Week 1 of Distance Learning

video conference

photo: Getty Images

We are in a time of rapid education reform. Australian schools have in recent weeks been planning for and beginning to enact distance learning. I reflected on Tuesday after Day 1 of my school’s move to distance learning, and over the last few days I’ve reflected further as I’ve led, taught and listened to the responses of students, teachers and parents from across the school.

Below are my Week 1 takeaways.

Less is more

This week, our teachers have been working incredibly hard. They have been putting in extremely long hours to make this ‘pivot’ work. They have been preparing content and front loading teaching before the school day begins, as our Distance Learning Plan notes that the day’s work needs to be to students by 8.30am on the morning of a particular lesson, so students can plan their work for the day. Teachers are responding to individual emails, messages and requests from students and parents. What they have achieved individually and collectively is nothing less than extraordinary, and the gratitude from the school community for their hard work has been resounding. However, teacher workload in a distance learning model is an issue we need to consider. ‘Less’ is better for teachers.

Students have been engaging positively and openly with the distance learning model, but some have felt inundated with communication and set work over these first days. The pace of learning from home can be slower than learning that happens at school, the delivery different, and the need for disciplined student work habits greater. Some students have been feeling overwhelmed. ‘Less’ is better for students.

As we continue to evolve in our distance learning provision, we need to think carefully about the desired learning outcomes, what is really important, and what is possible and desirable in the current climate of global crisis. We need to be realistic about the hours teachers have in the school day to provide teaching materials, learning opportunities and feedback; and the ways that learning happens in a home environment, when many students are learning independently and with less support than they have in the school classroom.

One thing we are considering is what a lesson’s worth of work might look like. A lesson at school includes transition time between lessons, roll call and packing up, as well as probably some teacher-directed instruction and some student working time. How might we use this to guide what we provide and expect of students, giving students time between lessons to stand, move, be active, do chores and catch up with each other in non-classroom spaces and ways.

‘Less is more’ will become even more important as teachers increasingly work from home, with all the complexities of family environments.

Let’s make sure that students, parents and teachers are all able to be human beings at this time, not human doings. Teaching material shouldn’t be about keeping students busy, or glued to their screens, but about continuing their education, wellbeing and connectedness in these uncertain circumstances.

Testing and tracking

Similarly, we need to consider the purpose of assessment and feedback, and how these can best work in a distance learning environment. We can think about this from the point of view of what is possible for teachers to enact, and what is useful for student learning.

How might we use our professional judgement to rethink, redesign or reschedule assessments? How might we use technologies to give meaningful feedback? Video conferencing, OneNote, and online rubrics through platforms such as Schoolbox and SEQTA, are some tools that teachers can use to  provide online, continuous feedback.

At my school, we are not taking lesson-by-lesson attendance, but we are tracking student engagement in learning by asking students to ‘like’ posts in Teams, seeing who joins class or small group video meetings, student work in OneNote class notebooks, and checking in on students who don’t appear to be engaging.

Humanising distance learning

In this time of physical distance, our students and staff are keen for a sense of connectedness. We’re finding that video and audio are humanising distance learning for our students. This includes live video and audio meetings with groups of students, pre-recorded screen casts, and PowerPoints with audio or video.

Seeing teachers’ and peers’ faces and hearing their voices can help to bridge the isolation we all feel, and bring some of the connectivity and relationality missing when we are teaching and learning remotely.

4 thoughts on “Week 1 of Distance Learning

  1. Yes – totally agree I have prepared a word doc with the sections for action and thought as we transition to the learning from home in our Government school
    The issues fall into three main areas so far and this post echoes the areas I have identified too – so it feels good to be in a similar pathway – / wave length.

    * Teams
    * Building Community on line – the a) teacher, b) student and c) parent community
    * Communication – teachers need to know the ‘why’ we are doing things – not just the ‘what’
    This supports total transparency of decision making – more people who are looking at the problem helps – but it can hinder leaders to stop and explain why we have arrived at this idea or approach ti individuals who need to know so better to give out total transparent reasons and purposes for decisions made – up front – to stop the fick back or flow back of questions to leaders about:
    why? What about trying? Have you considered etc. tall meant well – but at this time, less useful.

    1) Teams
    When this situation continues and gets harder we will have some teachers that will no longer be able to continue as they have been – that is inevitable.
    They are currently providing lessons or remote learning sessions, as if they are always going to be available – etc But they won’t be for a range of reasons.
    What is the expectations around productivity? What do teachers and leaders expect of contact time and hours at work – how will it be contained when it has the potential to blow out?
    Students will have increasing demands on their time at home due to the changed circumstances – as will all of us.
    Preparing for this now by recognising how we can rewrite and repurpose roles within schools structures is important to get right now .

    # Opt in or change expectations contact? Especially as it continues to get harder
    Need to identify which teachers will be sole carers which teachers are sole earners and have support at home or more time available to take on increased roles that before they might have not chosen to do – who in the leadership now have altered roles due to aspects of their role changing or no longer being relevant?
    Student services coordinators – does the role need to be now redefined expanded?
    No students physically – now becomes pivotal to the new transition phase online. They are often the link into the homes of our most vulnerable children. But if they are sending emails and the student in the home are sending emails – how many is reasonable to be responding to and writing – who inthe school is responsible for communication?

    Which teachers are coping and feel confident and resilient? Who are we concerned will not cope well or will struggle to cope – pre-emptive communication with them about what they need or are feeling is important – and will stop them pulling out further down the track when it will be harder to pick up what arrangements they have set up for their students… so who else knows what they are doing? Do all teachers now teach in pairs?
    When it gets harder – or even if they mentally feel ‘over it’ they need some one to pass the baton to.

    Which teachers have young children who are pre-school childcare or ECE – 3?
    These teachers will be compromised by having increased parenting duties – we have to negotiate with them the new landscape and expectations for WFH – or on site – with children either cared for at the school site or elsewhere (?) How do they feel about sending their preschool or ECE – 3 child to an unknown centrally organised crèche arrangement while they work? Is this going to be mentally healthy and sustainable for them? Or do they want to renegotiate their time or role for now?

    A Team plan needs to be developed – for not only communication purposes and mental well being but for building a sense of belonging to a community too – teachers will feel isolated in this new education arrangement.

    2) Building a community on line – so many teachers are used to be the directors of the education in on line learning flipping the locus of control so student lead is vital part of the changed pedagogy – how do we plan sessions where students are demonstrating their knowledge and we are allowing them to take the lead and not just be teacher led – or ‘over providing’ materials that will flood the students/ system and add to household stress.

    Giving students a sense of control and direction in their own learning through this new learning experience is central to its success. Up loading is the easy part – but “designing” appropriate course content and interaction will be the harder aspect of this transition or ‘pivot point’ !

    Establish communication trees and establishing a buddy system perhaps? Or ensure everyone is in trios? To organise the buddy teams’ identification of what the needs are for teachers needs to be central

    3) Communication
    Aspects of what the new productivity expectations are for teachers is important – how many teachers online classes do teachers have? what are the expectations of equity around student one to one contact, etc. Should the students be re-grouped into like needs? both academically and socially – Is communication now into family groups – or is it by year? Who are the new go to people in the changed roles in schools?

    This is as far as I’ve got for now!
    Even this comment is only the tip of the iceberg that schools are grappling with !

    Thanks for the Post – anything further you can add / get me to consider or plan for – please do comment!! I will check in

    Jacqui

    Like

  2. Pingback: 5 anchors for leading in a time of crisis | the édu flâneuse

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