Do we need a period of convalescence in education?

I’ve been easing myself back into work mode this week. I’ve been “hangin’ around” twitter a bit more, trying to do a bit more formal and informal academic reading, trying getting my brain switched back into writing mode, having more meetings, speaking to people and generally doing “stuff” after work free festive break. I’ve also been trying not contain my rage about the current revelations around the UK govt actions during the first lockdown. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I have been laughing a lot about #partygate, because if I let my thoughts and emotions go the other way my head might just explode with rage; or I would never stop crying thinking about the now over 175,000 people in the UK who died from COVID-19.

We have all been through so much in the past nearly 2 years now. Yet still our future seems to be firmly rooted in the past. Getting “back to normal” still seems to be the ultimate aim. Back to campus, back to exams, back to not having to consider how our actions could impact others health. In our rush to economic recovery (for ultimately that’s all our political leaders really care about) are missing out a vital step around human recovery and the need for a period of convalescence?

Just before Christmas I heard the poet (and COVID-19 survivor) Michael Rosen recommend book called Recovery, The Lost Art of Convalescense, by Dr Gavin Francis. Michael was in a COVID induced coma for many months, so the topic was particularly relevant to him. I was intrigued by his description of the the book so I bought it. It’s quite a slim volume and documents the experiences of one doctor (based with a western/global north medical tradition). The author describes it as “a series of explorations of recovery and convalescence.”

In the first chapter, the author shares his own childhood experiences of convalescence and recovery. He talks about the rehabilitation he went through after a serious knee injury, and the rehabilitation he went through. I was drawn to his description of rehabilitation

the word rehabilitation comes from the the Latin habilis, ‘to make fit’, and carries the sense of restoration: ‘to stand, make, or be firm again.”

I think there is an an analogy here with what is happeing in education just now. There doesn’t seem to be space for any kind of rehabilitation after the roller coaster of covid infections isolations, lockdowns, continuted restrictions. It’s all full steam ahead for “back to normal”. I can’t help but think that this is a mistake. Staff and students need time to recover. Despite the urban myth that moving online wasn’t a real or proper education experience, and seen as an easy option, it was bloody hard work for thousands of staff. There has been a bit more focus on “well being” but that’s not really addressing some of the key issues. Is it too far beyond our imagination to acknowledge that we need to have some space for recovery to heal and regain strenght and perhaps a different perspective on how we actually do things. Gavin says in the book “the flow of my life had been stilled, but it was that stillness that allowed me to heal.

Now, I’m not suggesting that everything stops, but I do think that it is possible to make some space for critical reflection on what has happened and what needs to be done next. Could we revisit notions of the sabbatical in terms of recovery to allow staff some dedicated time reflect, to engage with different pedagogical approaches, with (re)design, to have more opportunity to improve public engagement around online learning and teaching and assessment and maybe start to have an informed discussion about the apparent need for final summative exams? There could be cross disciplinary/institutional opportunities for sharing of ideas, practice whilst on sabbaticals which could then feed back into institutional developments. Every member of staff (academic and support) should be offered the opportunity too.

I’m still really thinking all of this through, however I do think there could be something about revisiting our notions of recovery and convalescence that could help us do more than just “get back to normal’ and actually allow us time to heal and so that our education systems, and more importantly the people who work in them can be restored, be fit, and firm again. Would love to hear your thoughts.

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