As England prepares to relax many of its remaining lockdown restrictions on 4 July, it seems that we are one step closer to returning to normality.
This won’t mean any immediate changes to how most teachers are working right now, but the easing of lockdown provides a chance to reflect on the ways that the teaching profession has had to adapt over recent months.
Remote teaching has brought challenges, but it has also led to new ways of working that many teachers have welcomed – so much so that they would like to maintain those ways of working once schools return fully in September.
School closures: which changes should we keep?
So, which new approaches are worth hanging on to? We asked teachers on Twitter what are the changes they have made during lockdown that they pledge to keep once schools reopen. Here’s what they said.
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‘I want to keep using edtech in creative ways’
Remote learning has forced teachers to use edtech tools in ways they would perhaps never have considered if not for the time spent in lockdown. For example, Katie Lockett, a head of MFL faculty in Bristol, has been using Microsoft Teams to support live marking.
“We had it before, but didn’t really use it,” Lockett says. “[It’s] great for ‘live marking’ written assignments for GCSE.”
She also has used YouTube tutorial videos to set homework tasks and insight tools on digital learning platforms to monitor access and engagement.
Effective use of #edtech e.g. Use of @Office365 Teams (we had it before, but didn’t really use it). Great for ‘live marking’ written assignments for GCSE. Use of @YouTube tutorials for really clear homework tasks. Use of the ‘insight’ tools on #SMHW to monitor access & engagement— Katie Lockett (@katielockett) May 5, 2020
Meanwhile, Lucy Howlett, a secondary science teacher in Cardiff, has created “an entire online revision resource” for her Year 10 chemistry students, which she plans to continue to use once schools return.
Google quiz and google classrooms. I now have an entire online revision resource online for all year 10 chemistry including self marking quizzes etc. Lots of homework’s set and collected through there.— Lucy Howlett (@LucyAHowlett) May 5, 2020
Quin Golding, a head of drama in south-east London, has also been using Microsoft Teams to help his department collaborate more efficiently, and to allow groups of students to work together on practical drama activities during lockdown.
Even more ambitiously, his team are also running a whole-school production over Teams, in the form of a verbatim radio play about Londoners. The play has 12 directors, eight of whom are sixth-formers at the school, and also features music, songs and sound design. It is an arrangement they would not be able to manage without the use of edtech.
“We wouldn't be able to coordinate such a large-scale piece were it not online,” says Golding. “Teams allows me to coordinate across groups and help our students learn skills in self-management, leadership and directing.”
Although he did use technology in his lessons before lockdown, Golding says that he had not previously realised the full potential of the tools available to him.
“I have used Showbie before in a similar way to Teams for communicating with students and keeping a digital archive of practical work. So it is not necessarily the case that we were not using edtech,” he explains.
“That said, the pandemic has of course driven change at a quick pace. I think it’s highly commendable to see the level of development by staff and the innovative results in teaching and learning. In drama, we use the phrase 'creative constraint' and in this case, I see how these circumstances have driven positive change, like no other situation would do.”
Yes to this. Teams has changed the way we collaborate as a department. Also using it for student groups to rehearse, devise and split into differentiated groups for support (across teaching groups)— Quin Golding (@Quin_Golding) May 6, 2020
‘I want to make better use of blended learning approaches’
Building on the increased use of edtech, many teachers are also keen to follow more blended learning approaches once schools return.
For example, Emma Parker, a teacher at an international school in Bangkok, has really seen the value of flipped learning – an approach in which students familiarise themselves with subject material independently at home and then build on this knowledge through interactive activities in the classroom.
“Online teaching has forced me to make my resources internet friendly, so I’d like to keep using them ahead of class to allow more time in class for consolidating and pushing more higher-level thinking,” she writes.
Flipped learning- online teaching has forced me to make my resources internet friendly so I’d like to keep using them ahead of class to allow more time IN class for consolidating and pushing more higher level thinking.— Emma Parker (@EmmaParker2787) May 5, 2020
Similarly, Alistair Hamill, a head of geography and senior leader at Lurgan College, has found that online videos have been useful for supporting students with the tasks he has been setting during lockdown.
“If pupils get stuck on an exercise, they can click through to a part of a video for extra tips,” he says. “[This is] potentially very useful for scaffolding for application tasks.”
