I had the pleasure of working with Miss Tammy Tusek during her tenure at Dubai Arabian American School (DAAS) where she occupied the position of Principal. Considering her success in school performance turnaround, I was thrilled when she accepted to share some of her thoughts on the evolution in education and the integration of technology in the classroom.
My dear friend, Miss Tusek Wrote:
The year of 2020 brought with it great unexpected change. As a 20-year educator, the evolution of education has been constant, but I was surprised at the reaction of both parents and educators when the pandemic changed the classroom.
Technology integration in classrooms began in the late 1990s. First teachers were dappling in Word, PowerPoint and the World Wide Web. Lessons were enhanced with technology and students often helped the teachers with glitches, without formal training. The shift began where computing labs were open for student use in schools, technology classes were part of the curriculum for all grades and then it shifted to mini labs in each classroom. Quickly after, students began to bring their own devices to school or schools issued them to each student as technology took the lead globally in all sectors. I remember this all. I was fortunate to be a teacher who was piloting technology integration and was astounded at how quickly my middle school students learned the skills—quicker than the content I was teaching.
Fast forward to 2020, students were learning coding, robotics, writing their own programs and developing their own apps at a very young age. It was the norm, not the exception. In the earlier part of 2020, the rapid spread of COVID-19 forced schools to look at alternative choices to educating our future workforce. The possibility of Distance Learning infiltrated our lives. As a team of leaders, when we began monitoring the global trends of schools and how they responded to the pandemic in their institutions. We began to investigate, deliberate, plan and pilot what this would look like in our school. Hours of forward thinking and training of teachers. Tick tock, tick tock, the clock was moving forward, and then it came. Suddenly, we were notified that the country was to shut down and all businesses and schools would proceed online in a lockdown situation. Mandated virtual classrooms for all students for an underdetermined amount of time. It was ‘go time’. We had a well-developed plan for the schedule, surveyed the students about devices and WIFI access at home, kept the software consistent to what they were using in the class with the exception of virtual ‘live’ lessons.
In the implementation of this, the first wave of panic came from the teachers. For many, they had never facilitated a virtual lesson. Their initial comfort level was to record a lesson and share with students at home. Some teachers quickly began to trial run different programs such as Zoom and Teams. The confidence began to build 1 by 1. Parallel to this, students began to message school leadership on how better to facilitate the lessons for them as learners. Barriers began to decrease. There were issues with the demand of the access to the internet across the city simply because of the amount of constant users at any given time. The children, they adapted. If classes dropped, they waited patiently. They recommended learning platforms other than those we first planned for. Teachers were urged by their students in all grades for virtual live lessons and they helped manage the sessions.
The World Economic Forum has stated that we are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (2017) which is solely based on technology and young scholars have been preparing for this since birth. It was evident as the students led the virtual learning initiative.
At our school, it was observed that our students exemplified resilience and supported their teachers the same. Was it perfect? No, but a work in progress supported by the creativity and communication skills from our students. It was obvious that the pandemic put us in a position where the students were demonstrating their technological skills, waiting on us to incorporate what was natural to them. Reflecting on the world today–our littles with smart phones in hand, figuring out how to access the app they desire independently. If a technological issue arises, they quickly have solutions or can provide us with better ways of using the technology.
If the pandemic taught us anything in 2020 it is that of great resilience. We could not be successful in any aspect of life without it. Our children were leading the way, demonstrating to us that they were more capable than thought, their emotional intelligence well developed. It is important however to remember, as students trailblaze through their learning pathways as change makers, that we offer them support and slow them down when needed. They are now in front of screens most of their day. Have our eyes evolved to meet the needs of this demand?
Some strategies for students to balance technology use are as follows:
- Ensure that an equal amount of non-technology play time is incorporated during the day. Best would be to go outside, board games, reading a book or any type of play would suffice. Screens should be off limit during this time.
- Have a conversation with your child on how they learn best. What programs are working for them and which of them do they disengage with? Use this to begin a conversation with their teacher(s) to support individual success for your child.
- If a child can do something without the screen, allow them. This could be crafts, cooking, gardening etc. Particularly as it pertains to their schoolwork. Kinesthetic learning is an important method to incorporate and builds fine and gross motor skills. The student should come up with the idea of how to show their learning for mastery.
- If the lesson has a project with specific materials, have students consider what other supplies can be used if the ones requested by the teacher are not at home. They are very creative, and their replacements are often very innovative.
- Limit ‘social’ screen time after the academic day. Ensure your students have a few hours before picking up their screens again to give their brains and eyes a break.
It is an exciting time as education moves at a rapid pace to meet the needs of the technological revolution and teachers are learning simultaneously with our students. It is appropriate to allow the younger generation to show us their learning tools in collaboration. I continue to be impressed with our students, their knowledge and resiliency with great excitement for the future.
Miss Tusek is a transformative leader with 16 years of experience in educational leadership and 4 years in teaching. She led the strategic planning and execution for Dubai Arabian American School into breaking a three year ‘weak’ rating pattern by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau and brought the school to a rating of ‘acceptable’ in 7 months.
She built a school ethos around empowering students to be instrumental and active stakeholders and developed systems around modern international education practices. Her belief in students and confidence in teachers made them believe in themselves thus cultivating a sense of belonging and citizenship behavior demonstrated by students and teachers.
What Miss Tusek was able to accomplish at Dubai Arabian American School is only a fraction of her accomplishments in her career journey in Education. A highly respected member of the education community in the United Arab Emirates, she is an inspirational leader and principal.
Most importantly, she is an inspirational human being and a woman of great honesty, integrity and courage. Where people say they will do things and give empty promises, she actually does them. Children are naturally responsive to her belief in them, planting the seed of a love for learning and ambition and nurturing it as it grows.