Finding Meaning: the sixth stage

It feels like yesterday when my husband and I were worried about ‘too much screen time’ for my 3 sons...and we seemed to forever be challenged by the constant presence of technology in our lives. We created behaviour charts, rewards and incentive points, anything to try to control ‘screen time’. Well, that all changed with Covid-19 and the school closures. Suddenly, our lives were turned upside down and inside out, and technology became our main tool to connect with the outside world, in education, in keeping in touch with family and friends, and to facilitate long overdue reunions with old school friends.

Since the end of January, those of us in Hong Kong, have been on a Covid Journey. At the onset, many of us suspected that this would not be an overnight phenomenon as the experience of SARS still haunts Hong Kong. However, nearly 5 months in, and ‘screen time’ has become a redundant phrase in our house, because all the time is ‘screen time’.

I have many times considered the associations made during this period to the stages of grieving. You see I was in London when Covid-19 erupted in the UK. It was as if I had entered the twilight zone, experiencing a country-wide shut down in a matter of days, having already gone through it in Hong Kong. By that time, those of us in Hong Kong had already processed our shock and denial about what was happening around us. Yet, I was observing it in real-time, though not with the same level of emotion as those in London. I remember wearing my facemask into a shop and feeling very much like the ‘foreigner-in-a-mask’ who must be in a mask because she has something to hide! I had funny looks around every corner! There were clearly very different stages of processing that were taking place around the world, as we all came to terms with the reality of Covid-19.

In Kubler-Ross’s (1972) seminal work on the 5 Stages of Grief, she wrote about the five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance as a framework to deal with life and loss. The stages help us to identify what we may be feeling. Not everyone goes through all stages and/or in a prescribed order. Grief is as unique as we are all individuals. Kessler, who co-authored with Kubler-Ross, most recent work includes the 6th stage: Meaning. This made me think about our current situation in education, and the importance of this stage. When our grief subsides, we must ask ourselves, ‘what did we learn from this experience’, ‘what is the meaning of education?’ and ‘has it shifted or altered in any way’, and ‘what post traumatic growth can come of this?’

This led me to this article by John Hattie, education expert, known for his renowned work on Visible Learning. I have always followed Hattie’s work on Visible Learning as evidence-based learning has always been a part of my professional life as a teacher and school leader. Yes, I know there are critics of Hattie’s work, but that just makes it all the more interesting! Hattie’s Visible Learning has been used in schools across Australia for years, as well as other parts of the world, to deliver evidence-based education. Understanding the variables that impact student learning and the extent of that impact has been empowering...e.g. When parents would worry about the level homework, we always had some reliable evidence to support the argument for the limited effectiveness of homework in the early years!

I was glad to see Hattie weigh in on the ‘merits of online learning and homeschooling’ conversation and address the very important issue of the effect sizes of remote online learning and homeschooling on student outcomes. I was so glad to read that Hattie poses the question in an online blog:

“First, does it matter that students are not in the physical place called school?”

Does it matter if students learn online rather than surrounded by the walls of the classroom? I believe that for some students yes and others no; perhaps the best way forward is to distill the positives from around the world in online education and figure out what was missing from in-school learning, then bring it together to create something that suits everyone.

Hattie’s work does explore the effect sizes of school holidays which are very small on students and suggests that the length of the school year might have little effect at all on student outcomes. Also, results from the PISA demonstrate that countries in which the school year is much shorter (e.g. Finland) than in other countries (Australia, USA) outperform consistently regardless of how much time is spent in school.

However, the most likely impact of school closures relates to equity. Students who come from well resourced families will fare much greater than those from lower resourced families. Not all parents, no matter how much they want to help, have the skills to become teachers.

Furthermore, Hattie states that we need to be ‘doubly concerned’ about students who need the most teacher expertise e.g. students with special needs who require specialist teaching, or those who already do not like learning at school. It is important that all cohorts are considered when creating online learning programmes.

Some of the key points that Hattie emphasises, thinking around how to make the most of online learning are:

  • Optimising social interaction between peers and teachers

  • Listen for student feedback and respond

  • Balance ‘precious knowledge with deep learning’

  • Step into the learner’s shows and understand what it is like to be a learning online

  • Question how you can know your impact as an educator from afar (I love this one!)

  • Collaborate more with other teachers to share ideas, observation and tips

Finally, Hattie makes this very important point… “engage with parents to realise we as educators have unique skills and expertise (and are happy to share them).....

Teachers have a specialised ‘pedagogical content knowledge’, which other professions do not have. Parents are not expected to be teachers.

My last thoughts on this subject are, as educators, we should know what the underlying teaching and learning principles are for effective learning to take place. Removing the bricks and mortar from the learning, shouldn’t mean we forget these principles. Partner with your parents, your students and work together to make the learning experience a positive one.

Finally, let’s embrace Kessler’s 6th stage: meaning. Let’s not waste the new skills that have been acquired during this period. Let’s reflect upon what was missing from classroom life, and merge it with what worked online and create something new. #weareallinthistogether #Covid19andlearning #theteamaroundyourchild #chiLD-HK


Kübler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D. (2005). On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. Simon and Schuster.

Kübler-Ross, E., Wessler, S., & Avioli, L. V. (1972). On death and dying. Jama, 221(2), 174-179.

Youtube video ‘We Are Grieving the World We Have Now Lost’ - David Kessler, Grief Specialist and Writer co-author Elisabeth Kübler-Ross


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