What's in YOUR emergency teaching and learning backpack?

What's in YOUR emergency teaching and learning backpack?
Date1st Oct 2020AuthorJo Fletcher-Saxon and Brian CopperCategoriesTeaching

Jo Fletcher-Saxon and Brian Copper are assistant principals at Ashton Sixth Form College.

How many times have you heard ‘Well, this feels a bit odd’, as we have experienced our new ways of creating learning environments for our students? It may be that you have some students joining lessons being taught on site but from their homes in a 50:50 arrangements, it may be that you are teaching some self-isolating students entirely at home, and for sure your students are spaced out when physically in the classroom, possibly with visors or masks being used. Odd perhaps, but only if we keep in our minds a fixed notion of what ‘normal’ is or should be.

We cannot risk what a colleague calls ‘go-backery’. During lockdown the teaching community stepped up; there was an explosion of innovation in some quarters.  Some colleges moved rapidly to live lessons, some worked with asynchronous learning for a while, but all looked at maximising their use of digital tools and platforms to teach and support students. We had Insta live, new YouTube channels, and even WhatsApp groups. We had teams completely revamping course materials to work well online as much well as in person. We got stuck into Microsoft Teams, others opened up their Google classrooms. It would be easy, comforting, possibly tempting, to view some of this as second best, not normal, but why?  

During lockdown and in the early part of this term we (Jo and Brian) have experienced life as both participants (of professional learning) and as teachers and seen how it is possible to create community, build relationships and create positive learning environments online. Does viewing teaching and learning as it is now as a temporary means to an end prevent future thinking? Prevent us from seeing what's good and can be retained and thrive regardless of future circumstances?

With all this in mind we are packing our ‘emergency teaching and learning backpack’ with all the things we might need in the case of a further lockdown, but also things that may be useful longer term. Let’s take a rummage in the backpack… 

Item 1: Teaching and Learning New Toys

Digital learning and innovation born from a little risk-taking and experimentation have heightened over the past 6 months. But remember what you have within your organization. Many of us are bound by Microsoft infrastructure and products (which can be good as well as sometimes frustrating). Our new toy is Microsoft Lens, a useful tool in these remote learning times. If your students are essay based in terms of assessment or you want them to draw diagrams, science work, complete hand written tests etc. then Lens can help. Students at home write their work (with a pen - let's remember the examinations are still requiring our students to hand write and they need to practice this dexterity), open the Microsoft Lens app on their phones, and take a picture which automatically converts to PDF and can be sent to you to electronically mark and give electronic feedback. No need for paper handling, no need for delays in handing in or marking and a quick easy tool to use for everyone. Winner! What new toys and tools are you using? 

Item 2: Map at the Ready? 

All explorer backpacks have a plan or a map inside to aid navigation. Our map (or ‘Online Learning Contingency Plan’ to be specific) sets out what we will do if we have to go into a partial or full lockdown in the future. At first the map seemed simple to sketch out. However, as you begin to write the plan you realise that for things to work smoothly you must consider things like the tech holding up, safeguarding, careers, student support services, counselling, tutorial programme, library services, bursary and so on. All of these functions must still work and still function. Bottom line - start writing, try to keep it brief and in sections and subheadings that can be easily navigated by your intended audience. This isn’t bureaucracy but a map to help navigate our new future.

Item 3: Community Building

The bonds and friendships that develop are what makes the community of a college. So how will the community survive? We currently have our cohort split into week A students and week B students to reduce numbers in classrooms and around the site. When week A are in college, week B are at home joining the lessons via Teams.  So how can we create a sense of community? We've had A and Bs say hello to each other on screen of course. Don't forget the basics - ask directed questions using the webcam or microphone at the same time as your in-college half of the class, mixing and matching.  Some prefer at-home learners to answer via chat, some via microphone. What has been useful is all seeing the screen (e.g. slides) via Teams so you are all in sync.  Simple stuff but all effective in feeling like one cohesive group. 

Outside of the classroom, virtual enrichment has just launched at ASFC. We are building our new sense of ‘normal’. We are keeping our award ceremonies but moving them online. No need to strip back on what you would usually do, as this can lead to a loss of that sense of community. 

Item 4: Professional Learning - Not just tech

We have launched a new professional learning model for colleagues in 20/21. It would be tempting to focus only on the digital side of life and be in reactive mode, but there's more to life than grasping every nuance of Microsoft Teams.  (Although we are looking forward to breakout rooms!). 

Our professional learning programme this year seeks to give colleagues space to truly focus on their own professional needs and make choices about how best to use their directed CPD time. We will have digital teaching and learning running all year of course, but this year, only a very small number of ‘workshops’ and instead a greater emphasis on coaching, a journal club and practitioner enquiry. All of this will culminate in sharing our professional learning and expertise in summer 2021. 

Item 5: Power - up! 

Like all good backpacks in the gaming world - we all need a power-up!  Well-being is such an important and integral focus in these times. It is really important that both students and teachers understand when to switch off and also when to look after themselves. Finding a hobby, enjoying a good piece of escapism in a book, or playing a sport is so important for us all. We all need a bit of ‘me time’ where we can recharge the batteries. We all react to and manage our levels of anxiety differently. We have seen the need for and the value of giving colleagues space to talk and to be heard. The job is hard enough, people, and we all know that this year is going to be, how do we put it? ‘Unique’. We can all use a bit of mindfulness and R&R. Remember, we can’t move forward without being in a good space and frame of mind - take care out there!

Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now