and I know that our home schooling experience is charmed. Our children wake up each morning with all of the basic necessities they need. There’s food in the fridge and pantry. They need or want for nothing of the “basics.” Even a backyard, something easily taken for granted, holds a new perspective that they now understand. Our greatest stress is “surviving the day” with two kids at home. A far cry from folks fighting for their lives during this crisis, who may be laid off or worry about what tomorrow may look like and what bills can be paid. 

In regards to schooling, my children have one-to-one technology and unlimited wifi. In We are working from home but not sharing our technology. The kids sit with their bluetooth headphones on and engage in online video conferences with their teachers while my wife who is the “Headmaster” of homeschooling sits beside them doing her school work or guides them through learning tasks while also extending upon the wonderful work their teachers are doing.  This is a privilege. 

In fact, just yesterday we spoke to our children about that very specific privilege. They sit at a desk in an office doing their school work with mom and dad’s university and college diplomas decorating the wall. That was not my reality growing up in a blue collar family to immigrant parents who cared for school deeply but were limited in the tangible support they could provide. Now, our family’s direct relationship with schooling and education is so very positive that even pandemic homeschooling is shaped to be meaningful and constructive. This is a privilege in and of itself. 

Here my children are working each morning while I’m in Admin meetings, with their University of Toronto and OSIE graduate mother who happened to go to law school before she embraced her calling to be a teacher. What a benefit to have such a homeschool Headmaster. Their experience although weighed down with their own fears and anxieties of COVID-19 (especially with the passing of a family friend they loved) is softened greatly in that homeschooling is not an unattainable challenge; this a defused stress. Obviously, as parents we would prefer that our children are back in school but we have the privilege to mitigate this new reality through our own experience as educated adults and importantly educators who can decipher curriculum and shape at home pedagogy that meets the needs of our children. It’s not easy but is nothing compared to the stresses other parents may be experiencing.  This doesn’t mean that our children are to feel guilty for their norm, but rather they must be responsive in their understanding of it. They must be young people that pray at dinner and bedtime for all people and not merely for themselves while thanking God for the opportunities that they have. 

This brings me to my greatest concern as a Vice Principal during this time and thus a distance leader. I am deeply concerned for:

  • All children but especially those not like my own;
  • I’m concerned for the students whose parents are in precarious employment situations; 
  • I’m concerned for students and their families feeling the weight and pressure of a homeschooling reality they did not sign up for;
  • I’m concerned about students who come to school as their safe place;
  • I’m concerned for students who miss their social setting of the classrooms and cafeteria; 
  • I’m equally concerned for students in need for caring adults and with special education realities;
  • I’m concerned for my colleagues’ wellbeing and that of their families;

This is all to say that over the past three weeks it’s been made very clear that this entire experience cannot be about “curriculum” but rather the one thing that truly makes education transformational: relationships

In order to have positive and deep relationships that shape learning and make the transformation possible, us educators must be reflective and aware of our own privilege. This privilege doesn’t mean the amount of money we make but the very relationship we have with schooling itself. Not all students are like my children who have all they need to be successful through this ever-evolving puzzle of pandemic era learning including a positive family relationship with schooling.

For many students there are barriers that we may not even perceive. As such as educators we must be pressingly aware and ensure that distance learning is culturally responsive learning that is grounded in cultivating an experience that moves beyond a hyper concern with summative tasks/marks but is focused on a love of learning guided by trust, empathy, compassion,  genuine care and an intentional focus on Assessment For and As Learning. Thus, focus on “learning” which doesn’t meaning testing or increased workload. Sometimes less is more. Quality over Quantity. Purpose over Process. 

For this massive puzzle of distance learning to form with purpose and meaning, the frame that holds it all together must be our ability to understand our students and their families. We must be aware of our privilege. I am and thus have great empathy for the reality of students and parents that I have the honour to serve. These are realities that transcend and weigh more than an curriculum expectation. 

In the end, many years from now, our students won’t remember the overall expectations they completed during COVID-19 remote learning but they will remember the human reality of it all. They will remember if we gave a damn. 

Let’s be measured. Let’s make sure we show our care. 

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