By Katie Brody, Director of Studies K-6
Emanuel School, Randwick
As NSW students commence a staged return to the classroom over the coming weeks, at Emanuel School we reflect on what we’ve learnt during the unprecedented time where schools across the world were forced to suddenly switch to remote learning. While this period is marked by the fear, stress and anxiety of global illness and economic downturn, I don’t think the move to online learning itself has been a negative experience. Sure, it’s been a journey, with challenges, constraints and headaches, but it’s also provided several very positive outcomes. In my opinion, here are some of the beneficial aspects of learning in lockdown:
Innovative online lessons
As Director of Studies in the primary school, I have full access to every teacher’s digital lessons on our learning platform. I click and scroll through the elaborate, visually stunning and innovative learning experiences that our teachers have created during home learning and I appreciate their considered and highly professional approach. Addressing the syllabus aims in creative ways, our teachers have thought outside the box, applying concepts to students’ real lives more than ever and encouraging students to synthesise knowledge and develop skills in new ways. Students have displayed their understanding in a range of modes and even our youngest have learnt to photograph, record, airdrop, screenshot and upload competently. Given that only a few months ago some of our teachers had never used many tech tools, we have witnessed their growing confidence and level of skill. Our parents, many of whom were schooled in vastly more traditional ways, can now see the power of deliberate online teaching pedagogy and how it can be enabled through the purposeful use of a quality digital learning platform. We are truly redefining teaching for understanding and skill development, which is so positive.
Approaches to learning
Many of our younger students began their approach to learning online with a lot of excitement, yet in the beginning they did not necessarily have all the skills that they do now. Teachers have been working around the clock to maintain the steady stream of instructional videos, step-by-step directions, visual cues, learning tasks and project work. Parents who were initially very challenged by the change to the sequence of their day, have found a rhythm that ensures their children’s learning remains on track. Now, a number of weeks later, thanks to the encouragement, organisation and commitment of our parents working alongside teachers more than ever before, the children have become tenacious, determined, and more independent than any of us thought they could be at such a young age. Students are logging into Zoom lessons like it is a magic portal. They competently navigate this whole new world of online etiquette, sitting in their virtual classroom with a Hogwarts digital background and sometimes even a new puppy on their lap. Students are asking and answering questions, listening to stories, watching their teacher demonstrate and they are making their own excellent videos to show the depth of their understanding. Students can type away on a Google doc whilst sharing knowledge and developing skills with their peers in virtual breakout rooms. Is this not remarkable?
Appreciation for teachers
In my 21 years as an educator, never has the profile of teachers been so prominent, so protected and so positive. Owing to the ways in which teachers all adapted so rapidly and have continued to address the needs of so many students throughout this health crisis, the hashtag #teachersrock, has created an outpour of love and appreciation across social media. Emanuel parents have always valued our educators and enjoyed hearing about the learning in class. More recently being at home together in a virtual sense, parents have watched or listened to our teachers conduct lessons as though they were right there in the classroom. Feeling like Open Day is every day, it has been our pleasure to invite parents in and the affirming feedback continues to make the care and effort worthwhile. My hope is that some of our students who are benefitting directly, will be so inspired that they will opt for teaching as the profession of choice for their future.
There is no doubt that parents enjoy a collective sigh of relief as our first students walk back through our school gates. On the other side, teachers and friends welcome our young people with warm smiles and open arms (from a distance). Making the most of at least one or more days per fortnight learning back on campus, our next few weeks will be spent reconnecting, discussing our experiences and learning together without needing to press ‘unmute’. We will walk into classrooms instead of clicking a link and best of all, we will see the faces of our teachers and friends without seeing our own face on a screen. Whilst we can’t wait until schooling is fully back to normal, we can still rejoice in the positives of this home learning experience, considering the skills it has taught us and the dispositions we have developed that will be highly beneficial way into the future.