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In a real or virtual world, it’s all about relationships

The rise of artificial intelligence, robotic technology and automation more generally has had a significant impact in the workplace and the way in which we interact with each other. 

The debate around which occupations AI is likely to make obsolete can feel quite remote, but we all have experience of opting for independence at self-service checkouts and preferring to research and order our goods and services online.

Whilst technology provides opportunities to enhance teaching and learning in many significant ways, I do not believe that teachers and schools will become surplus to requirements.

Fundamentally, learning is an intensely social experience.  Our brains have become wired by millions of years of evolution to operate in socially complex environments.  Whilst some behaviour is innate, we are primed to learn not just from our own experiences, but those of the people around us.  

The point is that social interactions are integral to our development and learning.  Relationships between pupils and their teachers and peers are essential in this process.  But the part played by teachers goes beyond that of a role model or “more knowledgeable other”.

Meeting a pupil’s learning needs with the right strategy for them at that moment is the craft of a good teacher – it is the meeting point of knowledge of research evidence, significant emotional intelligence and social skills and a vocational commitment to see every child succeed.  And it’s a difficult algorithm for computer scientists to write.

We now find ourselves forced to interact in a virtual environment, but the contribution of the teacher is unchanged.  Learning will continue because our teachers know their pupils and will adapt their approaches through sophisticated feedback loops.  We are not simply sending learning material out for children to consume, but rather teachers are attentive to their pupils’ responses and refine their strategies accordingly.

We are fortunate to be able to rely on technology in these challenging times – it works because the relationships have already been formed.  But whilst social distancing is fine for now, what we crave is coming together again as a community of learners to reinforce those relationships in our wonderful school.

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