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“Learning-in-place”

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While the whole world is grappling with a new viral threat and the social and economic consequences of our battle against it, schools are figuring out how to continue while we ‘shelter in place.’ Parents are clearing out spaces for kids to learn at home, students are learning adult video-conferencing and productivity tools, and teachers are adapting their courses created for classrooms to happen in a virtual space. This is all happening very fast, and no one is sure for how long. The technological tools at our fingertips seem almost limitless (if students have computer and high speed internet access), and for that reason among others, it seems likely that for good or ill, this season could have lasting effects on the way school is done in the future.

All of this forced change in the how we do school also invites an important question—what are we doing?

Four educators started Waterloo because while school-as-we-know-it has great ‘whys’—to prepare kids for college, life, service, success and so on—it has some outdated ‘whats’ that only exist because…they’ve existed for a long time—antiquated schedules, bureaucratic procedures, insulated cultures, and out-dated assumptions about the world our graduates will enter.

Moving our schools to online home-schools invites all educators to ask the question—is what we are doing really the best way to accomplish those great ‘whys’ listed above? Waterloo is in a unique position in all of this. We are less than a year old, and we started precisely by asking those questions and seeking to build an adaptable, forward-thinking, relevant real-world school that prepares students for whatever lies before them. So for us, this moment is slightly different. It is a test: Does Waterloo adapt even to this?
And we are finding that, though this is easy for no one, in fact, it actually looks a lot like it did before:

◆ The pace. Two classes a day, four days a week, for two credits in twelve weeks. We don’t have to change our schedule because it’s at the pace and rhythm of life and learning already.

◆ Learning to do things. Language, science, writing, reading, computation: kids are still working toward demonstrating ability and knowledge through real world products. Taking ‘tests’ like we all crammed, passed, and forgot serves as one measure of learning, but the real ‘test’: can you create something valuable for others with it? Kids are still doing that.

◆ Real-world living. “The city is the school”, our motto takes on new meaning when we are all sheltering in place and connection online, but it doesn’t change: they are less ‘in the city’ in realtime, but they are no less ‘for the world.’ Learning these tools, making sense of what is happening now—we want to pull that into our learning, not treat it as a disruption to overcome.

◆ Above all, relational. To develop healthy relationships—with others, the world, with God—that is what this is all about. That’s what kids need from their schools, even online ones. So we prioritize that—not Zoom lectures, but Zoom discussions and one-on-one’s; not impersonal one-size-for-everyone, but customized learning across the curricula, inviting each student to grow through this extraordinary—but also ordinary—time. It is much harder, but we’ve also been able to steer directly into that challenge because it is our mission to do so: Waterloo integrates academics and city engagement, mentoring students to become whole people, in relationships, in Christ.

This moment presents an unprecedented challenge to education, and it is not just a challenge of ensuring students earn credits and have a certain experience: it’s to focus our efforts on what our students need—preparation and formation to become people ready to take on all the challenges and opportunities they will face in years to come.

Craig Doerksen