What has Changed
The Covid-19 crisis in Italy has come into our lives as sudden as a catastrophe and it showed how much we, collectively, are not prepared to face an emergency such as the one we are currently living. The initial response has been confused and uncertain by our government, not enough information was available and the new epidemic seemed something rather distant; one that could not impact the way we live or work or meet the ones we care about. However, the situation worsened quickly and soon we found ourselves in a full lock down, where even the simplest, most habitual tasks become heavily regulated and difficult to fulfil.
The sudden change has had an enormous impact on routines. Work and education have gone through the biggest changes. As advisors, teachers, educators we rely heavily on physical presence to interact with our students, to monitor their well being, to receive updates on the things they're working on. This had to drastically change once the lock down began and we found ourselves unable to meet and thus obligated to change the way we communicate with one another.
In Big Picture Learning Italia we faced numerous challenges both personal and technological. For example: we worked a lot on becoming competent in the use of new platforms, making sure that both students and teachers had access to basic means for participating in the new digital learning challenge.
Moreover, we collectively had to relearn how we speack with each others and adapt to a new form of communication that is necessarily mediated and has to happen with a device, with screens and microphones.
How we adapted
All in all, the challenges were met with extreme collaboration between the students and the teaching staff. Both groups were completely open to changing their habits and adapting to this new way to learn and live. The most impressive thing, here in Italy, has been the enthusiastic response by everybody involved in the project: teacher, students and staff members all decided to work together to make this digital learning experiment possible. As a consequence, the bond between the people involved has, somehow, strengthened and everyone has done their part to ensure that the transition was as smooth as possible.
The way we spend time together has changed dramatically as well. Staff meetings are meticulously planned to ensure that everybody is able to participate accordingly to their private routine and the time is spent efficiently. Advisories also had to be adjusted. Fortunately, this became another chance for the students and the advisors to learn how to communicate well, how to leave space for everyone to express themselves, and how to overcome some of the initial shyness. In some cases smaller groups of students were created inside the advisories to ensure that everyone was able to interact, share stories and maintain the existing relationships that are so incredibly important in times such as these. We also discovered the absolute delight of spending every Friday morning away from lessons and homeworks by playing games together to reconnect and let out some of the stress we felt.
Another part of our work that had to be strongly adjusted to the current situation was the involvement in our community. Every planned activity was postponed so a lot of our time was dedicated to contemplate the changes our society was going through. For example, as a school we reached out to nurses and doctors from our community to try and understand how they are managing in such an unexpected situation, how their work changed, and how they felt in the new reality they lived everyday.
How we worked with our network
Although we experienced some setbacks, some activities we've been able to follow through with in this new routine almost seamlessly. In fact, some of the professionals that gravitate in our network were able to dedicate some of their time to meet our students and share different point of views on different topics. We had the chance to meet with some of our closest supporters who were able to spark the most diverse interests in our students. One of our hosts presented the topic of “fake news,” igniting a discussion on how it affected our approach to the pandemic and to other sensational information that we find every day on social media.
We held another interesting meeting with a couple of Slide Queens. Since one of our closer collaborators is a visual designer and has, along with her partner, decided to save the world frome ugly slides, we asked her to join us to sate some of the curiosity the students had on how to make presentations appealing. Meeting with them has been an enriching experience for our students who were able to ask all the questions they had on presentations, communication, the use of images and colors, and all the things they can use to make spectacular presentations to show during their exhibitions.
Moreover, the students are still collaborating with one of our biggest supporters: a fundraiser that created the project Kidraiser and is currently helping us raise funds to invest in our school. It has become a weekly meeting that everybody look forward to. With her the students are learning how to work together as a team, share responsibilities and divide the work based on what they can do best.
What we learned
This crisis we found ourselves in has given us the opportunity to learn the possibilities that new technologies offer to us and to revisit the way we approach studying and teaching. This experience has radically changed the way we relate to things such as distance, relationships, and working so much that they've acquired new meaning and a renewed importance. At the moment it is almost unthinkable to leave behind everything that we learned how to use or experienced, because it became part of our new way of living.
The proficiency we acquired in the use of some digital platforms will take a central role in didactics in the following years; it sure made everybody's lives easier to have a unique shared space! We hope to maintain all of the connections we have created during this period; meeting with other members of the Big Picture network to share tips and suggestions has been incredibly valuable.
Creating and keeping alive our networks has been very important to maintain our work and our identity as a Big Picture school. All the people that supported us through the years were able to participate in enriching this experience for all the kids.
In the end no matter what the future holds we know we will be able to adapt and make the best with what we are given as we did in these months, so we will continue to face the future with hopefulness and an open mind.