As the COVID-19 situation started to unfold around the world, NIS, armed with international and local information and connections, began anticipating what inevitably became the global phenomenon of 'learning from home.' With software tools already in place, the school had a good head start in pivoting quickly to 'NIS Online.'
Preparation happened over the first three days in March. Classroom and student support teachers sharpened their skills in tech training, and teams worked smoothly to transition the curriculum to an online platform. It was a new challenge, but rewarding knowing that the students would still have the opportunity to learn and connect with their teachers and classmates in a new way over the next few weeks.
Launch day was March 5, and everyone was nervously excited. When teachers logged on to see their students' faces, there was a visible sigh of relief that they were 'back together,' even if only through a computer screen. The Yomiuri newspaper was there to capture the moment in some poignant photos that eventually made their way to CNN, ABC News (in the U.S.), and even the scientific journal, Science.
Over the next few weeks, teachers and students eased into this new way of doing school. Teachers worked to deliver the curriculum which our students deserved, knowing that this would need an entirely new approach that was mindful of the increased limitations and the exceptional collaborative and connective opportunities of the online learning environment. On top of that, the staff also knew that being separated from their students would mean that we would need to care for student well-being in different ways. The corridor conversations and check-ins, the availability of the counselor's office, the 'hey how's it going' of the lunchroom chatter - all of this would be gone. Staff worked to develop virtual and online systems to care for the emotional and physical health and safety of NIS learners.
Suddenly, NIS parents became a much larger part of the learning experience, from helping to set up spaces (not an easy task when there were several students in the house!) and the tech tools needed, to coaching, tutoring, and even cooking a lot more! Parents were inquiring and inspiring along with their students and, along the way, had a significant impact on the success of NIS Online. Through doing this, the relationships between staff and parents became stronger and deeper than ever before. Teachers gained a whole new appreciation for how families supported one another in learning, while parents gained a much deeper understanding of the NIS approach to teaching and learning and the thought and planning process of our staff.
As days turned into weeks, teachers and students became more comfortable with their new routine, and creativity began to flow. And as school started to wind up for the summer, we could reflect on what we had learned. We have a deeper value of the physical space of the school and the importance of human connectivity. We realize the importance of physical interaction within the learning process and the social and emotional development of children. But we also have a much clearer appreciation of the transformative power of technology as a tool for learning. Whether it be the ability for students to connect to experts globally via a Google Meet, or the democratization of the classroom, we have seen through collaborative virtual engagements, the potential of technology to create equity of access for students. Technology has the power to bring the world into the classroom and the classroom into the world - a realization that we won't soon forget. This experience has made us stronger and wiser, and when COVID-19 is behind us, what we have learned will have enriched our entire learning program.