Last Spring, Denmark was one of the first countries in the world to reopen schools after five weeks of a country-wide shut-down.
After several sleepless nights, my husband and I finally made the decision to send our three kids back to school and daycare when the opportunity arose in mid-April. Despite being exhausted and (really) ready to get back to some normalcy, the reality of sending my kids back into the world after the Covid-19 shut-down was terrifying. The likelihood of the virus spreading throughout schools felt imminent and like it was only a matter of time before we all became sick.
I can’t say exactly what the tipping point was. Perhaps it was my husband’s unwavering trust in the government (he’s Danish). Maybe it was my kids missing their friends. Maybe I just became really desperate to work again without hearing Frozen 2 playing in the background. We made the decision and never looked back.
Denmark started the reopening process with children in daycares and in grades 0-5. You’ve probably already read about many of the restrictions put in place to secure good hygiene, control student movement and distance students in physical spaces. They extended the reopening process to students in grades 6-9 a few weeks later. Some schools continued remote learning from home, others have joined the younger students in the physical school building where there has been space. Schools with limited space have had to look elsewhere to host classes.
As an advocate for Project-Based Learning and student-centered learning approaches that tend to “blow-up” the current organisation of school, the structures outlined by “Corona School” was troubling. Understandably, stopping the spread of Covid-19 requires a large amount of control on behalf of teachers. My vision for lively, collaborative and free learning environments was held hostage by the very practical demands of returning to school.
Over the course of the first week after reopening, several news articles documented schools and students actually benefiting from “Corona School.” The articles in Danish can be found here and here.
Despite the restrictions mentioned above, Danish schools found:
These experiences could be surprising given the drastic changes to school as we know it when they reopened.
But in hindsight, I don’t find myself so surprised.
Smaller class sizes? Outdoor learning? Thematic teaching? The elimination of exams, curriculum and learning goals? No bells? Co-creation with students? Shortened school day? Fostering relationships with students?
Of course these changes would result in joy, freedom and learning.
As a consultant, I often find myself in a disruptive role. I am trying desperately to stop the treadmill that schools and teachers often find themselves on so we can reflect, become curious and reimagine. I have to admit that Covid-19 has been far more effective in this role than I could ever hope to be and it has not been the shut-down that has done this… it’s been the reopening.
Moving learning to the online environment has been a disruption, no doubt. But the experiences and lessons of the shut-down almost seem too far removed to effectively transfer to life in the physical building. Although valuable, the lessons of the shut-down might be tucked away in the back of our minds, belonging to an extreme situation. An extreme time.
The reopening though, is what we know. We know the buildings. We know the roles. We know how school operates in this context.
This is the real moment of disruption.
We can’t go back to normal, so what do we do?
Of course we move forward in pursuit of safety but if we’re lucky we may also find reopening schools as a catalyst for so much more.
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