'Scrapping my plans was the best thing I've ever done'

Teaching plans were thrown out of the window in lockdown – but this primary teacher says it was a positive experience

Julie Watt

Coronavirus: The shift to digital learning has been positive for my pupils, says this teacher

Lockdown brought about many challenges for school across the globe and so many teachers have been forced to think critically and creatively to ensure that their pupils remain engaged in learning. Perhaps "forced" sounds rather negative, but this forcing of a different way of thinking has had a hugely positive impact on so many teachers and learners.

Over the past six months or so, I have stripped back everything my practice consisted of in March, knocked down all my expectations and targets, scrapped any plans I had for the year, set everything on a metaphorical fire and watched everything burn. It was the best thing I have ever done. Our world is different, our lives are different – and anyone who has children or teaches them has seen that they are also different.

I watched many of my own pupils thrive using digital platforms such as Teams, Google Classrooms and Seesaw. I learned to let go of my own insecurities about being in control as a teacher, to let go of the need to guide my class through everything.

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The reality was that I could no longer do that. They had to fend for themselves. And they did. Over time, I watched them go from fumbling, incoherent text messages on the wrong channels, asking badly worded questions or just typing "HELP" wherever they could get their cursor, to creating full projects, researching, creating videos, posting links to help each other and being fully engaged in learning. They developed independence, resilience, communication, problem-solving, planning and organisation skills, purely through digital learning and through my letting go of my "control" as a teacher.

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The skills pupils gain from working digitally have never been so aligned with skills they need for life, learning and work. It is vital now that pupils are equipped with the information they need to use digital platforms safely and efficiently.

Being back in school now, I am trying to harness everything that I saw happening in my virtual classroom. As I attempt to rebuild and redesign our curriculum to fit our new world of more agile, independent and curious learners, I am constantly questioning, rethinking, building, tearing down and rebuilding once more.

It has been so refreshing to see educational companies such as Civic Digits Theatre Company do the same thing  – its Big Data Show fits entirely with the new world we live in. I thought theatre experiences of any kind would be something we would sacrifice in a post-Covid world, but the use of the online platform and video conferencing in the show is highly relevant and recognisable to children; it’s normalised in a fun way.

Even more relevant was the content and the message of the show: password protection and knowledge about hackers, scams and online safety have never been so important in their lives.

My pupils love the experience of using phones in the classroom and it’s helped me to learn to break down the walls that separate the classroom and the "real world". We've been forced to rethink and redesign learning this year – but perhaps we need to do it more proactively from now on.

Julie Watt is a teacher St Thomas' Primary School in Addiewell, West Calder, in Scotland

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