Jennie Devine (Literature ‘92) Brings her CCS Experience to a School in Italy during COVID-19
Jennie shares her experiences during quarantine as a Principal at a private school in Milan
This story is from Jennie Devine (Literature '92) who shares how she uses her experience gained at CCS as a student to her current role as a Principal at a private school in Milan, Italy during COVID-19.
I [Jennie Devine, Literature ‘92] remember the day in 1988 when I discovered that the College of Creative Studies (CCS) existed. I read and re-read the description in the UCSB booklet as I was sure I must have misunderstood. As a person who was always good at traditional school but not inspired by it, I suddenly felt that I could happily pass my college years at CCS not just being taught, but being motivated to learn.
And this was so. Spending hours reading, writing, and discussing literature with my fellow students helped me to clarify my writing, to synthesise arguments, to work independently and to listen to opinions with an open mind. More than anything, my time at CCS taught me the power of reflection. Reading literature is always an act of reflection in some sense; we can only experience books or poetry through our own lens.
The CCS Literature program [renamed Writing & Literature in 2016] also revealed the cumulative power of people who are excited to explore ideas—enthusiasm has exponential growth. This novel approach to education moved me and has gone on to inform my practice as a teacher.
The CCS Literature program [renamed Writing & Literature in 2016] also revealed the cumulative power of people who are excited to explore ideas—enthusiasm has exponential growth.
After I graduated from CCS, I moved to Scotland where I took a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (Primary School). This course was largely practice-based, but the reflection and the hungry curiosity I gained in my time in CCS were vital. For 25 years, I have been trying to inspire the same enthusiasm in my students. This same curiosity has sparked me to live and work internationally for my whole teaching career.
Currently, I am the Principal of a private school in Milan, Italy. We have now been offline for 4 months due to the COVID-19 crisis and we won’t be reopening until September, meaning that our students will be away from formal, face-to-face schooling for nearly 7 months. We have been delivering online teaching since the restrictions began and it has been incredibly difficult.
...the reflection and the hungry curiosity I gained in my time in CCS were vital. For 25 years, I have been trying to inspire the same enthusiasm in my students.
I find it challenging to support staff and students as the distance makes a difference. In a normal school day, there are hundreds of micro-interactions that allow me to see how people are doing. Now, I only know what people choose to share where previously, a bent head, heavy shoulders or reluctant smile could cue me in to an issue. Online, every contact is intentional in some way and so feels more formal. For this reason, I am relying on chats and texts much more than I usually would—anything to break down the barriers of formality and intentionality. This crisis has also tested my powers of reflection. I have constantly needed to reconsider, change and adapt. I have had to analyse my own role and how I can support the members of my community.
With the students, we are seeing that while the education goes on, they are also needing a space to talk about what they are going through. We realised quickly that lessons online cannot be exactly the same form and content as lessons in ‘real life.’ We spend more time talking to students about how they are doing than we normally do. We are trying to create even more interactive and fun activities than we usually would do. Also, we are getting to know parts of students’ lives that we normally would not. I have met students’ pets, watched parents prepare lunch in the background, and seen into their rooms. It has been very touching getting to see these usually-hidden details of student life.
The online school has allowed students to at least see each other and to interact. It also seems to be giving structure to and a bit of normality to the students. One of the children shared with the class how much she enjoys coming to class as it helps her to forget momentarily about missing her father; he is working as a doctor and so has isolated himself away from the family so as not to make them ill. We all tried to give her a hug via Zoom which broke down into a giggling fit as Zoom is not great for hugs. The resilience, positivity, and honesty of these students amaze me.
This whole crisis [COVID-19] has underlined something that I learned at CCS—learning, at its best, is a social act.
This whole crisis [COVID-19] has underlined something that I learned at CCS—learning, at its best, is a social act. Indeed, our school community now comprises families in several countries on at least 5 continents. It has been wonderful to see how the community has responded and how the strength of our students has prevailed. In addition, this whole crisis has made me re-think what education should be. There should be more time for social learning. We need to pull away from objectives and discover meaning.
Going back to school, we will need to focus on the people. Of course, there will be regulations, procedures, and PPE, but we need to take the positives forward. As people, we learn together and we learn best when we are driven by curiosity. I would like ‘teaching’ as a verb to become obsolete; implying a top-down instruction model that doesn’t create life-long enthusiastic learners.
As people, we learn together and we learn best when we are driven by curiosity.
We should always continue to be amazed by new knowledge, to follow our enthusiasm, and to keep learning. We should approach things together and in good humour. And we should always hug the people we love when we have a chance.