Here we are, a full year on from the first school lockdown, and it has been an unprecedented 12 months for everyone involved in education. No-one at the end of 2019 could have envisaged the disruption that was to come, and the extraordinary journey they were about to embark upon.
So what have we learnt about learning and the role that everyone plays in the process? More importantly, what are the lessons we need to take forward as schools start the journey back towards ‘normality’?
One key thing that stood out over the last year was the way that teachers and students adapted to the situation; with very little notice, both these groups transitioned to a wholly different way of teaching and learning. Schools were able to move rapidly and embrace the possibilities that online technology offered, and teachers quickly gained a whole new set of skills and vocabulary, with Zoom lessons, Microsoft Teams assignments and Firefly tasks and resources now common language.
“In general, I have been positively impressed by the resilience of both staff and our students in response to the sudden adjustments to all of our lives.”1
The learning curve was steep, but teachers and students rose to the challenge, with determination and innovation, and the experience of education has changed permanently.
“Since we swapped to online learning I was positively surprised by the ability and organisational skills of our students to cope with the associated independence.”1
Although there were concerns about students engaging with teaching and learning in an online environment, their ability to take on this new way of accessing the curriculum was better than initially anticipated, and teachers were pleasantly surprised by the levels of engagement they were seeing. Indeed, in some cases, schools were reporting greater levels of engagement from their students as they were able to join lessons in an environment which they found less challenging.
Online learning will not, (and should not) replace the face to face interactions that characterise education. However, what has been highlighted is the way in which technology can facilitate learning and give students, teachers and parents new ways to access the curriculum and allow them to use their time more effectively.
Sharing best practice
Unsurprisingly, with schools moving into a largely hitherto unknown environment, there was an increase in the demand to learn from each other. Teachers saw a proliferation of
webinars, articles and forums all aimed at helping share the practice and experiences of other schools from all around the world.
“Teachers at both levels found it useful to reach out and speak with teachers from other schools in their area to share tips and ideas about how they were approaching the planning and development of support for their students, and there was a general interest in continuing this in the future.”1
What was most encouraging, was the fact that this was driven by schools themselves. Teachers were able to learn from their colleagues and peers about a wide range of topics ranging from how best to address lockdown, tips for online learning and how to keep parents in the loop. Technology provides a forum for this ongoing professional development and allows it to be driven by teachers themselves, in ways that best suit them.
The home-school partnership
Although the impact of the relationship between school and home has been recognised for many years, with parents acting as de facto classroom assistants the importance of good communication in sustaining and nurturing this relationship was brought to the forefront of educational planning. Schools have adapted and strengthened their communication strategies to try and bring parents more fully into the learning conversation, and largely this seems to have worked. ParentKind surveys have shown that parents feel that their voices are now better heard.
“In large part it’s thanks to the brilliant job teachers have done in communicating with parents during lockdown, which has energised home/school partnerships built on trust throughout the nation.”2
Parents’ understanding of teaching and learning has grown and there is a new respect for the art of teaching. Teachers have also seen the benefits of regular, ongoing communication with parents, and the impact this can have on learner outcomes and wellbeing.
“Following a return to ‘normal’ school life, the partnerships forged during lockdown will be vital in ensuring students settle back into education. The new habits adopted now see a naturally more proactive approach towards parent engagement long into the future.”3
The digital divide
Initially the picture was mixed with varying levels of access available to students across the country. One survey during lockdown showed 59 percent of prep schools and 72 percent of private secondaries provided live online lessons with teachers — compared with only 3 percent of state primaries and 6 percent of state secondaries.4 A number of private initiatives were put in place to try and address this, with laptops and devices being donated to those families most in need, but this is only a short term measure. The digital divide has been highlighted as an issue that needs to be addressed if we are to ensure universal access to the best learning environment for all families, irrespective of their background and circumstances.
What does the future hold?
The future of education in the months and years ahead is in our hands. Schools have been part of the greatest, unplanned social experiment that any of us can remember and we have all learnt a huge amount from the experience. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build on what we have discovered and shape the nature of teaching and learning such that it meets the needs of our modern society. All of us have a part to play in this process and it is vital that we listen to the voices of everyone involved - teachers, students and parents.
We recognise that schools are working from different starting points and with varying levels of confidence. Working with education experts we’ve put together this handy Digital Diagnostic tool which you may find useful to see how far you’ve come and stimulate a conversation about where to go next - better yet it only takes 5 mins to complete!
1The Royal Society Sept 2020, “Lessons learnt during COVID-19 lockdown”
2John Jolly 2020 CEO ParentKind
3IRIS June 2020 The future is digital: Education after lockdown
4The Spectator Sept 2020 “Will schools have learnt the lessons of lockdown?”