Use of online videos to provide additional support with tasks set. If pupils get stuck on an exercise, they can click through to a part of a video for extra tips. Potentially very useful for scaffolding for application tasks.— Alistair Hamill (@lcgeography) May 5, 2020
Zoe Enser, lead English adviser for Kent, who has recently written for Tes about how to get blended learning right, is not surprised that the time spent in lockdown has encouraged more teachers to want to pursue blended approaches. She says that this is an area that they may not have had the time or support to focus on in the past.
“Before lockdown, even the most well-designed homeworking options could end up an afterthought,” she says. “Time constraints for staff meant that it hasn’t always been given the time in order to make it top quality.”
As more students return to school, there is an opportunity to change this, she adds – but only if leaders can give teachers the time to make it work.
“If the usual work patterns, plus increased demands from catch up, are quickly resumed, it is unlikely teachers will be able to continue,” Enser says. “Blended approaches need careful planning, just as what happens in the classroom.”
Closing the learning gap in secondary – a webinar from Tes columnist Mark Enser
‘I want to maintain pupils’ newfound independence’
Teachers will also need to plan carefully if they want to encourage pupils to continue to learn more independently once schools return.
While some children will have struggled to learn remotely, others will have thrived, becoming better able to take charge of their own learning. This is something that several teachers said they wanted to continue to support.
For example, Matthew Lane, a Year 6 teacher and RE lead at Hethersett VC Primary School in Norwich, found that his pupils responded well to being allowed to “direct the pace and order of their learning” while in lockdown.
“During home learning, we gave children a menu of activities and self-guided lesson presentations reflecting the amount of lessons we would have given the subject in school (five for maths, one for geography, etc),” Lane explains.
“Crucially, we did not put a time requirement on each activity, just a suggestion. Want to spend 10 minutes on fractions? If you got all the answers correct, go for it. Equally, if you want to spend a whole day researching and writing about Costa Rica, go for it," he says.
“For some activities, we also gave more than one approach to the learning. With reading, we offered both structured reading comprehensions as well a menu of activities to build inference skills,” Lane adds.
These approaches worked so well that Lane continued to use them with his Year 6 bubble group, now back in school. He also plans to trial the same methods with his new class in September.
“Our day is now three sessions rather than five lessons,” he says. “We will, for instance, all start maths together, but if children finish before others, they are allowed to go back to learning from foundation subjects and add to their work, or to follow a choice of further activities.”
This removes the concept of being “good” or “bad” at a topic by the measure of whether or not you have understood it within an allocated time, Lane points out.
“If a child wants or needs more time on a concept, they can have it then and there. Their interest in a topic is only curtailed by their own enthusiasm. Conversely, if a child is secure in a concept they can move on, without losing time waiting for their peers to be ready,” he says.
Letting children direct the pace and order of their learning during the school day.— Matthew Lane MCCT (@MrMJLane) May 5, 2020
The current classroom model was based upon Victorian factories so is in need of a rethink. Easier said than done but this Flipped Classroom approach has great benefits.
Emily Hall, an English teacher in Sheffield, also wants to provide her students with more choice about which tasks they do and when, specifically when it comes to homework.
“I’ve never been fully on board with homework – I’ve always been troubled by it being packaged as just 'more work', rather than an opportunity to extend, revise or review existing knowledge,” she says.
Instead, she plans to encourage students to explore aspects of a topic that they are curious to know more about at home.
“For instance, in September I will be giving my students further reading lists for them to choose from and setting how/why questions to enable students to elaborate on a topic previously covered,” she says.
Hall believes that offering more freedom and choice in this way will help her students to learn more effectively in the long run.
“Ultimately, we want our students to be in a position to independently manipulate and use information we have taught them so we know learning has taken place. It's the goal of learning, to apply knowledge independently,” she says.
Connect more with parents and use google classroom for homework tasks. Try to maintain the new found independence of my students by setting more exploratory tasks.— Emily (@MrsHallEnglish) May 5, 2020
‘I want to communicate more effectively with parents’
As well as working in different ways with pupils, some teachers are also keen to maintain closer collaboration with parents.
