The teachers and students of Genazzano FCJ College in Victoria, Australia, reflect on how school life has changed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lorna Beegan, Deputy Principal of Learning and Teaching, begins Part One of the series.
When schools were forced to pivot with States of Emergency declared across the various jurisdictions, the war metaphors abounded. This was a war against an unseen enemy, it required staff to mobilise and hit the frontline, it roused patriotic claims that this was for Australia and we were all in this together!
Staff in schools were agile, as we pivoted, blended, flipped, Zoomed and contorted our known practices to meet the demands of the platforms and programs employed to deliver our lessons. We were told we could do it, and we did, subsequently, we were amazed at how well it worked, for the most part. Staff worked from home and they liked it, they saw their students in a new light, fresh perspectives were attained, and many teachers reported that for the first time, perhaps ever, they were able to provide formative feedback, on submitted class work, on an individual basis, in a timely manner.
In our Genazzano Senior School, ‘Learning at a Distance’ – is a synchronous, blended-learning model. The aim is not to replicate on-campus learning but to provide routine and structure to the student’s day to help them manage their blended learning at home. Our Learning at a Distance Program has a number of key priorities, to hold fast to the tenets of good teaching, to foster student-teacher relationships and the establishment of trust, to promote teacher collaboration and the sharing of best practice, to create engaging and dynamic lessons, to be cognizant of student and staff wellbeing and to work to find ways to build a sense of community while we are physically distant. Above all, our aim is to make our time learning remotely as memorable and meaningful as possible.
Students reported that they liked the freedom, the lie ins, the easy access to food, the comfortable and cosy clothes, and for many, the simple fact, that they could just get on with it and learn without all the distractions. Many reported reveling in the self-directed learning and the opportunity to delve deeper.
In Victoria, we did this for roughly 6 to 8 weeks and then we were back! Everyone was excited, but we had seen the grass on the other side and wondered would things have changed, forever. Many argued, we were not engaged with remote learning for long enough for it to truly transform learning in schools. When our classrooms reopened, we were encouraged to do things that we could not do online, to continue the momentum, but old habits die hard, and the temptation for teachers once again to take centre stage was so enticing.
I guess the real test of any success is how you feel if you have to do it again. As Victoria once again resumes remote learning for Prep to Year 10, the atmosphere this time is altered. We know we are professionals, that we are adults, and that as teachers it is our job to be there for our students, to engage them and to offer them hope. This time round, teachers and parents have a changed set of expectations and the wellbeing of students has to come first. Teachers are aware that online learning requires a rethink and a reconceptualisation to keep students motivated. It is difficult. Parents know that trying to work from home while your children learn from home is demanding and they too speak about, this time, being more selective and flexible.
As war metaphors subside, the notions of a new frontier for education, and indeed a myriad of institutions across the world, are heralding a ‘new normal’. It is exciting to think that from this time of challenge, so many new opportunities are revealing themselves. Both students and teachers are viewing school with new eyes and embracing innovative approaches. At Genazzano, we want 2020 to be remembered for all the right reasons, as a time to reassess, redirect, reimagine and redesign learning to create a learning ecosystem that is robust, pandemic-proof and future ready - all informed by our experiences this year.
Images provided with permission by Genazzano FCJ College.
In Part Two, Genazzano FCJ College students share how their school experiences and life at home have been affected by the pandemic.