karen spencer

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:

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.