Head of School Blog

Distance Learning: Week 1 Reflections

 

Aloha kākou,

On a recent walk along the lava fields at Kīlauea Volcano National Park, one could see the supple sprigs of indigenous fern sprouting among the craggy crevices of inhospitable ʻaʻā.  “First growth”, the first visible sign of life following a devastating eruption, gives rise to the hope that a verdant ecosystem will soon rise from a landscape of despair. Itʻs with the same tentativeness that I first returned to campus following Spring Break, and with equal wonderment and hope that I left to go home, renewed by all that I encountered that day.

Not knowing what to expect, I was thrilled to find a number of teachers and staff working on campus--happy to interact with other human beings albeit with appropriate social distance. I witnessed teachers interacting online with families: conversing about math, an inquiry on epidemics, and soliciting valuable feedback.  Our teachers shared with me all of the lessons they had prepared for Week 1, as well as the great feedback their students and families were providing.  

One teacher shared that this new medium for interaction had challenged him to think differently about engaging students--both virtually and once they return to campus.  Another remarked on the irony of producing videos that featured a capella singing when she chose a career in teaching in part because she was neither a singer nor an actor.  Another shared her appreciation for the tech support and interdepartmental collaboration to develop new ways of engaging students in learning.  Early signs indicate that our teachers have met the challenge of a foray into this new world of distance learning and are prepared to stretch themselves as learners in order to continue to adapt to the new learning paradigm and ecosystem as we go forward.

In addition, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were alight with examples of distance learning done well and comments affirming our philosophy and hybridized framework for distance learning:

  • Preschoolers eager to begin Circle Time with their teacher
  • Lower schoolers excited to blast through the days lessons
  • Middle schoolers happy to flaunt every school rule while learning remotely--learning the importance of social norms in a virtual community
  • A tongue-in-cheek posting of a high schooler in his preferred distance learning mode, eyes closed, lying prostrate on his bed with his laptop open.  

An emerging shift in mindset--one that was already underway in the face-to-face world of school--was the sizable role that students played in their own learning and the concomitant shift in the kinds of learning activities that educators designed.  Those adept at “doing school”--mastering the great game of school--found their learning lives a little emptier in the virtual environment. The more self-actualized among us found the shift liberating: one was free to pursue deeper understanding or to translate learning into action.  Classroom time was merely a prelude to deep thinking/learning. Perhaps one of the biggest shifts in this distance learning mode was the onus it placed on students to own their learning.

For educators, our challenge is to structure online learning activities, pitched at the appropriate developmental level, in ways that provoke inquiry and to be available to guide and tutor students as they require.  We teach valuable skills and knowledge, to be sure, but more importantly stimulate interest in further discovery, understanding and transfer of learning to other domains. Distance learning provides educators with an opportunity to explore new modes of learning, new ways of capturing understanding and thought and enhanced practices to these ends.

Around every cloud, one can find a silver lining.  Each day the news reports that the number of COVID infections rises but at the same time an even greater number fully recover.  For those who have had loved ones affected by the epidemic--whether by loss of life, deteriorated health, loss of job or heightened anxiety--please know that you are supported by the rest of our LJA ʻohana, and we want to help. We are looking for ways to alleviate the burdens that too many in our community are experiencing. For instance, if you are concerned about recent changes to your household income, please know that it is not too late to submit a financial aid application or to contact Financial Aid at financialaid@lejardinacademy.org about your change in circumstances, as we are working diligently to increase available financial aid funding for the remainder of this school year and next. 

I would not have wished this crisis on anyone.  Having witnessed, however, the way in which the LJA community has come together, I have no doubt that we will emerge stronger as a school and as a community on account of this event.  As we look to the beginning of the end of this chapter in our school’s history, we see fresh shoots sprouting. On behalf of the trustees, I thank our students, teachers and families for their great work and community spirit, and send aloha to all of you.  

Me ke ha’aha’a,

Earl Kim