Remote learning in strange times

If you ever needed another hot take on how to think about ‘doing school at home’, now may not be it. But it has been fascinating watching the way different schools and educators are calibrating their practice and planning for what will be an uncomfortable new norm.

I have really enjoyed Tim Kong’s post that reminds us of the value of throttling back, making space for relationships and conversations about how we live and care for each other. Claire Amos’ team at Albany shared their planning with a focus on keeping the day simple and deliberately open for students to explore and plan their own pathways. Wellington College, and others in the region, had a practice day this week where the schools closed and ran their timetables online – one Maths teacher had done three webinars with whole classes by teatime and was, justifiably, a bit tired! Darren Sudlow’s post is full of great advice based on years leading learning online.

I am finding all of this really interesting and it has re-ignited a lot of thinking about online and blended learning that I used to be deeply involved in. Perhaps it’s no surprise that we will get different approaches given the way our school system is organised in NZ. But, just like designing local curriculum or setting the culture, we are seeing the same thing emerge now: each school reinventing the wheel for itself, its teachers, its communities. The internet is flooded with teachers sharing how they have been managing overseas. One school in Hong Kong’s story (closed now for seven weeks so far!) was a fascinating study in how we stay connected.

Meanwhile, at our school…

At our place, we too have been planning over the last week and it’s clear that most of us have started from positions of certainty and ‘known’.

I’m not sure we have got it ‘right’ yet – hindsight will show us that – but I hope we have managed to find the place between tight and loose. Fullan talks about this – if planning is too loose, people drift with inertia; too tight, and creativity and freedom are stifled. We do not expect to replicate school at home (nor should we). But nor are we taking our feet completely off the gas overnight to put it all on already stressed families.

We need to check our privilege when we plan. We are trying to hang on to the ‘knowns’; we have staff and students who will:

  • yearn for routine and would be lost without it. Current guidance about supporting young people through crisis emphasises maintaining some kind of routine in times of challenge;
  • love the freedom of an empty day to plan – but others will immediately feel disconnected
  • thrive on a home project – unless their home is somewhere they do not want to be
  • have no internet connection
  • be caring for siblings or other family members
  • have no significant adult at home who can lead the way with games or support or guidance

Our role is to help students feel connected to us – if we really value our learning relationships – and find some continued meaning in engaging with learning. We have suggested that we all stick to the timetable to start with. A prolonged closure will inevitably mean that this loosens over time, but we are starting with a structure in place. That way, students know when they can find their teacher in the ether, talk with them, stay connected.

We have asked teams to plan learning that can be paced, is clearly defined, has approx. time limits and can be connected to their lives at home. We have GSuite as the foundation – a familiar platform that everyone knows. We have synchronous and asynchronous options, to suit the teacher, the students, and the learning. We are not asking our staff to embark on a brand new pedagogical model unless they want to.

We are providing laptops for every student that needs one and looking at what can be done to support connectivity.

Who knows what the expectation will be on teachers to continue to offer a service for which we are paid, over a prolonged closure. But with a tight-loose structure, we hope we will be well placed to adapt.

Good luck out there, people.

8 thoughts on “Remote learning in strange times

  1. We are also battling rural internet access which is apparently unreliable, very slow and sometimes limited in bandwidth. Thank goodness for the Google suite. Interestingly, students like our virtual assemblies – apparently SLT-TV rocks.


    1. So frustrating – but great to hear about the assemblies. Great idea! Hope you are all hanging in there. Crazy times for you both I imagine – and it’s only March. What a year…


  2. Karen, this is such a great read! Thank you for sharing some ideas about what is happening in schools around the country as we navigate all of this uncertainty.

    I will share this with our wider team as we work out what support looks like for our ākonga, staff, and whānau and the wider community.


  3. Karen, this is such a great read! Thank you for sharing some ideas about what is happening in schools around the country as we navigate all of this uncertainty.

    I will share this with our wider team as we work out what support looks like for our ākonga, staff, and whānau and the wider community.


  4. Thanks for the sharing Karen. A few ideas stood out that’ll linger and inform my thinking and action. 1) too loose v too tight – I can relate to this. I enjoy clarity and structure that frames & supports flexibility and freedom. We’ve been playing with this recently while making learning visible, using rubrics and learning objectives and realising the importance of teachers to help students to find personally meaningful objectives and then helping them to navigate their journey. (That was more a chance to write that down for me haha).

    I loved your phrase ‘connection with us to find meaning in (engaging with) learning’ – it helps to capture our purpose as teachers. Maybe I’ve heard that before but I connected with it more today on reading your piece :).

    Finally, I like Claire’s idea of a key learning activity. I might use this moving forward for full lessons. Being clear about a key learning and activity and set-up further exploration and/or application from that key activity.


  5. Thanks so much Karen. Just wanted to acknowledge that your tips for learners (along with ones I’ve read from other schools) gave me good ideas for constructing an infographic for own students at Western Springs College/Ngā Puna o Waiōrea. Grateful for your generosity!


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