Across the country, and indeed the world, teachers are adapting to new ways of teaching their students. Many are developing their confidence and expertise in IT as they navigate through virtual worlds of Google, Zoom, Skype and other similar platforms. At the same time, non-teaching teams are working so hard to ensure that we maintain our duty of care and our moral duty to keep children safe, to make sure they are accessing food, to continue with essential services. Also ensuring that staff, students and their families stay protected, remain healthy and follow government advice.
At MCA, we have been overwhelmed by the efforts of staff and students to adapt to these new ways of working. Google Meet is now where we see our KS4 classes in line with a learning schedule. KS3 classes are set regular assignments on Google classroom, receiving frequent feedback and support. Our SEN team have joined the classrooms of our SEND students and are making contact with them to see if they need any additional support to access the learning. Some teachers have scheduled reading time with their classes in line with our daily reading time, emphasising the shared value we have on reading together. Students are filling teacher inboxes with questions and completed assignments. Our Year 11 students, who have been left in a state of uncertainty about their future, are still logging into the Google Meets and accessing learning. Staff are volunteering to support in school where necessary, offering to help with distributing food to our most vulnerable and generally coming together in a way that only continues to make us proud of the very special school we work in.
All of this is truly fantastic. I feel confident that for as long as this situation continues, we will continue to come together as a community and make sure our students get the very best we can offer. It has, however, made me think about why this has worked so well. If online working can be successful, is this the future of education? Is there a possibility that IT could replace teachers and classrooms? Can we possibly move to a paperless education system?
Personally, I think this works only because of the foundations that have already been put in place; the leadership of these projects which has provided staff with training, communicated regularly, offered support, and the means to do the job well; the culture of a school that has been created and nurtured to ensure that everyone is genuinely committed to always improving and continually developing. Perhaps most interestingly it works because of the foundations we have built as a result of being a physical school community.
Here are the elements that I believe have been essential to the effectiveness we have seen as our school closed down last week:
1. Relationships are the bedrock to essential learning
Students are logging in to Google Meets and Classrooms because they trust that they are going to get high quality learning. They have a relationship with their teacher that means they value that contact. There has been laughter, concern, sharing worries that can only be done once a relationship has been established. These relationships can’t be replicated virtually.
2.Effective students are motivated to learn and can therefore adapt to new ways of learning.
The EEF Guidance on effective learners as outlined in the Metacognition and Self-regulated Learners guidance report is that students who are most successful are able to set goals and are motivated to achieve them. A common misconception around motivation is that it is somehow innate; you either have it or you don’t. The reality is that we can provide the conditions and opportunities to help develop motivation in our young people. Whilst I’m not saying this can’t possibly be done virtually, it is much easier and more valuable for young people-especially our most disadvantaged-to do this in person, with daily reminders and genuine praise that relies on body language and gestures.
3.Schools are about more than learning for exams
In this current climate, I know that our students are being offered quality learning experiences, in line with a timetable and with regular tracking and follow up. However, what we cannot offer online is the opportunity to develop skills of listening and responding, the hands on enrichment activities that we offer every day, the chance for students to demonstrate leadership skills, assemblies that explore values and morals but also provide a sense of community as we come together, formally. We are finding new ways to show them we care, but nothing replaces a warm, in person ‘hello’ every morning when you walk into school.
Ultimately, what has become even clearer during these times, is that human connection cannot and never will be replaced by technology. Technology has its place and thank goodness we live in a world that means we are able to continue to teach remotely. I know I’m not alone in hoping we can get back to school soon. I can’t wait to greet them on their first morning back and every day thereafter. Teachers everywhere should know that just that sense of truly belonging to a school community, in person, is one of the greatest things we can offer to our young people.
Everyone at MCA wishes you are your family well in these challenging times.
Vice Principal and Director of Manchester Communication Research School