Stop right now thank you very much
I need somebody with a human touch
Hey you always on the run
Gotta slow it down baby, gotta have some fun
Stop – Spice Girls
We have truly entered uncharted waters this week. Last Friday we were coming to terms with the announcement that schools were to close (or remain open!) for the immediate future. The land rumbled to the sound of school photocopiers working themselves to boiling point as we prepared paper packs of ‘learning’ to send home to our confused charges. As a Y3/4 teacher my class just about got the situation – we’d spent some time talking about it over the previous week or so.
What the education community as a whole has achieved this week is nothing short of a miracle. We’ve seen tremendous efforts from Headteachers to reduce numbers in school, protect their staff whilst organising school meal deliveries and dealing with their most vulnerable pupils. It’s been a grand effort the likes of which we will hopefully never see again.
So what now? Some schools seem to have gone fully online already, regardless of the guidance from the DfE that this was not to happen. I tweeted lots last weekend using the #MaslowFirst hashtag as a reminder that this week was never going to be about education. In my own school the parents set up a Facebook group for homeschooling and I was convinced that some of them, if left unguided, were going to attempt to have taught the whole national curriculum by the end of tonight.
Strangely for me, a complete convert to tech in the classroom, I’m going to advise everyone to slow down. Jodie Lopez put a fantastic video on Twitter explaining how we shouldn’t just jump into unfettered tech use. For my own setting this rang true. For even though my class are well versed in the use of some popular online learning tools I knew that there were other colleagues who aren’t as far on this journey as I am.
If you’ve come to this blog looking for all the tech tools to use for your online teaching then you are going to be disappointed. What I hope to offer is a list of things to think about before you plunge into the murky world of online delivery.
So important I’ll say it twice. SAFEGUARDING. Just because we have entered this brave new world does not mean that our guiding principles should go out of the window. In fact it is possibly even more important that we consider this now as the home internet connection becomes an extention of the classroom and, in many cases, an extention of our own homes. The major teaching unions have produced some excellent guidance on delivering lessons from home, their major point being that we should not be doing live lessons. I’ll say that again – DON’T DO LIVE LESSONS. This is the easiest way to safeguard yourself at this time. However tempting it is to do a Zoom with your class you are not in control of the content. Get used to the idea of teaching being asynchronous – we don’t need hands up, immediate answers at the moment. We need clarity, vision and the ability to carry this on for a long time. Hours sitting at your webcam delivering lessons is not going to make you a better teacher. By this afternoon I had massive bags under my eyes from too long staring at a screen this week. For every Monday glamourpuss logging on there will be a tired hang-dog by the Wednesday.
We have seen lots of generous offers from all the ed-tech firms offering their platforms for free. Part of me is sceptical about this idea, are they trying to hook us in or just spam our email forever once this is all over. Some of it is brilliant, some not so good so it is vitally important that we don’t sign up for everything all at once. Also, as Jodie so elequently states in her video, don’t use tech that your class are not used to. Mine are semi-fluent in Google, Prodigy Maths, TTRockstars and ReadTheory. Many are not.
Side by side with safeguarding considerations is GDPR. Again the rules are not waived here – look for platforms that have a GDPR compliance statement and add them to your GDPR register. There is a danger that we will leave a very big digital footprint over the next few months – check where your data is going.
Connectivity and Tech Access
Do all of your potential consumers of content have access? I teach in a rural community where broadband access is not always what we are used to at home. Some of our parents are using 4G cellular connection for their home internet access so we need to be mindful of not just jumping straight to video as our default setting. It is too easy to assume that all of our pupils have access to the tech but what about those with one device in the house, which one (or both) parent is using for work? What about our PP families: do they have access to the latest superfast on an up-to-date device? How can we use PP money and existing school equipment to help them? One option we discussed in a governor meeting last night was the provision of a 4G hotspot if needed.
What works for UKS2 or KS3 is not going to work for Y1 or EYFS. Their independence skills differ and we cannot expect our youngest, most vulnerable children to dilligently learn along online. Also think about what you actually want to teach – the National Curriculum is dead for the current time. In my school we have talked about desirable knowledge for the next class – what is the minumum you would like that child to be able to do when they walk in the class in September? We also are not going to deliver new content. There’s some great examples of online learning for maths but without a teacher to make those explicit links to previous learning we run the risk of widening gaps between our children that will have done all of the week’s work by Monday lunchtime and those that may log on once a month. Taking the time to really look at this content is of vital importance if we are to keep learning happening.
Be explicit with your parent body about what you aim to provide, but make sure that you can sustain delivery of what you promise. People are going to fall ill so make sure whatever you plan has some redundancy. We’ve used Google Classroom to schedule 2 weeks of learning tasks online. They will automatically appear each day. We’ve also said that 1 member of staff will be online for a fixed period each day to answer any questions for parents; not to teach, to answer questions. This is an important distinction and also allows staff time to plan the next chunk of learning. If the situation changes through staff shortages then communicate with parents quickly – they will soon grow dependent on your daily task and worry if it doesn’t appear on time.
For your staff also consider that they maybe managing their own children at home. Mine have been brilliant this week at allowing me to homework each day but I know the novelty of their online/offline learning tasks will fade and they will need more attention from whichever parent is home that week.
Don’t Forget The Offline Options
Whilst companies are rapidly building server farms to cope with the sheer amount of Y1 writing we are going to produce online in the next month give some credence to setting tasks that children don’t need to sit at a screen to use. Robin Hood Trust have produced the most amazing weekly plans for the whole primary range and have made them available for all to use. They provide a great start to your home learning journey and can be amended to suit your purposes. Give parents practical ideas to take outside; bug hunts, plant observations, even just some good old fashioned gardening. Set PE minute challenges that can be completed in the garden or house with no equipment. Do all of the things you’d love to do in class with art but don’t have the time for.
So, What Next?
We don’t have any idea how long this is going to go on for. Best guess is we are preparing for home school for the majority of summer term. This has a knock on effect on transition and this will have to be carefully managed else we risk the wellbeing of an entire generation. Use this time wisely, get to know some tech tools and follow some good people on social media who can advise and talk you through the pitfalls and advantages of some tech solutions. Leaders, get onto the daily (11:30-12:15) Zoom sessions that Simon Kidwell and his merry band of helpers are organising. There’s a different theme each day and there is some incredible free advice from other school leaders around the country. This really is a great time to make those connections with others and either learn from them or give your experiences to help others.
As for me, I’ll be doing my duty week in school next week but will be online to help anyone I can on their journey to online learning. You can DM me through Twitter or leave a comment on this blog with your email address and I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can.