With School Closed… Part Two

This post was originally posted on the 15/03/2020 on the Independent Thinking blog here.

Following on from the previous blog I put out with Independent Thinking last week – not mention this one written for us by Ben Keeling head of Shrewsbury School in Hong Kong – we have had requests from around the world for more information and ideas, especially looking at primary education so here goes.

And remember, as we highlighted last week, there are three things to bear in mind through all of this – prepare, innovate, stay calm.

When it comes to distance or ‘remote learning’ as many are calling, it’s worth bearing in mind that it has been around in various guises for a long time. One of the UK’s proudest institutions, for example, is the Open University and as Steve Wheeler highlights in his post here, there are lots of resources such as those that can be found on the Open Educational Resource site.

In our post last week, we shared an infographic with lots of tools and ideas that can be implemented to support the continuation of learning should/when the school-closure scenario occurs. If any of you missed it, here it is again as it’s proving to be quite useful.

So, what to do?

As with many things, it’s all about context. Learners in Early Years will require a different approach to remote learning in comparison to those in Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. There is no one size fits all approach to any of this either. What will work in one school, almost definitely will not work in another. It’s all about your context.

To help with all of this, we have created this simple infographic to help guide your thinking and decision making about key considerations in relation to school closure and distance learning, regardless of the age of learner:

Many schools are looking at distance learning activities using technology, and rightly so, however, many families don’t have access to technology in the home, let alone strong enough internet connections to support video conferencing, for example (Rural Wales, we’re looking at you!). Additionally, distance learning activities are not suitable for learners of all ages. I’m sharing some possibilities below in this instance too.

What about different ages of learners?

We recommend considering remote learning via technology for pupils and students in Key Stage 2 and above.

For those learners in Early Years and Key Stage 1, it is more appropriate to have a system in place to share learning activities and resources with parents and focus time working with them to give them the tools they need to be able to provide the support that their children will require with their learning at home.

In this scenario, the tools mentioned in our last post, such as Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom, would be an excellent space to act as a bulletin board linked to resources and activities for parents to access with the opportunity for them to be able to ask questions and share thoughts in one managed space too.

  • Think carefully about your context
  • Will students, pupils or parents need any training? How will you support or provide for that?
  • Think carefully about the making sure there is plenty of analogue activities as well as those that are completed digitally

Access to technology?

We saw one parent, for example, asking on the #CloseTheSchoolsUK hashtag how they were going to be able to support remote learning online when they are a single parent with one tablet between three children. These concerns and the digital divide in the UK (and beyond) still exist and need to be considered in your thinking when planning for your school closure.

  • What do you know about your student/parent body?
  • Can your knowledge from your Pupil Premium or SEN registers help you in knowing who in your community might need extra support?
  • Is there the potential or possibility of loaning equipment to families during closure to support the learning taking place at home?

Behaviour for home learning

In relation to your learners, their commitment, drive and discipline to engage with learning at a distance will be a key issue. Communicating with parents about how to best support their children will be vital. Also part of the picture is your parent body and how prepared they are to be able to support their children in engaging in these different activities whilst being mindful of issues they may be facing around their work, ability to support their children, access to technology and more.

  • How will you share expectations?
  • Consider sharing a home/school agreement in relation to remote/distance learning
  • Create an agreement for parents to sign such as this one from Kellett School in Hong Kong before allowing video conferenced lessons to take place
  • Make sure teachers are fully aware of the expectations and what policies/procedures to follow if these aren’t met

And, of course, be very mindful as to whether the parents/guardians are healthcare workers too and all the implications of the current situation for their lives.

What about teachers?

It is equally important to consider your colleagues, their confidence and their ability to fulfil their roles in supporting their learners from home during this time too. A flexible and mindful approach will be key as many colleagues will be balancing their own home responsibilities during this time, particularly if they have children of their own at home whilst trying to deliver remote learning activities.

  • Do you have policies in place to support activities from home?
  • Are they confident they know what to and how to do it?
  • Stress the importance of not just setting digital work but analogue activities such as reading, painting, writing etc, evidence of which can still be submitted digitally.

Above all, regardless of whether it is parents, learners or teachers you are thinking about, transparency, clear communication and simple activities understood by all will be key to success. Complicated workflows, procedures and activities will be likely to fail. In her post, @fod3, a Head of English at an International School in Rome shared about some of the difficulties she’s been facing using Google Forms, for example.

  • How will you keep teachers connected and be mindful of their wellbeing?
  • Plan for colleagues falling ill themselves and being unable to complete their duties and have a contingency for this. This includes a clear line of command for school leadership contingencies.
  • Keep things simple for teachers and consider deferring things such as report writing to help keep their workload manageable.

Keeping IT simple

Keeping things simple and sharing best practices with example use scenarios for simple tools will be very helpful for colleagues to work from and help clarify what online learning tasks should look like without becoming cumbersome and overwhelming.

A school community space would be a great place to have all of these things in one place. If you don’t have one, consider setting up a departmental or school WhatsApp group or Facebook page. These (probably) won’t require any training and are easy to set up. If you need help, young people can tell you what to do. We have heard of at least one school in the Netherlands where a letter was sent from students to the school’s leadership asking them to close the school and offering support in training the teachers in the technology they would need to then use make this possible.

And remember, activities don’t all need to be digital either. The following resource created by Pobble features 25 great activities for younger learners which can all be completed without the aid of technology. My 60 Things To Do This Summer resource I wrote last summer for NetSupport also contains lots of fun, engaging and relevant activities for learners of all ages.

  • Think about using tools that utilise single-sign-on (SSO) to alleviate the need to remember lots of passwords
  • Set tasks as activities such as those shown in the ‘60 things book’ or the Pobble resource shared above
  • Keep your approaches as simple as possible

Students, pupils and parents using online tools

For many learners, it may be their first time using some of these online tools so considering how they can be taught how to successfully use these tools will also be a consideration. How will you share these things? What tools will you use?

Another consideration is that by using the tools and approaches consistently across multiple platforms, teachers, students and parents will be better able to support the activities being completed without having to learn how to use different tools for similar activities. There is no point at this stage in throwing the baby out with the bathwater or trying to implement new technologies at this stage either.

  • Keep it simple
  • Use tools that are already embedded
  • Do what you can to ensure consistency of approach with learners

Safeguarding

Being ever vigilant to ensure our young people are safe is a tireless task and is still a key issue for a school, even if it is closed under these circumstances. Deputy Headteacher at the JESS School in Dubai, Luke Rees, created this powerful infographic with some great questions to consider around safeguarding and is well worth checking out.

As mentioned above, being very clear with learners and parents about expectations about behaviour and how to interact and engage online are key. These resources from National Online Safety with online safety tips for children are absolutely essential for sharing.

  • Share safeguarding tips with parents
  • Ensure consent forms and considerations are shared with (and collected in from) parents
  • Keep things simple

Summing up

These are unprecedented times and may continue for some time to come. Clearly this is going to become more difficult before it gets easier and even though your schools might not be closed yet, you may well have children (and teachers) isolating themselves already.

A universal truth is that communities are important and help us through difficult times – whether they are virtual or not. These scenes from a quarantined Italian street show that.

Ensuring your community knows you have a plan in place and sharing things in clear, consistent ways which reassure your community, colleagues, parents and children will go a long way to help keep things working and flowing nicely.

Be mindful of the demographics in your community around additional needs, be they physical, emotional or financial and do what you can to mitigate for these if you can.”

Mark Anderson

About Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson, @ICTEvangelist. Click here to learn more.

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