By Jacob Knowles
This week has seen many students enter their fifth week of online teaching and learning. Teachers, students and parents have had to develop, learn and implement new skills in an extremely short period of time to ensure that we can continue to achieve the best educational outcomes possible. The government, media outlets and commentators from various walks of life have all offered their ‘expertise’ on how schools should be operating and how and when students and teachers should return to class. Putting all of this aside, I know that each school will be making plans to have students return to classrooms in a way that is safe and takes in to consideration a wealth of factors that are context specific. Before we know it, we will look back on this time and talk about or study it for the lessons we learnt from such an undertaking.
Personally, I have had the good fortune of being able to remain at school during the period of online teaching and learning. This has allowed me to maintain a healthy level of productivity in being available to my students and their parents and to assist with the day-to-day running of the school. It has also certainly allowed me to better maintain my work-life balance and spend quality time with my family once the working day is done. Without doubt though, the greatest benefit I have had from remaining at school is being able to maintain a sense of community through direct communication with other people.
“Humans are indeed social beings“
This is a concept that has been reinforced on a daily basis over the last few weeks. Both in person and in zoom meetings, students have craved connection with their peers and teachers. Most students set to work each day excited about the time they get in their virtual classroom or to interact with other students if they are attending school. I have seen students asking more questions, requesting more guidance and being more active in their learning than ever before. Many have commented that they didn’t realise what they had until now it was gone and that their ultimate hope is to get back to the routine and safety that their school provides.
I have also taken the opportunity to ask many students and parents about how they are coping with the challenges and opportunities that they have been presented with during this time. I will begin with caution that not all of these have been positive and some require much further reflection. There has however been a number of common or similar themes identified in these conversations and there are two that I feel are worthwhile sharing.
Firstly though, it is important to remember that many of our boys are masters at hiding their true thoughts and feelings and we need to work with them to ensure they have an array of people that they can talk to and seek advice from as they navigate their journey through life.
Theme One: Student led teaching
Very early on when students transitioned to online teaching and learning, there was a sense of fear that students would struggle without the daily direction given to them by their teachers. They were going to be asked to almost teach themselves through their subjects and have to reach out to their teachers when they were unsure of what to do (which is not always a strength of boys).
Within a few days, many students had mastered the online platforms, engaged fully with their classes and teachers and developed a sense of confidence in their ability to adapt so quickly. One afternoon I was speaking with a parent of one of the students in my class who had come to collect a textbook for her son. She had commented that within a week she had gone through the complete roller coaster of emotions trying to support her son in completing the online work. The week had started poorly with her trying to assume the role of teacher and providing all instructions without completely understanding the process or learning platforms herself. One morning, her son suggested he show her how to use the online program. He showed her how to login, access the work, download the content, upload the content, join a zoom meeting, email his teacher and how to co-write a document using google docs. He had become the teacher. He had taught her how to be a student. Someone who is a digital native and who given the opportunities has many skills she as an adult actually didn’t have.
In emailing parents from my remaining classes, this was a similar experience had by others. The moment they actively let their sons take charge of their learning and teach them how to be a student in an online world much of the tension was removed. One parent comment that it was something of a ‘bring your child to work day’ reversed to a ‘take you parent back to school day’ and this was exactly what they needed.
Our boys are extremely intelligent, they know how to do many things that we don’t always give them credit for. Encourage them to lead for and with you and I am certain they will surprise you.
Theme Two: More time, less together
Last week after returning from the Easter Holidays, I asked one of my classes how their families had spent the time together with so many shops and local attractions closed. After a number of responses including more family walks, house work and ‘just relaxing’, one boy made the comment that they hadn’t really done “anything”. In unpacking this comment, he added that although his parents where working from home and his siblings where learning from home, there hadn’t been any increase in family time spent together. In fact, traditional conversations around what did you learn at school today or how was training had been lost.
This echoed comments made by a number of other students. They were spending more time with their family but felt that they had spent less time together with them.
I would encourage parents and carers to think carefully about the conversations that are happening and those that perhaps are not. Boys want to talk. They want to share with you what they know or think or feel. But they certainly struggle with being the ones to initiate or lead the conversation. Take time to ask about their learning, about how their friends are going or what they think about topics you know they are interested in.
When all of this is over, things have returned to something resembling normality it is so important to plan for where you want your family and family relationships to be. Author Dave Hollis puts it beautifully in saying “In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to”. We have been presented with an opportunity to spend more time together and hopefully we can look back on this time focused on the positive experiences we have created.
As always, thanks for listening and if you have any feedback on this podcast OR would like to suggest a future topic, please jump on to this weeks version of vortex and click on the link at the bottom of the article.