Relearning to learn

In the first days of quarantine, I was adamant in saying there was no lesson to be learned in this period. It is a moment of crisis, and thinking of coming out of this pandemia a “better person” seemed absurd. I didn’t want to be a better person, I wanted to be alive, healthy, and I wanted to make sure my family and friends were too. I kept to myself, I kept working (as my company offers mostly online classes, and the team usually works from home). I focused on surviving.

But surviving entailed keeping life as normal as possible for me and my family. I participated in online Delta sessions from Troika which were supposed to have taken place face to face in Vila Madalena. I invited fellow school owners to Zoom meetings to see how we could help each other at this moment. I sat by my five-year-old daughter during her online classes. I saw a number of courses on teaching online coming out, both free and paid. The world of Education was shaken to its core, as all people involved in it (from students to parents to academic

coordinators and teachers) were facing a situation no one had ever been through,in the face of the uniqueness of this unexpected suspension of life. All parts involved lacked the technical knowledge and experience of going fully online overnight, at homes where families were afraid, insecure, and unprepared.

But after being in physical isolation for over a month, almost used to this “new normal”, I have been able to sit back and reflect on how things have developed. My daughter’s online classes went from chaotic and uninteresting to a 5 year old to engaging, relevant and fruitful. Her class has been divided into smaller groups to allow for more interaction. The school conducted a thorough questionnaire 2 weeks into the online situation. Parents’ feedback was taken in and changes have successfully been made. From what I gather, this has happened in a number of schools. This has happened in my own now 100% online school.

It seems to me, after one month of physical distancing in Brazil, that we have all been forced to take “Teaching in the pandemia 101”. We have been prompted to use all our background knowledge and apply it to a completely different teaching context. As if we started schools from scratch, knowing only students’ backgrounds, having pre-existing syllabi from a distant context, with unknown goals, unknown duration, unknown sponsors (as parents are not sending their children to the schools they have chosen, and as many of them are at risk of losing their jobs – or have already lost them).

And what became crystal clear to me is our ability, as teachers and coordinators, to rapidly relearn to learn, when we have no other choice. We have been studying hard, asking our fellow teachers for ideas, sharing our newest experiments and insights,even when working in different backgrounds, as we did in the early years of our careers, in the college library and halls. Being a teacher or a coordinator can be very lonely. And yet, we have been in touch, intensively discussing what to do next. We have been listening actively and humbly to feedback, (which, I believe to be one of the most difficult skills in any given profession), and have promptly implemented the necessary changes.

Prior to the pandemic, innovation was one of the current discussions in Education. And our area is very conservative and very resistant to change. “This wouldn’t work for my students”, or “parents are not going to accept this” were commonly heard in school meetings. Now we have been forced into finding innovative solutions to our pains, to the lack of the familiarity of the classroom, and we have no time to wonder whether these solutions are the best possible.

The lessons I hope will be taken from this intense, painful experience, are many. The ones I’m keeping close to my heart: the confirmation that sharing is key, and that competition is an illusion; listening actively to our students is eye opening: they might not know what they want, but one our peers probably has the answer to that; changing and new practices are always possible when conducted responsibly, based on previous knowledge and expertise; and new solutions and outcomes are bound to arise even when the problem seems unsurmountable.

Are we close to the perfect online education system? Not at all. We are still on our learning curve, not because of the pandemic, but because online teaching with synchronous sessions has been around for not longer than 10 years. But as historians point out, events such as the one we are facing tend to fast-forward History. The advances we are implementing right now will be used for years to come. Do I see the pandemic as a positive event? No. It is dreadful. I would easily trade these lessons we’ve learned in such a short period of time for a 100 years of

slow change with no threat to human lives.. I’m mourning all canceled plans, heartbroken for all the lives cut short, all the sadness this pandemic has brought into our lives.

But I’m an optimist. We’ll make it through these dark days. Life’s stronger.

Carmem Foltran

Teacher and Academic Director at Dynamic Class, Carmem Foltran holds a Master’s

Degree in English and American Literature, and a degree in English and Portuguese from

FFLCH-USP. She also holds the IH Certificate in Online Tutoring. She has been a teacher for almost 20 years and has also worked as a course developer, teacher trainer and


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