A weekly blog on lessons learned by PDNorth Events Lead, Lou Mycroft
I actually wrote this article (see previous blog below that was scheduled for yesterday) last week, knowing something was coming but no idea of the scale of what. Only ten days later, reading it takes me back to a different time.
As this is published, schools and colleges are closing, people are (mostly) social distancing, supermarket shelves are bare, bars and restaurants are laying off their staff and the word ‘lockdown’ is on everyone’s lips. For some, those of us who have been building communities online for education and activism for a decade, it feels like everything has been moving towards this moment. The watchword is ‘community’. Whether or not #PDNorth2020 becomes a virtual event, the country is moving from individualism to thinking as a hive. This is reflected in professional development too, in the shift from those events where educators turn up looking for ‘stuff from experts’ to the line of flight PDNorth has been taking in recent years; not only sharing practice but creating spaces (and provocations) to think.
We originally planned three concurrent events, connected by a virtual thread and guided by the critical question: what can we do to help people feel part of a community even when they are in different places? The last few days have thrown up communities everywhere: Italians singing at 6pm every night from their balconies, the #DanceForJoy virtual flashmob or local communities setting up Covid-19 support networks and neighbourhood WhatsApp groups, encouraging one another to shop locally. It would be a community organiser’s dream…if it wasn’t for the threat we face.
If today’s predictions are reliable – and who can know? – by June 26th we’ll be coming out the other end, craving face-to-face encounters with one another but inevitably more skilled, more confident with digital. It has taken a global pandemic for the lightbulb to go on – digital is there to help us communicate with one another, if we use it properly. It’s not money we need to spend (sorry, predatory tech companies), it’s time, to think of novel ways to listen and learn from one another.
In the last few weeks educators have been rushing to set up learning communities – one of the best we’ve found (if you’re on Facebook) is The Spring 2020 Online Learning Collective. 10k members in less than a week but people are sharing with generosity and humility. It’s a great place to learn. If you’re on Twitter, check out the discussion on #UKFEChat (19th March 2020) for some great ideas – how to take teaching online whilst nurturing ourselves (not selfISH, selfFUL) and looking out for one another. Finally, FE is unfolding its arms and the FABDigital principles enshrined in PDNorth from the start are going to serve us all well throughout this time.
We don’t yet know what the 26th June will look like – in any sense. For many, this is the last day at the ranch for…how long? We don’t know. But we can assure you that it will be all about bringing us back together, taking stock…and continuing to reaffirm our shared, uninterrupted, love of FE.