Education in Unprecedented Times

The word “unprecedented” seems incredibly indicative of the past eight months. Almost every single part of our lives has shifted in the wake of COVID-19. As time passes, we move on with our new reality, people change their perception of work and life, and we have all inevitably become an extension of our computers. Amidst all of this new technology and social distancing comes an array of unexpected consequences, as well as benefits. These exist in a workplace, but this blog will be focused on a slightly different outlet, rather than working in the pandemic it will be centered around a different form of work— learning and teaching during a pandemic. Within our realm of remote existence during a pandemic, lies our school system. 

            Students are in some of the most important years in many their lives and the circumstances they are learning under are wildly different from their predecessors. There is a sense of a barrier in learning through a computer or even with a mask on. Teachers have reflected on the unexpected barrier a mask gives, especially this fall as teachers meet new students and are unfamiliar with their faces. Masks are undeniably a necessity in classrooms, but in their use lies that barrier between students and teachers. Schools contain a sense of human connection and a hunger for learning and new experiences, it now falls upon the faculty and schools to make certain that the pandemic does not muffle this desire for knowledge and connection; an unprecedented task for our unprecedented reality. 

            Students and teachers are existing in a new sense of normal and adapting to acquiring knowledge and life skills in far different realities than last September. As a college student in this pandemic I have had ample time to acquire the study skills necessary to succeed in academic settings and I still struggled with online learning this past spring. The majority of students are currently learning these study skills amidst a rather turbulent learning environment and it is important to acknowledge and nurture this fact. They are not only obtaining new knowledge like every other year; they are also learning how to learn under these circumstances; just as teachers are learning how to teach. While the students are learning online or with masks and social distance, the teachers are learning alongside them, all while teaching! It is important to address the newfound relationship between students and teachers, a sort of comradery along with the general sense of uncertainty that is touching everyone. There is often times a perception that teachers are somewhat of superheroes, holding all of the knowledge. In these times there is truly no one holding all of the knowledge surrounding the pandemic and virus, and that is something that the students are having to reconcile with. Students are reaching of new balance of finding out that these teachers and parents are not superheroes and that they are just as confused and helpless as the rest of us. The fragments of reality are shifting in a place where ideally students would be able to come to find comfort and normalcy. COVID has seeped into the metaphorical walls of our school system and the educators are dealing with the many consequences of a pandemic. The most important years in student’s lives are shifting along with their teachers and both must find new ways to succeed within whatever new form of classroom they have been placed. 

Thank you so much for taking the time to read and please leave any thoughts below!

Introducing Brynn

My name is Brynn Puppe, I am an intern and Williams College student and for the foreseeable future I will be doing my best to shed light on the new realm of learning that has arrived with the pandemic. In this new blog series, I plan to unpack the difficulties and triumphs of the various forms of learning that have emerged within the pandemic through interviews and conversations with educators, as well as students and parents about their own experiences. In our ever changing existence it is important to acknowledge the shifts that are made at the core of our country- in our schools. 

While addressing all of the academic issues that come along with COVID I will also address the inherent shift in every human’s fragile reality that comes with something as tragic and looming as a pandemic. Learning styles and settings are obviously varying from the past, but so is the sense of safety and security that came with a world not experiencing a pandemic. This, like almost every issue in the American school system, is disproportionally affecting students of lower socioeconomic statuses as well as students of color. When addressing the academic issues that come with this pandemic, it would be foolish to deny the role that financial status and race plays in the success of students, especially during these times. This gap exists in every moment for these students and the pandemic only amplifies it. I hope that through these writings we can all obtain a greater understanding not only of schools during a pandemic, but education as a whole. 

Thank you for the taking the time to read, and please feel free to leave any comments and questions below!

Why “Outermost”?

Independent schools have a habit of focusing a fair bit of resources on values and mission. We might call them pillars, or guiding principles, or essential elements, or some other lofty variation. There is nothing wrong with living by a clearly defined set of values, or of boldly stating a community’s mission or purpose (yes, we have a mission too!) In fact, these carefully wordsmithed statements become a bond which, when used well, tie together an independent school community across curricula, departments, and decades. 

Yet, we might also see that we create our own limits when we live and work in such a neatly defined manner. What a definition of purpose delivers with details may, on the flip side of that same coin, limit in our perspective. 

Perspective – the stepping back and taking in of a broader understanding of the community experience – requires both attention to detail and the allowance of space for new ideas. So, why “Outermost”? Well, for a perhaps overly bookish reason, of course. (Afterall, I was an English major.)

Henry Beston’s 1928 book “The Outermost House”, the inspiration for our firm’s name, is all about getting perspective. Beston, a naturalist, spent a year living in a tiny shack in the dunes of Eastham, MA – our home and the founding place of OES. He wrote about the vast natural world around him, laying out in great detail the minute actions of foxes and fish alike, while at the same time reflecting on the society he left behind. Like Thoreau before him, Beston finds his perch overlooking the Atlantic to be a “neutral ground” from which he might consider the world at large. In focusing on the minutia of the dunes, the forest, and the sea, Beston found room for a fresh perspective. 

So here I sit on that same stretch of sandbar, nearly 100 years later, sifting through a different set of details – the particulars of boarding school life – in the pursuit of perspective.