We are all getting used to having more questions than answers about the future, and our incoming students this autumn will have many: What will September look like, how normal is the 'new normal'?
We are all getting used to having more questions than answers about the future, and our incoming students this autumn will have many: What will September look like, how normal is the ‘new normal’, and how can I prepare well for it? We don’t have all the answers yet, but we can begin to frame the questions well and work towards clear answers.
One central question
As we plan towards September our central question is this: “What does it mean in these circumstances to love our neighbour?” In all of our planning, we are asking that as we prepare to welcome students and their families into the Oak Hill community, recognising that they will come with all sorts of different needs, ideas, concerns, and hopes for their time here. We want to love them well.
Flowing from that central question are three key principles.
Three key principles
1. We want the college to be safe and to feel safe.
This is clearly one aspect of love. And so we’re working out how to live and work and teach and learn together, and how to move about the site safely, considerate of one another. Fortunately, we are a large site, with plenty of rooms and outdoor spaces, and unlike many colleges and universities, we’re not dealing with thousands of students. We have an excellent and highly skilled team working out the practicalities so that we are as safe as we can be and in line with the latest government advice.
2. We are planning for as much of our teaching as possible to be face to face.
As we’ve all been learning, there is no substitute for a face to face encounter. And, wonderfully, the amount of space available to us and the size of our classes means we expect face to face teaching to be possible in every module. We are reconfiguring many of our classrooms and other spaces to make that a possibility. A lot of work has gone and will go into this but we are convinced it is worth it as another way to love one another. To be able to be present together, hearing one another, attending to one another and serving one another.
3. We need to be prepared to go back into lockdown at short notice, and to care for those who will need to self-isolate or shelter for a time.
None of us know what the next year will bring, but we may go back into a local or national lockdown. Individually a student may become unwell, or get a call to say they need to self-isolate. For health reasons they may need to shelter themselves. In the event of any of these things we will make sure that our students have reliable access to teaching via Zoom and are able to participate in the classroom as fully as possible. We want to love those for whom life becomes more restricted again, whether that is one of us or all of us.
That means that in the coming year every face to face class will also be accessible via Zoom for those students unable to attend. Lectures are also always recorded and so there is the possibility of catching up online. We are investing in the technology and the training we need to deliver that well. Should a further lockdown be imposed, we will be able to continue teaching online, and we are reflecting carefully on how we love one another in that mode should it arise. We are asking how we show hospitality as lecturers and staff, and how we cultivate healthy habits together both on screen and away from our screens.
Many other issues are yet to be resolved and we’re working hard on them, but we are confident that in the current circumstances face to face teaching will be possible and much of college life can be sustained. We know that we can’t answer every question, but we can get the central question clear in our minds. And then we want to reassure our students that the ‘new normal’ will be pretty normal, thanks to a large site, excellent facilities, and the hard work of our staff.
We trust too that what’s not normal will be fruitful for us. Looking to the Lord in all things, and learning, in testing times, to love another “with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
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