We were forced to change overnight; we will embrace the change

A school administrator and founder of an inclusive private school highlights the importance of humanity in alternative teaching during the pandemic. She says the challenges of coping with digital learning is real — more so that children with special needs also make up the school population.

We were all caught off guard by this pandemic. The sudden shift from school to home learning shook schools and families to the core. To families, it forced parents to become real teachers while tending to their work and domestic concerns. Depending on the family situation, some parents had to teach one child while others had to teach two or more children. It was compounded by the fact that some parents may have suddenly experienced income reduction or felt threatened to lose their income or a few might have totally lost their source of living already.

To us in ChildStart and Reach International School (RIS), we felt like we were forced to change overnight. Lesson plans had to be revised and produced for online teaching. Like the parents, the sudden shift from school to home brought much struggle to our teachers who were expected to prepare digital content, teach, stay online, guide parents to teach at home, and ensure that our students were learning while also attending to domestic concerns.  

In terms of digital readiness, our faculty and staff are no different from the parents who struggle with sharing digital devices with the rest of the family, with concerns on Wi-Fi stability and digital proficiency. Despite the fact that we are familiar with digital technology as an educational tool, it does not necessarily mean we have all the necessary skills to deliver online distance learning to the degree that the situation demanded. 

More so, along with all the challenges, was everyone’s fear of getting the virus. Panic seemed to be in the air. There was a tendency to hoard basic necessities. The threat of losing a loved one becomes part of daily life. It did not help that social media went wild with too much information or misinformation.

Amidst all the chaos, everyone took a step back, said a little prayer, breathed deeply and embraced the challenge with faith and active surrender. From then on, things slowly started to shift towards a more positive note. Parents began to calm down as they realized the school was there to get them through this. The teachers became each other’s moral support and mentor, guidance started to reach out to students individually and by group, the students eventually settled in with this new way of learning.  

How did this shift begin? The school responded to every situation with patience, kindness, and concern as best as it could. We did not claim to know any better. We just became present to every parent, student, and teacher, whatever the concern. It does not always have to be about school. Sometimes, it was just allowing the parents, teachers, and students to express their frustration and anxiety, listening to them and understanding their personal situation with compassion, and giving them the time to adjust. It was being present at that moment in a personal way. As we responded to them with patience, kindness, and concern, they began to respond in the same way towards us. We learned to trust that all will be well despite the uncertainty.

Being an all-inclusive school, one of the most affected were some of our students from the Special Education Department. Particularly, those who could not adapt to digital learning. While we were able to help most of the students, there is a population in that special department who struggled or could not adjust. The reason for this was mainly because of their limited attention span, or some behavioral challenges or both. Their parents tried their best to get them online but they were not receptive. These students were not able to complete the last quarter or they just had to stop. The parents felt frustrated and at a loss. While the school was able to reach out to some of them over the summer, there is still a population that is not served. There is still a need to do face-to-face or at least a transition where teachers could go to them or they could go to school until the time they are ready to do online digital learning. This is something we are trying to work out with the Department of Education.

It will be trial and error as we observe how students and parents respond to this new medium. If and when necessary, we adjust.

Moving forward, the school year 2020-2021 is both exciting and daunting for an institution like us with such a diverse population. How do we adapt to this new way of teaching and learning? How do we deliver educational content effectively and meaningfully? We, as an institution, embrace change.

We immerse ourselves to this familiar but new territory of teaching and learning, where technology takes the lead and students learn to become more self-directed. We attend all kinds of “webinars” that teach us to use digital technology creatively given the diverse population we have. From all the webinars, we filter which digital tools we can use to provide for the educational needs of our students. At the same time, we look closely into our curriculum. We decide how to deliver the curriculum in ways that will keep our students engaged online. Lastly, we provide a learning management system that will do all of the above for us a one-stop system that will provide for the needs of the whole RIS community, where students, teachers, and parents are together to learn, to share information, and communicate seamlessly.  

Our goal for our students is to make digital online learning more interesting and more engaging, to lessen each subject workload but also to understand better, to allow students to take the lead in their own learning, and to provide psychosocial and emotional support. 

For our parents, the goal is to help make teaching at home more pleasant and less stressful and to give back control of teaching-learning to the teachers.  For our teachers, the goal is to constantly provide them with training and tools needed to teach effectively, to give them the moral support when things get tough, and to provide them stability in these uncertain times.  

Now more than ever, parents shall continue to be our partners. We commit to making it easier for them by planning and preparing educational content that is more relevant, less rigid, and less burdensome for their children and for them. Through the trainings, we receive, we apply what they say is best practice in digital-online learning. It will be trial and error as we observe how students and parents respond to this new medium. If and when necessary, we adjust. Today, there is no right or wrong way in digital education. It is unfamiliar territory in varying degrees, but like everyone else, we all do the best we can. 

We all know that this is a challenge that all of us in the education sector are facing, but hand in hand, we rise above it. Together, we all work towards overcoming this pandemic, and together, we will become stronger, more understanding of our strengths and weaknesses, more patient, more compassionate, and more tolerant as we give each other breathing space to adapt to this new normal.


Edited by Charmie Joy Pagulong

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