If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that an unwavering focus and a consistent approach are what is needed to maintain optimal conditions for successful learning, whether in-person or online.
In March 2020, when we received the fateful notice from the government that our school had to shut its doors and implement a virtual learning model, it could very well have been the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. After all, our high school had faced some rather extreme challenges in the past few years—most notably, having to move to temporary locations three times in three years after the lease expired on our home of more than 40 years, and, what’s more, having to delay our move to our new home numerous times due to bureaucratic and construction-related delays.
Yet, surprisingly, when the pandemic hit, it was really no big deal. My team was able to create a comprehensive virtual learning program in just two weeks, our students were back “in class” and on track immediately afterward, we successfully completed the curriculum, and we had an effective model in place for the unpredictable, hybrid school year that 2020 / 2021 turned out to be.
The secret to our success in overcoming all of these obstacles is actually quite simple. We have a very strong foundation in place: a resilient, adaptable, and innovative team of teachers who are used to working collaboratively and cohesively toward a common goal. Everything we do is aimed at creating the optimal conditions for successful learning. And it works—although nearly 95% of our students have a diagnosed learning disability, more than 90% of them graduate on time and go to CEGEP (a publicly funded collegiate technical college in Quebec).
As a passionate educator, I believe that a lesson learned should be a lesson shared. With that in mind, I have put together a list of ten things that have helped our school exceed expectations while facing many challenges.
- Starting with the endgame in mind. Establish the final outcome you want to achieve and then put together a plan to get there.
- A cohesive team. There really is no “I” in team. If you want to fulfill your mission, uphold your values, and achieve your goals, every member of your team must adhere to the same approach.
The norms of engagement must be clear, so your team can work effectively and everyone is aligned.
- An unwavering focus on learning. Every member of your team must keep a laser-sharp focus on creating and maintaining the optimal conditions for learning. The world around us may change and require us to adapt, and your team must rely on innovation, collaboration, and flexibility to stay on course.
- Consistent processes and procedures. Take the time to write down and continually review processes and procedures, for everything from emergencies to performance reviews. This will create efficiencies and avoid confusion and misunderstandings.
- Predictable routines. Maintaining routines, through regularly scheduled meetings and communications, not only creates efficiencies but also relieves stress and makes it easier to cope when problems arise.
- Judgement-free language. To ensure that people feel free to communicate and know how to do so effectively, your team must adopt best practices and learn to use neutral language that is free of judgement.
- A science- and data-based approach. To help students develop the skills they need to master a rigorous 21st curriculum (problem-solving and analytical skills, synthesis and critical thinking), we need to look to science to understand the adolescent brain and use real data to monitor progress.
- Stress management. Research shows that good nutrition, quality sleep, physical activity, and stress-reducing pastimes help people cope with adversity and build both physical and mental resilience.
This is critical for both teachers and students.
- Professional development. Learning is not just for students! The education landscape is changing every day, and we have to be committed to ongoing development if we are going to keep pace.
- A balance between optimism and realism. Focus your energy on the things you can change and accept the things that you can’t.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Angela Burgos is the Head of School, Centennial Academy in Montreal.
This article is featured in Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Fall 2021 issue.