For example, primary teacher @MissSm987 has been sending parents weekly emails about what their children have been doing. She admits that this is not something it would be easy to find time for during the regular school week, but has found it to be a very positive change during lockdown.
Slow down and take more in & more personalised connections with parents. We now send a weekly email and I love writing about chn who have done something exciting (not always maths/eng) and telling them what I have been upto. They love it and we are normally too rushed for this!— Miss S ? (@MissSm987) May 5, 2020
Hall, likewise, has been reaching out to parents more in recent months, and would like to continue to do so in the new year.
“Instead of phoning when there's an issue, or I want to pass a message on, this experience has really shown me the benefit of phoning just to check in. I know so much more about the lives of my tutees and their parents and I think this information is vital for removing any barriers and working with parents to support the learning process,” she says.
“My school do ‘tutor review’ days twice a year, which work really well, but in future, I will also contact home more regularly just to check in and discuss how things are going, so I can be aware of what's going on in their world beyond school.”
‘I want to keep focusing on my wellbeing and have a better work-life balance’
However, the biggest area that teachers told us they wanted to maintain positive changes in after lockdown was their own health and wellbeing.
@MsHowells_Chem, a science teacher at Verulam School in St Albans, was one of several teachers who pledged to continue to exercise more, because she “love[s] the endorphins”, along with RE teacher @EWalkerRE, in Cambridge, who has found that running and yoga have helped her to “clear [her] head” and “keep [her] focus”.
To carry on exercising! I love the endorphins!— Ms Howells (@MsHowells_Chem) May 5, 2020
Doing some form of exercise or mindfulness each day whether it be a walk, run or yoga...it’s really helped me clear my head and keep my focus x— Miss Walker (@EWalkerRE) May 5, 2020
Others, such as Year 5 teacher Amanda Metcalfe, are keen to maintain better eating habits, promising to eat more home-cooked food in future.
Exercise more & eat more home cooked from scratch food. Not sure how long I’ll realistically be able to keep it up when lockdown ends but my heart is in the right place
— Amanda Metcalfe (@amandaliu888) May 5, 2020
Along with this focus on wellbeing, many teachers are keen to do more to support a better work-life balance for themselves. Having had the chance to spend more time with their loved ones and to focus less on schoolwork without the daily pressures of the classroom, many have come to realise that they can take positive steps to better manage their workload.
For example, @MissDLeather, a primary teacher in Manchester would like to keep her weekends work-free, while Emily Quiggin, a head of department at Waingels College in the South East of England, is committed to not checking emails out of work hours, and switching off during her evenings.
Going to try and keep weekends as weekends - and that means the full Saturday and Sunday off and to myself!— Miss Leather (@MissDLeather) May 5, 2020
Not checking emails out of work hours. Making more use of electronic homework submission. Remembering that work is second to home life! Switching off in the evenings and weekends and remembering that things won't fall apart if not done there and then!!— Emily Quiggin (@MissQuiggz) May 5, 2020
The fact that so many teachers want to focus on wellbeing and work-life balance when schools return fully comes as no surprise to Jo Steer, a former school leader and wellbeing columnist for Tes.
“I'm not in the least bit surprised that many teachers have found a change in routine and a slower pace to be beneficial during lockdown. We work at such a break-neck speed in teaching nowadays with every minute of our time allocated away. There's barely enough time for professional reflection, let alone personal," she says.
“The fact that teachers needed the permission of a global pandemic to feel OK about prioritising (or not deprioritising) their own wellbeing over work – that it has taken the closure of schools in order for some to actualise work-life balance and actually learn what this feels like physically, mentally and emotionally – is testament to how completely askew life in teaching was before 2020.”
Having had the opportunity to reflect and to recognise how “truly abnormal the old 'normal' was”, Steer hopes that teachers can now continue to support their wellbeing and work-life balance in September, although she admits that this could be one of the most difficult areas in which to maintain the benefits of lockdown.
“Realistically, if schools return to the same demands/data/accountability culture of pre-lockdown, I think even the most reinvigorated of staff will eventually return to prior levels of job dissatisfaction and low morale,” she says.
“For any sort of real change to happen, there needs to be a whole-school conversation about wellbeing and a determined, continuous, collaborative effort to value and support it.”