Pioneers and quilters
When pioneers moved into the American West, they took with them their existing ways of life and cultures and shaped new ones. They created settlement and crafted artefacts, like patchwork quilts which were essential, iconic and beautiful.
People have always journeyed, exploring and settling in lands that are new to them. The pioneering spirit comes naturally to some individuals and becomes possible for more of us when undertaken collectively. Pioneers may not always relish the experience as an adventure but may be left with few options than to strike forth to secure a future.
The pandemic has forced a generation of teachers and school leaders into the role of pioneers. They have been on a journey through lockdown learning which few could have imagined and few relished. They have been navigating territory that is unfamiliar to them and crafted new ways of working and being. They have found new ways to meet the basic needs of children young people and their families. At the same time, they have found necessary ways to sustain their own professional roles, and to grow through the changes while looking after the needs of those closest to them. They may not all feel that they have flourished, and they know that they cannot fully rest yet. The struggles they and the people they serve have faced are real and continue.
The lockdown learning territory was new to many teachers and school leaders but was not empty. There were already existing practices and cultures of home-schooling, of online learning and of community education. There were already children and young people for whom attending school in person was not the norm. Some existing practices and experiences have been learned from and used to enhance the new landscape, some have been overlooked and displaced. Families, like teachers and school leaders, bring with them their existing expertise and knowledge, their existing vulnerabilities and anxieties. Fortunately, as pioneers, many in education have found places to settle temporarily, new technologies to adopt, new routines for remote school, new ways to bubble well. They have created opportunities for learning which blend new and old approaches.
New artefacts of lockdown learning have been created which we value as essential and are becoming part of our educational culture. These artefacts have contemporary meaning and purpose, and some will last well into the future. The creativity and hard work of teachers has been complimented by the creativity and support of others, all rising to the challenges we had hardly imagined a year ago. Parents, artists, authors and activists have all played a role. Organisations and institutions have offered services to each other to help to create the best possible landscape. Some of these have been funded, many have been offered voluntarily.
The pioneer teachers and leaders have been actively learning, experientially and through new and existing programmes. Engagement in their own learning and professional development has happened at speed to meet the unfamiliar demands, and in the corners and creases of daily life. Some days the pioneers have felt overwhelmed and other days they have felt extraordinary. They have brought their personal and professional attributes to meet the challenges of the new territory and been helped by the attributes of others. They have worked collaboratively and independently in the emergent spaces to build clarity and productivity in the chaos. In these pioneering times educators and learners have created new patchwork quilts. These are vibrant and dynamic and worthy of admiration.
Rachel Lofthouse is Professor of Teacher Education in the Carnegie School of Education. She has a specific research interest in professional learning, exploring how teachers learn and how they can be supported to put that learning into practice.