See You On The Flipside!

So it might seem premature to start talking of “life after COVID19” but here in Nanjing, this is where we are heading – albeit slowly. Nothing about this situation is normal. It is unprecedented. Exceptional. Out of the ordinary. And our return to school deserves to be nothing short of the same.

When schools, including my own, get the green light from all the various governing bodies to reopen campus to students, I hope we see this as an opportunity embrace the changes that were thrust upon us and to leverage these as an opportunity to do something special and amazing.

I have said before that I am looking to see which schools rise from this more innovative, able to think about core structural changes, stronger in their commitment to personalizing learning – and I am wondering which schools will heave a sigh, say “thank goodness THAT is over” and resume business as usual. (*full disclosure: I want to do this on a pretty regular basis! The uncertainty that is embedded in all of this has been beyond stressful at times and to return to the comfortable, the familiar is totally valid -even if I can see that it doesn’t fit as well as it should or used to)

If you have read my blog for a while or if you know me, I like to think in problems, but also solutions. I am good at identifying areas for improvement and then suggesting things that may (or may not) meet the need and move things forward. What might that look like in this situation? Well, I also think in pictures and love the rhythm of three’s so here I have for you a P.S.A (if you will) on how a return to school might look:

Pods, Skills, Action

Icons made by Nikita Golubev from


When students return to school, they will be coming in staggered grade levels. Some will be in quarantine, some will be in other parts of the world. All of them likely will be looking to connect with others. (*Side note: while not typically an anxious person, the thought of being around large groups of people after months in my ‘bubble’ does leave me feeling anxious. I am guessing some students may feel the same). We could support students in their last few weeks of the school year by creating learning pods. Mixed grade level groups staffed by teachers from different disciplines with a shared interest in a common theme. A deep dive into literature, art history, and design. A close-up of science, art, and math. What if we used this as a chance to see how mixed age group learning works inside a brick and mortar school house institution? How might we pool our teaching talents and our love for our subject areas and cross pollinate them in a way that goes beyond the standard inter-disciplinary unit? How might these pods of learners (teachers and students) support each other? How might they thrive? How might we build connections beyond checking off curriculum objectives and filling in report cards?

What if we showed our students that what we learned from this pandemic is that connection to and personal investment in an idea is what motivates and sustains learning?

And then, what if we give them the opportunity to experience all this, all the time?


The framework for our system of pods could be built from the plethora of skills that reside with the Approaches to Learning (ATL). This robust bank of skills that schools have the ability to customize and add to, could well be the foundation for learning. Through the mapping and articulation of skills, learners could work together to strengthen and diversify thinking, research, social, self-management, and communication skills within authentic, personalized contexts.

Educators such as Suzanne Kitto and Rebecca Madrid have already done the hard yards on showing us what this skill framework might look like. It is now up to us to put it to use. How might we use the Approaches to Learning in a way that shows we are supporting the learning of the whole child? How might using the Approaches to Learning support personalized learning? Schools are already embedding Approaches to Learning in their classes – I have even made sets of ATL skill cards for Early Years learners to self-regulate their skill awareness and acquisition – so why not try it in mixed-age groups as a foundation for learning?


One of the hallmarks of an excellent school is that they strive for students to advocate for their own learning. They also want to help students grow in the understanding that they have the capacity to take action to make a difference. Student initiated action might look like this:

On a more practical level, it could involve students asking themselves one or more of the following questions and acting accordingly:

Working in pods, with the Approaches to Learning as their foundation, learners could develop an action plan that compliments the work they are exploring.

We could begin to view our students as capable, problem finders. Young people with the capacity to bring about change. Innovators who are capable of posing and answering their own questions.

These are just three ideas – but there are, of course, loads more:

  • Establishing breakout groups online and IRL, within and across grade levels
  • Regularly scheduled office hours built into the timetable in order to provide personalized learning opportunities and additional support without overwhelming student workloads
  • The development of a robust blended learning program to support the learning of all students
  • Greater student voice in choosing what and how and where to learn – and with whom
  • Developing flexible learning spaces that provide different ways for students to connect and engage

Schools could choose to do all of this – or none. They could go half-in and adapt these ideas or come up with something completely different. These ideas are an attempt to start thinking in terms of possibilities. I can hear the chorus of “but…” and “what about…” and for now, I tune them out despite how loud and overwhelming they get. I think more about what we might gain from trying rather than what we will lose. I think about what our attempts to innovate say to communities who are used to hearing how we pride ourselves on innovation in education.

I think ahead to when someone says, “What did your school do on the flip side of COVID19?” and I want to be proud of the answer I give.