Three lessons learned while preparing for Distance Learning

Mark Garrison

Below is the transcription of a video found here.

Hello, I’m Mark Garrison, Breck’s CIO. I want to congratulate you all on a very successful start to distance learning and to talk about three lessons that really stood out to me as we’ve prepared for this moment over the past couple of weeks. Those lessons are about teamwork, design thinking and staying true to who we are.

We all know that it takes an amazing team to build something great. And I am proud to be a part of Breck’s incredible leadership team.

We’ve worked hard and we’ve made countless decisions to get from the way we did things three weeks ago, to the way we are doing things today. I’m excited about what we’ve built.  Not because one person thought of everything, but because of how we’ve collaborated to get here. I can’t tell you how many hours we’ve all spent on hangouts, or how many documents we’ve collaborated on or how many decisions we’ve made, but I can tell you that every time I hit a wall or got stuck, someone else stepped in to offer encouragement and to lend a hand. This included my core team, the many teachers and staff who designed, led and participated in professional development and shared their expertise and students who met with us and kept us focused on who we were really designing this for. 

Keep this collaboration in mind over the coming weeks. Even though you are working and learning in your house, you are not doing this alone. Sometimes, things don’t work exactly as we plan, and technology can be as frustrating as it is inspiring, so ask for help when you need it and reach out to your people to offer support.

Throughout this process, I’ve spoken with friends in Europe, Asia and across North America who are days, weeks, or even months ahead of us in this work. Some of the best advice I’ve heard came from Sandra Chow, Director of Innovative Learning at a school in Beijing. She said, "Distance learning is like design thinking. Don’t go for perfection with the first iteration. Communicate often. Launch the minimal viable product. Iterate based on feedback.”

Her idea resonated with me, because design thinking, and always believing we can make things better, has been a powerful driving force in my life. I’m actually speaking to you from inside this van that we’d planned to drive to the southwest for this year’s spring break.  But since we are social distancing at home, it has transformed my makeshift office. My family designed and built this van so we could seek adventure together. When we first got it, we built a few simple bunks out of plywood, then we tested it out, figured out what worked, made changes, improved on the design and drove it all the way to Alaska and back. With each adventure, we find little ways to make it better, and I can’t wait for our next road trip. So, that’s my second takeaway. In design thinking, you share an idea, sketch out what it might look like, get feedback, make changes, you test a prototype and make changes again. And that leads to better ideas.

That same ethic will help your own distance learning work. Be open-minded. Don’t be afraid to take on something new. Ask questions and share your feedback with your teachers or through Breck’s Covid-19 page. Flexibility and the belief that we can make this better together will win the day.  That’s what design thinking is all about and that’s how big things get accomplished.

Finally, I want to talk about staying true to who we are. We’re starting something new, but we’re not starting over. Lean into what Breck means to you. The core ideals of intellectual curiosity, self-knowledge, and social responsibility, still guide who we are and how we act, even in distance learning. 

In her address to fellow US students on Wednesday, Boatemaa talked about how she has come to realize that Breck is more than brick and mortar. I am feeling that as well.  All of us, you, and me, we are Breck. People all over the world have found innovative and creative ways to stay connected through these challenging times and our Breck community is doing the same. Thank you. Together, we make an incredible team.

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