An extraordinary year
In an extraordinary year, where learning has been disrupted, the two schools that I lead – Laxey School and Dhoon School – made a daily opportunity available of live online video lessons to all pupils throughout the summer holidays.
In doing so we still recognised that it was a holiday period for children and staff, so the offer was entirely optional to families and pupils. Children were able to attend the online lessons every day, every now and again, or not at all. We made the offer in recognition of the fact that the previous school year had been heavily disrupted and some parents and children may wish to have used part of the six week summer holiday break to do some extra learning. I personally delivered the lessons.
The lessons were broad brush and were not tailored to individual children nor were they billed as catch up lessons. They were offered as an additional set of optional lessons for all children to access. At 9am each day I led a live online session for around 30 minutes. The first fifteen minutes were targeted at children in Reception and KS1, the second fifteen minutes was geared towards children in KS2. Each session involved some direct input from myself followed by suggested follow-up activities for children to complete. Each week had a different subject and concept focus.
In addition, the schools offered daily email support to all children and families throughout the summer. This option included opportunity to feedback on specific examples of work, suggest next steps in learning and to keep in touch with families over the long summer holiday. This service was available between 09.30am and 10.00am each morning.
Here is an example of the live online lessons that were offered each day:
Demand for live online remote learning over the summer holidays was not high: in a way, it proved that some of the clamour which called for an extension to the school term over the summer holidays, was, in fact, from a vocal minority of “keyboard warriors” rather than from pupils and parents themselves, who, when given the opportunity, actually decided to use the summer period for rest and a break from learning.
I was personally very pleased to see that this was the case. For the small number of children and families that did make use of the summer lessons, I saw it as an ideal opportunity to practise using the technology and to become uber familiar and more “expert” in using the Zoom platform to deliver online learning. I felt that this was particularly useful in case schools were asked to close or partially close again in the wake of a second or third wave of COVID19. Should there need to be a shift towards online remote learning going forward, schools would not be given the same latitude in terms of saying “it is an unprecedented time and we’re learning how to respond.” Instead, schools would be expected – and rightly so – to roll out an extensive live/realtime lesson offer, remotely, and from day one. I saw the summer period as the perfect moment to trial such a response; a chance to iron out the final flaws and an opportunity to refine lesson structure and online teaching methodology. The first INSET day in September 2020 would be devoted to reflecting on the experience with my staff team, training them up in delivering online lessons themselves, reviewing recordings of my lessons and critiquing them so that we could draw on the best bits and improve those aspects which didn’t work so well. Then, should we ever need to in the future, the staff at my school would be ideally placed to roll out a full remote offer of live online lessons. It was a win:win scenario, and even though by the end of the fifth week of the summer I had started to wind down the online lessons due to falling demand and the rapidly approaching new term , the benefits of doing it had definitely outweighed the negatives.
The summer learning offer at Laxey and Dhoon Schools came on the back of an extensive remote learning package that arose during the COVID19 lockdown period, and which continued to develop once the schools in the Isle of Man reopened for 6 weeks prior to the summer holidays.
We undertook a full review of everything we had done as a federation of schools and the graphic below shows a full summary of our comprehensive approach.
The Laxey and Dhoon Schools remote learning package evolved over time and at the end of lockdown included continual email support to children, live video sessions, regular phone calls to families, pastoral letters, online resource banks and regular lesson plans on our websites.
High visibility throughout lockdown
We made a conscious effort to remain visible, approachable and communicative at all times. This included weekly video messages from the headteacher; celebrating learning on social media; production and publication of infographic sheets for parents; and regular newsletters.
Staff have never worked harder
The Laxey and Dhoon Schools staff teams worked continually – you can read my accounts of working in a hub school and working from home here. We moved our staff meetings on to Zoom, and we ran an online CPD programme for our teachers.
We made sure we were a visible force in the community and produced art work and displays with our children. Some of this was done face-to-face in the hub schools, and some of it was done remotely with children accessing our home-learning resources and sending in their contributions.
Some of our work was displayed prominently in the community as a “thank you” and as a beacon of hope.
Our staff team also produced a video poem for our families to watch – we constantly wanted to let them know that we hadn’t forgotten them and that we were there as a support if needed.
We didn’t lose sight of the potential effect of the lockdown period on our pupils. We operated a cycle of weekly phone contact to (1) vulnerable families; (2) SEN families; (3) All parents / carers; (4) All pupils.
We also produced resources to help manage emotional and wellbeing concerns.
I blogged throughout the lockdown period to offer an insight into teaching and education during these unprecedented times.
We also maintained a presence in the media giving good news stories to the press and appearing on national radio to give commentary. This helped with letting our pupils and parents know that we were working hard behind the scenes and this offered a different level of reassurance to our families, reaching as wide an audience as we could during a time when it was obviously more difficult to manage communication.
Live online learning
During lockdown we produced comprehensive documentation for using online video conferencing technology, such as Zoom, to deliver learning to our pupils at Laxey and Dhoon Schools.
When Laxey and Dhoon Schools reopened after lockdown we continued to develop some of the online practice we had started during the emergency period. This included offering regular Zoom webinars to our parent community.
A different way of working
Despite being redeployed to hub schools to work with vulnerable children and those of key workers, our staff team spent time preparing Laxey School and Dhoon School for re-opening with risk-assessments, deep cleans and new procedures planned to keep everyone safe.
We produced the following documentation which was a detailed and lengthy process – but gives us a much stronger starting point from which to work should anything like this ever happen again.
On a personal note, I am proud to have been Branch President of the Isle of Man National Association of Head Teachers during the COVID19 crisis – our members co-operated with all aspects of the Government’s response to the crisis and sought to engage as active, collaborative partners at all times.