Education is about Relationships
This week I finished reading The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis again. His writings are lifetime favorites, and even though I know how the story goes I uncover something new with each read. At the end of this chronicle of Narnia, Aslan invites his followers “Further up and further in” to an unknown land after the world they once knew disappeared.
Likewise, we stand at the end and a beginning. An end of a nightmarish year, and the beginning of a hopeful year. But a year not without challenges. Many students will continue learning remotely due to the current surge. Teachers will work tirelessly to meet the needs of their students. Families will fight to keep food on the table as the economy begins to recover.
In a recent informal survey that our group conducted with approximately 250 middle school students, the number one issue they mentioned they are facing is COVID-19. Second on their list was their desire and need to go back to school so they could connect with friends and be more focused on their learning.
In reviewing the open-ended responses from students, I was struck with their honest acknowledgement of fear and frustration. Like most of us, they are ready for this to end, although we may need to take precautions throughout 2021. Even with a vaccine, we have not overcome the pandemic or the massive shift in education that it has brought.
What strikes me most at this moment in time are these two things:
- Our increased dependence upon technology
- Our innate need for human relationship
Once again, we find ourselves balancing technology and humanity. I wonder how we can best integrate the two. And, as I’ve suggested before, let us use technology in service of humanity instead of enslaving humanity to technology.
I believe the answers lie in talking and listening to our students, families, and teachers.
The students mentioned spotty Internet and the inability to stay motivated with online learning. They thanked their teachers for believing in them, and they said time and again that they just want to be with their friends.
Is it possible to provide the structure of formal education while offering opportunities for connection in a virtual learning environment?
Higher education has tried to do this for years by offering remote classes and online discussions. These often fall short of the in-person experience. But what do we do in a world where we have no other choice than technology-enabled teaching and learning?
I realize I may be stating the obvious while raising challenging questions. However, we often overlook what is right in front of us because of the necessity for forward motion. My recommendation is that we take the weeks over the Holiday Break to reset by powering off our laptops and our phones, so that we can see these tools for what they can do for us instead of what we must do for them.
At the core of education is relationship. Think of the great philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. Their students learned through their dialogue. Or think of the master tradespeople who taught their apprentices a trade through modeling and hands-on work, such as welders and seamstresses. Relationships change people, not programs or technologies. As we unplug, may we return to our center so we can see clearly. The battle for the minds and hearts of our children is not yet over.
Ideas for your school community:
- Student Hangouts – Schedule routine times for students to gather online just for fun.
- Internships – Coordinate internship opportunities with business and industry leaders in your area.
- Family Fun – Provide hands-on activities that can be done at home during virtual gatherings. This does require pre-planning and material distribution. You can create a shared experience and spread the excitement on your social channels. Check out www.loveinabigworld.org for ideas.
About the author
Tamara Fyke is an educator and social entrepreneur with a passion for kids, families, and urban communities. She is the creator and author of Love In A Big World, which provides mental health, SEL, and wellness curriculum and content. During quarantine, Tamara created MusiCity Kids, an online educational show for kids ages 6-12 that addresses health, movement, character development, STEAM, and more.