“Resilience is the ability to face internal or external crisis and not only effectively resolve it, but also learn from it, be strengthened by it, emerge transformed by it, individually and as a group.” --Gilbert Brenson-Lazan
Grappling with COVID-19 and its many disruptions to our society and economy has inspired us to reach out to people with insight to share. From addressing the challenges of distance learning to re-examining the relationship between public space and public health, our clients, colleagues, and collaborators share reflections on this moment, what they’re learning, and how they think design can be a partner in enabling future solutions.
The common refrain that we’re hearing is that a return to status quo is not possible. And so we look to resiliency as a framework to inform our work ahead. To equip our clients, colleagues, and collaborators with resilient strategies and designs – to help them emerge transformed, in the words of social psychologist Gilbert Brenson-Lazan – we must first learn from this moment by checking in with each other. If our future is changing, we must as well.
Let’s design it together.
Above: Keith sits second from left in a photo of Discovery Elementary School's "Coaches Team."
Keith Reeves is a fervent believer that “children and their learning [must come] first, in all things, now and forever.” He is the author of Insurrection: A Teacher Revolution in Defense of Children, a work on educational philosophy and pedagogy, and of Paperless Research Writing: Effective Digital Scaffolding for Academic Writing. A Certified Educational Technology Leader, he currently serves as Senior Instructional Technology Coordinator at Discovery Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia. The world’s first LEED Zero Energy school and the largest net-zero energy elementary school in the U.S., Discovery was recently named a World Changing Idea honorable mention by Fast Company magazine. You can read more about his research, writing, and publications at kdreeves.com
Hey y’all. This is a huge, huge conversation and one that we really need to be having.
One of the main take-aways we’re hearing from educators is that you can’t just take curriculum that you would normally teach in a physical environment and put it online. Do you agree?
A1: Keith Reeves
Instruction is not a commodity. Learning is not a commodity. It can't just be transferred from one storage medium to another; brick and mortar to online. That's not how pedagogy works. And the world of teaching online has an entirely different set of norms, an entirely different set of practices, and an entirely different set of research. It just doesn't work the same way.
What are your thoughts on the current state of K-12 online learning?
A2: Keith Reeves
The state of K-12 online learning right online is that we're not doing much good teaching because this platform doesn't allow for that. The platform is not designed for that. If we were going to talk about how we were going to authentically meet the every need of every learner, which is what pedagogy requires – in my view, in my theories, and in my writing – my fervent belief is that all teachers have a responsibility to meet all the needs of all of their learners, of each of their learners. If we're going to take that charge seriously, we have to fundamentally re-tool pedagogy for an online environment, and there are certain elements of learning online that are not necessarily developmentally appropriate for young children.
So the state of online learning right now for me is, is blithe. I don't think people at the administrative level, at the policy level, understand that this is a terrible substitute for loving, authentic pedagogy. We're doing our damnedest, but we don't have the professional development. We don't have research on how to do this. This is undone, right? Because we know from the literature that this is not a wise course of action, but it's all we have. So we have to try to make it work as best as we can.
What types of educational strategies do you think students are responding best to right now?
A3: Keith Reeves
Our responsibility as educators is, as I said, to meet all the needs of our children. And that includes making sure that they are physically healthy, that they are mentally healthy, that they are socially and emotionally healthy – to love them authentically and to take care of them. And you can't do that if you bolt them to a screen and ask them to do multiple choice quizzes.
Do you think schools will always be an important piece of physical infrastructure, or do you see this changing based on our experience with COVID-19?
A4: Keith Reeves
One of the things I want to talk about is revolutionizing the school to be basically a 24- hour-a-day community center that is all about meeting the needs of the community and first and foremost [the needs of ] the children in that community. And I do think the physical infrastructure will always be important. This is never going to be an appropriate substitute. It just isn't.
No, I don't ever see the physical infrastructure going away. To the contrary, it needs to become more adaptive and more physical infrastructures need to look at and feel like Discovery [Elementary School].
Given the important socialization that takes place in schools, do you think there are ways that online learning can make up for its social limitations?
A5: Keith Reeves
No. There is no way to make up for it. They will be different social interactions but there is no parity between them. I do have some hope. I don't want to keep saying ‘no.’ I do have some hope that this is going to provide families an opportunity to say ‘I need to be more involved watching what my child does online and help them facilitate pro-social interactions.’ I am having many more pro-social interactions with my friends and colleagues through an online interface compared to what I used to. But I have pro-social skills. I'm an adult. We have to teach those skills to our children, and this is an opportunity to do that. But we mustn't confuse it with the value of the kinds of interactions that occur organically in the physical real-world setting.
Are there effective methods for online community-building that you’ve witnessed or would recommend?
A6: Keith Reeves
The more time you can put groups of people together with those established norms and practice: not talking over each other, making sure everybody gets an opportunity [to speak], utilizing a back channel to raise a hand or ask questions. Some kids just like to see other kids and want to type. Some kids love to yammer. Helping teachers to facilitate that honest online exchange and to make sure every voice is heard – that's good praxis regardless of modality. But the skills that you have to employ in the online environment versus the physical environment are very, very different. Digital natives are obviously going to have an easier time of that than people who are not as technology comfortable.
From your experience during the pandemic, do you think there is anything missing in our physical learning environments that we should anticipate incorporating in the future?
A7: Keith Reeves
We need more modular design because when we come back from this crisis, there may be instances in which we want to do more [with] starting with a large group / mini lesson and then breaking out in even smaller components. I want the ability to flexibly re-arrange the school building on the fly. That's a real challenge. I recognize that a radical design like Joplin High School after their major tornado – the one that they built in the mall (you may be familiar with that architecture project) – had some of those unusual spaces born more out of necessity than anything else. But I always think that those [examples] are worth examining because I want us to have more of those flexible spaces for small group learning [so that] the individual can kind of retreat from the group when they're out doing their own thing.
What do you think design for post-pandemic schools looks like?
A8: Keith Reeves
The design of the learning environment needs to continue to be able to be tailored based on the needs of individual students, which is going to change not just on an annual basis, sometimes even a day-by-day basis. And I think that we are capturing that by making sure that rooms are open and flexible. We need more modular walls and need to continue to afford massive options in seating and in workspace.
Go to single occupancy stalls and then let's look at self-cleaning restrooms so that we can do serious sanitation. Yes, there's an expense involved, but we're going to have to start investing additional expense in hygiene. Those sort of things are really going to be hugely important in terms of spacing, in terms of hand-washing, in terms of providing ample disinfectants.
What do you miss most right now from school-as-usual?
A9: Keith Reeves
Seeing my kids every day. I think anybody who loves children is going to give you the same answer. I miss my kids. They really miss seeing them. There's something magical about watching them light up. That's why we became teachers, and I definitely do miss that.
Thanks very much. I’ll talk with you guys later!