4 remote teaching issues school policies must consider

Schools will need to consider policies for these four key areas if remote learning remains, says head of pre-prep at Harrow International School Bangkok, Mike Godwin

Mike Godwin

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When online learning became the new normal for our school, everything changed.

From the start, some teachers were still delivering near-on full timetables so the routine felt very similar, whereas others were creating pre-recorded lessons.

Parents were suddenly being contacted remotely and how we looked after the wellbeing of pupils was also very different now that we were unable to physically see them.

These challenges meant that, in this period, a lot of professional development has occurred and the learning that has happened in this period has been almost exponential.

Schools at all levels must consider what they are learning from this period and, perhaps most crucially, consider how they will embed this into relevant policies and plans – especially if remote teaching may become a lot more common in the years ahead.

1. E-safety

With great power comes great responsibility. The first issue at our school that we faced was to ensure that all pupils and teachers were able to use the technology and platforms needed to run online learning at the level we expected.

This meant all staff becoming experts in Zoom, Google Drive, Google Classroom and, for our oldest years, Classkick. This also meant pupils (and parents of those in younger year groups) having to become experts as well. Webinars, how-to guides and one-to-one support sessions were offered and warmly appreciated.

Of course, though, now we were all online we had to ensure safety was paramount with daily reminders about "chat" and "message" expectations embedded.

A series of parameters for using Zoom were decided upon and a declaration was signed by the entire teaching staff to keep our children safe, particularly in response to the horror stories heard from other institutions. 

Putting something like this in place around e-learning should be built into all school policies going forward – proactively rather than reactively.

2. Communication

In school, you have conversations everywhere – offices, corridors, briefings, meetings, classrooms…but not any more. All conversations now happen on email. And this creates many problems.

Sometimes they are misunderstood, sometimes they are not clear enough and sometimes they are taken in the wrong way and cause upset.

What we have learned quickly is that communication needs to be concise, it needs to be clearly understood and it needs to make all staff feel valued, empowered and up to date.

Of course, it's also important to respect that just because people are working from home, that does not mean they are contactable at all times.

Parents must also be engaged in the learning process for their child as they play a key role, especially for our younger pupils.

Communication was always present with parents but as time passed, we adapted the conversation to be through live webinars and interactive Zoom sessions.

This progression ensured parent views were considered and discussed in real time.

Overall, the experiences all schools will have had across age ranges shows that creating rules and policies around communication – from how it is carried out to rules around availability – is vital to ensure that everyone gets the best from this set-up.

3. Wellbeing

Never has there been a more important time to remember that wellbeing is so important and directly linked to outcomes. If someone feels happy and supported, they will work better – simple.

What has become clear in this online time is that people are affected in different ways, so trying to gauge how one person feels about something by generalising against others does not work. You must interact with everyone, personally.

Furthermore, we realised that the wellbeing of pupils was supported greatly by live Zoom sessions. Not particularly the ones that had a learning intention, but the ones that allowed them to talk with their friends, sing a song with their teacher or wish someone a happy birthday. 

Continued thinking about wellbeing and how we support all parties must become a priority as schools begin to reopen. It should be embedded and acted upon should schools end up online again.

4. Lesson delivery

When we commenced online learning, we began with live "core" lessons in Years 4 and 5 and pre-recorded lessons followed by tasks in all other year groups. So, each pupil was receiving a maths, English and topic lesson each day.

This was supplemented by foundation and specialist subjects that were flexible for families to access if they chose to or not.

Pre-recorded lessons work great for younger pupils as they can see their teacher, watch the lesson, see the models and images, have the task explained to them and then rewatch the whole thing for clarity (or fun) if they choose to do so. With a live lesson, you miss it and it is done.

Of course, though, with a live Zoom lesson the teacher has an immediate connection with each child, can set up small groups in breakout spaces and be there during the independent work.

In short, live video lessons are great, but not for all; and pre-records are great, but not for all.

Being aware of the pros and cons of each, being ready to explain your own pedagogical beliefs and putting policies in place that outline the school's view on how staff should use these tools is something we must capture and have ready for if this all happens again.  

Mike Godwin is head of pre-prep phase (Years 1-5) at Harrow International School Bangkok

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