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View from the (Remote) Classroom
By Vicky Duggan
18 Jun

It used to be unthinkable, a teacher working from home. And yet, for the past 3 months, that’s exactly what most of us have had to adapt to. It’s taken creativity, patience and persistence, but we’ve done it. Our whole profession has adapted to a new digital way of preparing and delivering high quality teaching. Every school has faced its own challenges and had its own parameters to work within. Vicky Duggan, Director of Studies and Head of English at The Granville School, shares a small glimpse of how it has looked at her school.

Preparing for Change

Once schools closed before the Easter holidays, we had already started to prepare our staff with some IT training during staff INSET sessions. We chose to use Microsoft Teams and Purple Mash as our pupils already had experience of them from the curriculum. Most staff, however, did not. We all spent a large proportion of the Easter holidays experimenting with the technology, practising Zooming with friends and family members, and creating new lesson plans. For every teacher, this was planning unlike anything they’d done before - you cannot simply teach a lesson that you would have delivered in the classroom, digitally. Many schemes of work were adapted, activities changed and multiple hours were spent adapting resources and creating videos for children to access at home. It was by no means a holiday, but we did feel as prepared as we could for the summer term, in its new digital guise.

Making it Work for Everyone

Some major considerations for both pupils and staff arose during our planning stages. We recognised quickly that primary-aged pupils would struggle with hours of consecutive Zoom lessons, and this has been proven as the term has continued. Many pupils, especially the youngest, have struggled with the eye strain and concentration required for staring at screens all day. We also realised that with multiple siblings at home, there would not always be enough devices for children to access live lessons simultaneously. We had to collaborate across the whole school as we have many specialist teachers, to reduce the number of timetable clashes between year groups and to ensure a balance of activities in front of and away from screens. Parents were also a concern, as with many working from home, it was clear that work that promoted independence would be appreciated (although this was far harder in EYFS).

We also very quickly realised how time consuming remote learning is for teachers. We were unable to reuse resources, everything needed more detail, most things had to be adapted to be done without the teacher nearby, some activities couldn’t be set at all. Marking remotely is one of the greatest challenges – you can give feedback over digital platforms but it’s far harder to give that one to one, verbal feedback that we all know is so effective. Keeping track of multiple platforms, dealing with constant emails from children and parents, themselves struggling with the new format of school, whilst also supporting the emotional needs of the children in our care added many hours to our days. 

Keeping Everyone on Track

With this in mind, supporting the girls and staff was at the forefront of our plans. We planned in regular assemblies, for the whole school and particular groups. Form Times continued digitally so that the tutors could keep track of how the girls were coping and how their mental health was holding up to remote learning and lockdown. We regularly check in with families by phone or email to ensure all is well. We found that our already strong relationships and regular contact with parents, made this all the more smooth.

We implemented an extra staff meeting each week, section heads checked in with their teachers and furloughed staff were also contacted during the lockdown. We began organising online social events but found that by the end of a long day of Zoom lessons, staff were keener to spend time away from screens. We do have staff leaving at the end of the summer term and we are now planning how to make sure they have a good send-off within the current restrictions. One thing that has become evident, is that working at home can become very lonely. Teachers are used to working collaboratively and that break time cup of tea, when you’ve had a tough class, is an important outlet. We have supported each other throughout with good communication and approachability.

Reopening School

As of 1 June, we reopened Kindergarten, Reception, Years 1 and 6. This required a huge amount of planning. No school site is set up for the parameters we now have to adhere to. Staff were understandably nervous about returning and in order to continue our remote learning provision for those not coming back, we have found that teachers have been very adaptable, returning to classes that they don’t usually teach. For this, we are very grateful. Our priority was to ensure an equally high quality experience for those in school and at home, and we feel that we have managed to strike this balance very well so far. Our pupils who have returned are delighted, have adapted well and most of all are having the social interactions and shared experience that has been so absent throughout the past half term. Their squeals of happiness in the playground, despite having to stay 2 metres away from each other, remind us all of why we do this job.

What Next?

Now, we wait. There is much speculation as I write about whether we will be able to open up to further year groups. We are all asking ourselves how this can work within current guidelines. We may not be able to bring all classes back. As for many schools, space, staffing and safety are huge considerations. Our pupils are all keen to get back to school, but school may look different for quite some time. We are very confident that the home learning provision for our pupils has been excellent and this will be a huge comfort if we are unable to open further. For pupils with imminent exams, we will set revision work as we normally would for the holidays. For the rest, they need a break. We are fortunate to have had the resources to continue a full programme of education. We are acutely aware that many schools have not had this advantage. For our teachers, we have certainly all deserved a restful summer holiday. We’ve learnt so much, not just about using technology and teaching digitally, but about working together, about how much our pupils are capable of and about what we can achieve when we support each other and persevere together. 

 

To help support schools as they adapt to teaching remotely, we’ve compiled a range of useful home learning support resources. As many schools now move to a more blended, adaptable approach to teaching, all our textbooks and revision guides are now available as digital eTextbooks on our Dynamic Learning platform.

Our online platform offers a range of subscription products to enhance teaching and learning in your classroom and at home. Our interactive eTextbooks enable teachers to display interactive pages, add notes and highlight areas, and use the Lesson Builder to add double page spreads to lessons – making them perfect for live classrooms and teaching remotely. One eTextbook subscription can also be accessed simultaneously by multiple teachers at your school. Find out more here.

Vicky Duggan is author of our Key Stage 2 English resources. Learn more about Vicky here.

Tags: 11+, 11+ Revision, 11 plus, 13+, 13+ Common Entrance, 13+ Revision, 13 plus, Common Entrance, digital learning, Dynamic Learning, home schooling, Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, learning, mental health, online learning, Parents, schools, Studying

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