By Mary Coverdale, Director of The Learner First, Australia.

As we celebrate Anzac Day here in Australia, I pay tribute to the army of educators who have become first responders in this time of COVID-19. Their ability to adjust and adapt to changing circumstances stoically and rapidly has been vital in creating some stability in what has been a confronting and chaotic social change. They managed to shift the provision model of the entire system––in a week.

Leaders, teachers, and support staff have profoundly demonstrated:

  • Courage in the face of fear when panic was impacting the psyche and behavior of whole communities
  • Initiative in a time of abrupt change when critical and creative decision making held a profundity not experienced before
  • Clarity in a time of uncertainty when each community had to respond through the lens of its own context
  • Flexibility and adaptability to cater for appropriate differentiation for the needs of staff and students
  • Compassion, empathy, and care in a time when the well-being and mental health of their community is at risk.

Where we saw panic in communities, we saw planning and provision in schools. Yes, there was initial confusion––however, that was almost immediately replaced by planning, excellent connection and communication, and new structures for learning. Positive intent and goodwill came to the fore. The focus and energy driving the urgency to be ready for the students reflected the value placed upon education in this era. The disruptive force of a global pandemic saw organizational change that will be recognized as historic. Schools across the globe have flipped their learning. It’s extraordinary to see teachers in their homes, often managing their own children, and teaching students in a plethora of circumstances, trying to adapt to learning fully online.

And so it goes on. It’s hard, hard work to fully adapt curriculum and pedagogy and assessment into this new environment. Technology has come into its own. However, it can be fickle, and systems haven’t had this level of pressure on them before. Equity of access has meant that some students in disadvantaged communities or rural and remote settings find it harder to manage to get online than those in urban settings. Teachers are learning about the value of apps to facilitate curriculum delivery. Marking attendance, questioning, giving feedback, assessing, collaborating––all fundamental to the life of learning––have changed. The virtual space demands this adaptation.

Add the pressure of the diversity of needs of the students, and creating social and emotional supports has become the bedrock of making the best of this situation. The relational strategies are many and varied. I’ve seen leaders using a variety of platforms to reassure as well as remind those in their community that empathy, compassion, and care form the way of working now and always. Kindness is more pervasive. Teachers are checking in on students in a variety of ways, making sure they are OK.

Change management has always been fraught with difficulty––the process, the timing, how to unlearn and relearn, how to bring people along. That’s an indulgence that wasn’t offered to leaders and teachers in schools. This has been truly disruptive. I applaud the positive intentionality of the entire workforce in doing the best they can for every child. I commend them on their persistence and patience in this new reality. We can see and hear their love and their connection with the students, families, and their craft. We can see and hear their concern for the most vulnerable. We can see and hear their remarkable determination to ensure that the essence of their work, the powerful connection between the teachers and their students, is sustained.

The rudder of the good ship Education is in safe hands. Thank you to all educators around the world. The ANZAC spirit is active and observable. I salute you.