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Part Two: A Discussion With Joel Tapia On the Growing Importance of Online Education

This is part two of an interview with Dr. Joel Tapia discussing the importance and the rise of online education. For readers interested in part one of the interview, it can be found here: https://thriveglobal.com/stories/part-one-a-discussion-with-joel-tapia-on-the-growing-importance-of-online-education/ 1. What is one habit of yours that our readers would benefit from?             One habit of mine that I […]

Joel Tapia
Joel Tapia

This is part two of an interview with Dr. Joel Tapia discussing the importance and the rise of online education. For readers interested in part one of the interview, it can be found here: https://thriveglobal.com/stories/part-one-a-discussion-with-joel-tapia-on-the-growing-importance-of-online-education/

1. What is one habit of yours that our readers would benefit from?

            One habit of mine that I think has been very helpful and productive in my personal and professional life is journaling. For the last 10 years, I have used the App called Evernote to record reflections, documents, to do lists, meeting notes, brainstorming sessions, teacher observations, ideas, and more. I can now go back and visit my “5-year ago self”, to see how I was thinking, feeling, perceiving, desiring, and hoping, compared to this moment in time, in order to make better sense of my evolving self. In some ways, I am still the same person, but in other areas, I have grown, changed my mind, and even revised deep-seated beliefs or values. I believe this ability to engage in metacognition “in the moment” but also “through and over time” is very powerful to becoming a more mindful, fulfilled, and empowered adult.

2. How does the rise of online education disrupt traditional learning?

            The rise of online education has essentially killed traditional learning as we knew it. The world’s foremost institutions like Harvard University, University of Cambridge, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have all embraced online learning for traditional and continuing education purposes.

            This means that even beginning at early childhood education levels, institutions of learning must embrace a hybrid model of learning that incorporates offline and online technologies and tools with in-person learning. At Hangzhou Greentown Yuhua Primary School, students learn using a hybrid model. All in-class lessons are supported with additional resources like videos, songs, e-books, worksheets, and tutorials, on the “Cloud” for parents and students to access. Every student has a continuously updated iPad, for use in class and at home. They use Digital Apps like ClassDojo and Everything Explained to record and send projects to peers and teachers. Students also engage with online learning platforms at school like RAZ-Kids, which has thousands of fiction and non-fiction texts available. Teachers have a continuous stream of student learning data that must be used to evaluate and guide student progress. An unintended consequence is that teachers now must learn how to analyze and use data, a skill that was not required before but that now has become a necessary expectation for teacher effectiveness. This online interconnectivity is a different way of teaching and learning than what I remember as a student in primary school.

3. If you had the opportunity to change one aspect of the American educational system, what would you change and why?

            I would change the structures and mechanisms in place for providing classroom teachers with ongoing professional development. Every teacher knows that there is never enough time to properly plan for lessons, much less take a momentary pause from the rush of teaching to deepen one’s own capacity for content knowledge, pedagogy, or new strategies. Thus, I propose the radical idea of a 4-day school week for students, with the 5th day being a whole day for teachers to collaborate, train, research, and prepare for all their students’ diverse social and learning needs. Internationally recognized leadership and productivity leader Stephen Covey points out the importance of “sharpening the saw”. In America, classroom teachers are often lucky if they can get away for 5 minutes to have a bathroom break. If they are not teaching students, they are supervising. Furthermore, as a school principal in America, the biggest frustration for me was never having sufficient and continuous blocks of time to provide teachers with in-depth professional development.

            In this proposal, I believe that the learning schedule for students and staff could be extended during the 4-Day School Week, and shortened for staff on the 5th day; or, staff could simply be paid a higher salary!

When I earned my doctorate degree in Education, I realized that so much educational research and knowledge does not even reach schools because there is no way or time for teachers to access or process these findings. That is why I say that in my dream world, as a school principal in America, I would love for every Friday morning to be “Action-Research” morning, where teachers can propose their own agenda for working together to systematically create solutions for important problems of practice affecting their students. I believe this change alone would enlarge teachers’ motivation, ownership for results, and professional learning, leading to greater student achievement for all.

4. How do you suggest the School Boards handle the COVID-19 Virus and the disruption of learning?

            School Boards should ensure that student health and safety is made the top priority. Even greater than the loss of learning is the loss of life or even that any student’s health would be seriously compromised because of COVID-19 spreading in school. These are unprecedented times and I believe the global public is now fully aware that disruptions to normal activities are necessary for keeping in place social distancing measures.

