Finding the silver lining for learning

By

Kelly Jasper

It started with a single tweet: What happens if schools close for a year? 

Soon, faculty members from universities across the country were discussing how the COVID-19 pandemic might foster long-term shifts in learning and teaching. Together, they launched Silver Lining for Learning to move the conversation forward.

“We had, at one point, 1.5 billion learners out of school worldwide. We’re living through the largest education social experiment in history,” says Punya Mishra, professor and associate dean of scholarship and innovation at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “This is not an experiment we would choose, but rather it is one imposed on us. Given this, we have to ask, ‘What can we learn? Is there a silver lining?’” Mishra co-launched and co-hosts the initiative along with Curtis Bonk of Indiana University; Chris Dede of the Harvard Graduate School of Education; Scott McLeod of the University of Colorado Denver; and Yong Zhao of the University of Kansas.

Through weekly livestreams on YouTube, guest blogs and the hashtag #SilverLiningforLearning, the series has invited guests to weigh in on the future of education, both analyzing challenges and exploring solutions to problems presented by the COVID-19 crisis. 

Each conversation, says Mishra, is an opportunity to rethink what we know about learning and teaching in order to create a more equitable learning experience for all. “The barriers and structures that resisted change are now forced to change,” he says. “We’re in a situation that allows us to ask questions of existing structures we’ve taken for granted.”

In one of Mishra’s favorite episodes, Episode 10, CEO of Urban Discovery Schools Shawn Loescher (EdD ’18) shares his experience leading a school through a “paradigm shattering event” like COVID-19. Named one of 16 worldwide TED-Ed Innovative Educators in 2019, Loescher reflects on how to support students, families and educators through radical change. 

“We need to remember that there will be implications as we undergo a paradigm-shattering series of events,” Loescher says. “Even now, we can see that this pandemic is teaching each of us that there are new ways to serve our learning communities. We can not forget that in any educational system design we must have a clear focus on equitable redistribution of resources to support our team, students and families. We must support those learning communities now while keeping a keen eye on the lessons we learn to address what is next.”

In short, he says, “we should be vigilant in our efforts to ensure that there is a silver lining for schools.”

Other episodes offer views of education from countries including Israel, Italy, South Korea, Singapore, Uruguay and China. One recent episode captured student voices from Beijing, Hawaii and Sydney. The series itself is inspiring spinoffs in other countries.

“The response from people is very encouraging,” Mishra says. “Why do you take an hour off on Saturday to listen to this? I think because the silver linings resonate with them. We started with five people talking, but it’s grown into a camaraderie with so many educators around the world. We all got thrown off this cliff together. We’re all in this new space. The care for the learners, the urge to connect with them, the meaningfulness of the profession we chose to take on, that's universal. We all work in our own corners and suddenly we were connected by this common experience, because of this virus.”

That’s not to minimize the disruption and the havoc this crisis has brought to people and their lives and economies, he adds. “But as educators, we’re always learning. We're seeing people redefine the value of schools and of what they contribute to the economy. We’re seeing questions about the role of the teacher. More and more schools have postponed standardized testing. Colleges are declining to include test scores in admission criteria.” 

The crisis allows us to question these things. “Suddenly, a lot of the things we have taken for granted can now be questioned,” he says. “It’s an opportunity for new forms of leadership, approaches and processes to create these new futures of learning.”

“At MLFTC,” says Mishra, “these conversations are driven by a core value of principled innovation our commitment to creative thinking and collaborative work in order to create positive change. As a college, we’ve been thinking about these things for a long time. It’s part of being No. 1 in innovation. COVID-19 will come and go, but the need for principled innovation is going to be there for a long time.”

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