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When Classical Schooling Collides with High-Tech Learning

Dr. Tom Stoner, Ed.D.| March 23, 2020

Old Meets New

What happens when a global pandemic forces us to take our entire classical and Christian program online? 

With only a few days lead time, our teachers trained to use Microsoft Teams for Education, a powerful online platform that makes it possible for all of our grades–kindergarten through grade 8–to post assignments, to schedule real-time video classes, to conduct individual and small group conferences, and even to use the computer touch screen as a virtual whiteboard on which the teacher and the students can write and erase simultaneously during classroom instruction. 

“Students and teachers can use the computer touch screen as a virtual whiteboard to write and erase simultaneously during classroom instruction.”

It would be misleading for me to give the impression that this transition happened without challenges. Learning new technology can be intimidating, and its propensity to glitch seems to rise in direct proportion to the urgency with which we hope it does not.  I heard the sighs of teachers, took a few calls from overwhelmed parents, and felt the anxiety myself.  

But we did it.  With a collective “can do” attitude, our entire community rose to the occasion.  By the second day, the teachers reported that attendance in virtual classes was nearly perfect. Students engaged in real-time instruction, even learning new material and concepts.  The art teacher reported a student turning in an assignment ahead of the due date with other students commenting, “That is beautiful!” Another teacher presented optional math challenge problems, and when a student finally solved the problem, other students were heard saying, “Way to go!”  Parents organized online recess gatherings and everyone pushed through real obstacles with wide-ranging degrees of triumph.  Woven throughout the challenge of converting to this new way of learning, we saw the common themes of an eagerness to learn about the world God has made and a joy in learning in relationship with teachers and classmates. Strengthening our community in a time of isolation was an unexpected outcome during a period of great uncertainty. 

When Classical Schooling Collides with High-Tech Learning

When answering the question, “How is Covenant Classical School different from other schools?” I most often say that our educational model is similar to the way all schools used to be in America up until about 100 years ago, both in what we teach and how we teach it. Our  curriculum is designed to teach our students the ideas that have shaped our culture, and it views content knowledge as intellectual capital essential to preparing our students for the future. Our teachers use methods that have proven effective for centuries but are viewed as old-fashioned by some in today’s world.  Classical schools prioritize direct instruction, value memorization, and ask the questions that inspire deep thinking and connections between subject areas. Our teachers set high expectations and cultivate classroom habits such as listening attentively to others, showing respect for authority, and demonstrating kindness to others.

Are Classical Schools Anti-Technology?

There is definitely some truth to the charge that our model of education is “anti-technology,” at least to most peoples’ way of thinking.  We don’t put electronic devices in our students’ hands in the classroom, and we do not utilize screen time in the classrooms for learning games and the like. We are vigilant to avoid the distractions technology can bring to the classroom.  We also do not want the technological tail to wag the educational dog. It is increasingly common in schools to spend too much class time and energy teaching students to master technology before they actually master learning.  

“If we teach children the power of ideas and to put first things first–such as reading widely, thinking deeply, and writing and speaking well–and if we teach children the high value of respecting others, they will be able to transfer those hard-earned habits and skills to new arenas, even when that task involves realigning their approach to education.”

At the same time, we are not technophobes.   Most of our teachers use technology in the classrooms every day and older students do so regularly.  We simply do not believe that giving children computers in class helps them learn how to write a clear paragraph or helps them understand the ideas in math, science, and logic used by the people who create the technology we use.

The Priority of Transferable Skills

If we teach children the power of ideas and to put first things first–such as reading widely, thinking deeply, and writing and speaking well–and if we teach children the high value of respecting others–by listening carefully, practicing diligence, and persevering–they will be able to transfer those hard-earned habits and skills to new arenas and to any task or vocation they encounter, even when that task involves realigning their approach to life in the field of education.

To borrow a phrase from Frost’s iconic poem, the path chosen by Covenant and many other classical schools as it relates to technology in the classroom is increasingly the road less traveled.  However, our experience during this time and beyond has taught us that this path has truly made all the difference.  

Dr. Tom Stoner, Ed.D.
Head of School
Covenant Classical School

Our Top 10 Tips for Schools Shifting to E-Learning

What does e-learning look like right now at Covenant? Our teachers are teaching, students are engaging in discussions, and our curriculum is providing a place of stability and continuity for our students. Thank you to our dedicated teachers who have chosen to lean in to help keep our students progressing. The joy of learning from home can become a bright spot in our days during a dark time.

  1. Take time to rethink what education looks like for your teachers, students, and parents.
  2. Create a teacher-parent partnership through the ups and downs of the shift to e-learning.
  3. Adjust expectations. Rethink what “grades” look like. Are your goals to help students achieve a certain grade during this time or help students progress through their education with a love and joy for learning?
  4. Communication is key in helping parents, students, and teachers through this transition.
  5. Streamline communication and teaching systems throughout the school using a centralized instructional platform, such as Microsoft Teams for Education.
  6. Reduce the workload. Keep in mind parents are working from home alongside children schooling from home.
  7. Try to keep some sense of normalcy. Our teachers have found great success in scheduling class meetings during their typical periods in the school day. This helps prevent overlap with teachers scheduling meetings or classes at the same time during the day.
  8. Provide resources to parents who need multiple devices in the home. Find ways to help equip and support families with multiple children at different grade levels.
  9. Think through e-learning etiquette and communicate expectations for this new environment proactively among students and parents.
  10. Give yourself, your teachers, your parents, and your students grace and room for error. Celebrate the victories and help one another when we stumble. Learn from your mistakes and move forward together as a community.

If you have any questions or if we can be of assistance to your school during this time, we are happy to share from our own struggles and successes during this journey.  Please contact us at [email protected]

To learn more about extending a classical and Christian education to the home, visit our e-learning page.

Additional Resources

How schools can ramp up remote learning programs quickly with Microsoft Teams
Making remote learning effective and engaging with Microsoft Education resources
Support for students using Teams
Support for parents using Teams
Using Teams in the classroom

Microsoft Teams is included in Office 365 A1, which is free for educational institutions.

To learn more about Microsoft Teams and how to get started, you can view on demand webinars here.


About the Author: Dr. Tom Stoner is the head of school at Covenant Classical School located in Naperville, IL.

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