            In China, they are sequencing the return dates to in-person schooling, beginning with High School, then later Middle School, and lastly Primary Schools and Preschools. At my school, we are still conducting online distance education classes—this will be our 10th week doing so. The education bureau in Hangzhou is wisely being very careful about how and when to reopen physical schools, especially when they see that current concerted efforts among Chinese schools and parents for online education is reaping positive outcomes for students. The online distance education programs are working very well.  I think this is a wise pattern to follow in the USA.

            In terms of how they handle the disruption of learning, School Boards should fully support their Superintendents to make this transition as smooth as possible. It is a monumental task. Superintendents will need approval for extra funding and resources like supplying teachers and students with technological devices to be used at home. Some school districts are already ahead of the curve if they had previously purchased all students with one-to-one devices. However, not all school districts have made these purchases because they were never required by law or by their State Department of Education.

            At my primary school in Hangzhou, China, we use the Chinese DingTalk platform made by Alibaba. It allows teachers to broadcast interactive “live” lessons online, file share easily, communicate with students and parents, and provide online training to staff. Every Bilingual classroom is connected on ClassDojo, which helps to create a schoolwide online community feeling where all can interact. Thus, although COVID-19 initially threatened our school’s learning possibilities, we quickly adapted and through strong home-school cooperation, we are having great learning success.

5. What advice do you have for anyone beginning their career in education?

            I would give them the advice to adopt a lifelong learning and adaptive mindset. Education is constantly in a state of flux, evolution, and adaptation. Thus, for a teacher to stay content and fulfilled, they must accept and embrace this reality. The most miserable teachers I have met are those who think they can finally take out last year’s lesson plans and use them this coming year “as is”. Each school year brings new cohorts of students with different needs. Perhaps the school principal or the school district will “roll out” a new way of planning or teaching that makes those lesson plans obsolete. So yes, for anyone wanting to become a teacher, accepting this reality at the onset of the career of embracing ever-changing ways is necessary for being happy and successful.

A last related tip is to find the timeless reasons, principles and values related to why one became a teacher in the first place. Write this down and keep it near to you. No matter how changing the specifics of education become, by keeping these values and personal teaching mission close to the heart, a teacher will find their unchanging center.

6. Can you please share some techniques our readers can use to further their learning?

            I think the following techniques can be applied by anyone wanting to learn something new or to deepen their existing knowledge. First, I recommend that a person identify in writing what his/her interests and needs are related to knowledge and skill areas and types of preferred activities. Motivation and attention are crucial to learning, and if someone does not have these two elements, they will not put forth the effort to learn something new. Once these knowledge, skill and activity areas are identified, you can categorize the areas of learning by type. The categories of learning can be prioritized from most important and urgent to less important and less urgent. Finally, it would help to create both a digital and physical storage space to file and organize resources/materials related to learning areas. For instance, taking the example of wanting to become better at home repair projects, someone might buy a suitable storage shed, organizers, and a tool box; also, they might create a digital folder on their computer or another note-taking APP like Evernote where they can begin to brainstorm notes, save articles, clip magazines, archive website links, and favorite URLs for online platforms that provide free and/or paid learning courses, like EDX, Coursera, and Udemy. In addition to seeking online classes, one could sign-up for in-person courses or classes, or hire a tutor or mentor to help shorten the learning curve related to the new learning target.

7. Outside of your career, what defines you as an individual?

            Outside of my career, I am defined by Faith, Family, and Life-long Learning. My Faith provides a purpose and a reason for living—that is, to contribute to making the world a better place. In terms of my Family—my wife, son, parents, siblings and extended relatives—they are my source of love and support. Being a father has given me a new love that I could never have imagined. My son Caleb is the greatest gift life has given me. Also, my family keeps me grounded because they are quick to correct me or re-orient me when my ambitions get out of hand! Lastly, I will never stop learning because to me living is learning. My in-laws always tease me because even after having finished my doctorate degree, I continue taking courses like behavioral statistics or leadership courses online. They see me working away on the laptop “24 hours a day, 7 days per week”. But yes, I love learning, and my bucket list includes earning a J.D. law degree in the future. Why? Because behind every great leader, there is a lawyer. A last fun fact about me is that I never leave the house without my laptop—never. That is my primary learning tool and I may just need it!

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