Shady Elkassas, Director of Innovation, Sharjah American International School-Sharjah Campus, United Arab Emirates

Shady Elkassas is a multiple award-winning and passionate Egyptian educator working in the United Arab Emirates. He is a popular STEM advocate and speaker in the Middle East region. He has taken initiatives to adopt project-based learning (PBL) and inquiry-based learning (IBL) methodologies to create a new foundation of STEM learning in school. Shady strongly believes that leadership has a strong influence on education reform, and he takes initiatives to communicate his vision not only inside his school but also outside. With Robotics being of particular interest to him, Shady led the School Robotics team and helped them win many awards at international events. He has also been invited to speak at events like TEDx and GESS (Global Educational Supplies and Solutions Exhibition). A Microsoft Innovative Educator, Google Certified Educator, Apple Teacher, and an Advisory Board Member of the K12 Digest, Shady’s qualifications also include the Master of Science in Education, Executive Management Diploma and Bachelor of Science.

In 1989, Stephen Covey published his book the 7 habits for highly effective people. Over 30 million copies have been sold. This wonderful book is considered as one of the most influential self-Development books.

Stephen Covey noticed the shift of the foundation of success before and after 1920s which had been shifted from the character ethic to personality ethic. Before the 1920s, the foundation of success was built upon characteristics such as (humility, temperance, integrity, courage, simplicity, justice, patience, and modesty). But after 1920s, a great shift was noticed, and success was viewed differently. The qualities of Success were shifted to personality ethics: such as:  attitudes, public image, personality, and behaviors).

Covey suggests that there is no shortcuts or quick fixes for success. These Quick fixes are only beneficial for the short-term goals specially that they just change and alter our behavior and attitude. However, Covey believes that success needs more than techniques of quick fixes. It needs a fundamental paradigm shift not only to hour attitudes and behaviors, but also to it requires a transformation of our perception and beliefs.

The 7 habits are:

  • Be Proactive
  • Begin with the End in Mind
  • Put First Things First
  • Think Win-Win
  • Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
  • Synergize
  • Sharpen the Saw

The 7 habits are classified into 3 main groups:

1- The first three habits are closely related to the Self Mastery – which help the individual to move from dependence to independence.

2- habits 4-5 and 6 are related to collaboration, communication and teamwork skills.

3- The last habit is tied to the contentious improvement needed to nurture all the other habits.

The British writer C.S. Lewis once said “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”

No one can deny that Covid19- or as we call it Coronavirus has plenty of negative consequences and repercussions on many aspects specially in both health and economic arenas. However, there is one virtue of this challenge. Covid19 has sharpened our commitment and dedication towards humanity. It increased the public health awareness. Doctors and nurses are in the front lines fighting a resilient microscopic enemy. Biologists and virologists are trying their best to find a vaccine. In addition to those honorable soldiers, there are some others who are fighting in a very demanding ferocious battle. Educators, parents, and students are fighting a brutal battle against Covid19 by continuing an unstoppable learning journey. These efforts are focused on planning and implementing a constructive learning environment in which students can learn at their best capacity. Distance learning is not only challenging for educators who are actively involved in a quite unique experience of developing synchronized and an unsynchronized material. Parents and students are also facing a challenging situation in which they have to cope with this new demanding process.

For that reason, it is really important and critical not only to develop our skills and attitudes towards distance learning, but also to shift our paradigm and perceptions towards the whole notion of collaboration and productive communication between educators, students, and parents.

That is why it is really beneficial for the learning community and stakeholders to apply the 7 habits in order to build a productive distance learning environment.

How can we as educators, students, and parents utilize such habits in planning and implementing a constructive distance learning environment?

Let’s look at the 7 habits, one by one.

Habit 1: Be Proactive
Being proactive means that we are self-aware of our responsibility in taking actions to develop and enhance the quality of effectiveness of the distance learning process. Educators should utilize every opportunity to develop the quality of their pedagogical strategies. Students should also take responsibility of their own learning. They should be engaged in productive discussions, ask questions, plan for their learning, communicate the challenges they face, and suggest new ideas. As for parents, they are the catalyst of the whole process. Parents should be aware of the new challenges both teachers and students are facing. Parents should prepare the right learning environment for their kids. They should encourage their kids to prioritize their learning goals and to keep them on task. Collaborating with teachers is the capstone of implementing a positive distance learning environment. Proactivity spreads positive energy while reactivity reduces the circle of influence and the positive change.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Most of teachers plan for their sessions preparing engaging activities, differentiated assessments, and rich PowerPoint presentations and this is what Covey calls the activity trap. Being a skillful, well-trained teacher is really essential, but it is not enough to keep you passionate. Identifying and highlighting the value you provide to the community is a unique antidote against frustration and burnout. Values are the energizing motives toward reshaping the future minds.

 Habit 3: Put First Things First
Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming tasks and constraints that both educators and students are facing, sometimes we miss the big picture. It is critical for teachers to keep the learning objectives and outcomes as beacon leading their instructions. Focusing on the main objectives and goals will result in a productive learning experience. Furthermore, students should learn how to plan and organize their daily activities. It is really beneficial to follow the time management grid suggested by Covey that categorizes the tasks according to their importance and urgency.

Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Every day we are involved in various types of Relationships, agreements and negotiations. The outcomes of these activities might differ according the six human interactions paradigms that Covey is suggesting. In order to establish a productive learning rapport, we must think win-win. Thinking win-win should be the perception leading our daily interactions specially between educators, parents, and students. When educators are passionate, students are actively engaged, and parents are supporting their kids, this would result in a successful win-win agreement and which eventually will result a unique and productive learning experience.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Covey pointed out that communication experts suggest that 10% of our communications is represented by words, 30% by sound, while 60% is represented by body language. This means that both teachers and students lose 60% of communication channel during the distance learning. For that reason, the 5th habit plays a very critical role in the success of the distance learning programs. Practicing the empathetic/Active listening techniques which involves emotional identification, compassion, feeling, insight has a great impact on building a productive raptor of communication. Both teachers and students can develop the active listening skills restating what we hear, ask for clarification, being sincere and actively involved in discussions.

Habit 6: Synergiz
In mathematics, we learned that 1+1=2 but it is not always the case. Collaboration among different minds and experiences can make 1+1=3 or even more. When ideas are brainstormed and shared, new ideas and opportunities emerge. Synergy is nurtured when people value and appreciate the personal, psychological, mental, and emotional differences. Furthermore, synergy enriches the creativity and resourcefulness of the community by believing in the unique value that everyone brings. Synergy has a great impact on both teachers and students ‘creativity and innovation.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
No one can deny that distance learning is really exhausting not only for teachers who prepare, deliver, and assess their targeted learning goals. But also, it is overwhelming for both students and parents. For that reason, sharpening the saw is crucial in enhancing and preserving our energy. Covey suggests that we have to work on renewing four dimensions in our life; physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional dimensions. Maintaining the balance between the four dimensions will ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of our work.

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