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I have to admit that these lockdowns are starting to feel like the Police Academy film franchise. One was okay, but surely it was time to stop after two…?
Don’t get me wrong – having a purpose at a time of national crisis is a privilege, but the requirement to meet needs that have been way beyond us previously has been really difficult. The challenges we face have never seemed greater, and yet at the same we’re subject to more scrutiny and criticism than ever before.
In lockdown 1, we took the decision at Passmores to not make online lessons part of our core, ‘compulsory’ offer. There were lots of reasons for doing this, but ultimately it was because we couldn’t do it fairly, in a way that ensured everyone had sufficient access to them.
This time has been different on many levels. The impact of the weather on the general mental health of the community has been very clear. Being at home was a great deal easier when the sun was shining, as reflected by the communications we’re now receiving.
Like most headteachers, I’ve resigned myself to not being able to please the whole community, because people have strongly held views that are so disparate as to make that impossible.
The parent/carer responses we’ve received regarding our current online learning offer highlight that spread of views. Since deciding to use technology as our primary delivery tool, I’ve had a fairly equal number of emails saying ‘It’s too much’ versus ‘Every moment should be a live lesson’, which probably means we’re getting it broadly right.
This uneven technological playing field isn’t just confined to our students, though; the spread of tech competency and confidence is similarly wide among staff, but barely remarked upon.
We could discuss the merits and impact of live online lessons versus working from textbooks forever. The fact remains that schools have taken the best approach for their communities, once all other factors have been taken into consideration.
However, I do wonder how many of us have thought to factor in staff confidence as a major influence – or did we simply presume that all staff would be okay? The use of technology in lessons is far from being the ‘default’ setting.
For most, the interaction between teacher and students in order to share knowledge and develop skills lies at the core of what they do. It’s in their ability to react to what they see and hear that a skilled teacher will really shine, and when the best learning often happens.
Once that’s removed, and we’re forced us to rely on third parties for even basic communication with our young people, is it any surprise that edtech can become a source of great anxiety for many teachers?
I believe we should be celebrating all the teachers out there who are learning new skills and developing new pedagogy. Apologies to my friend Stephen Tierney for borrowing his Twitter moniker, but we really are the ‘leading learners’ in our communities.
I’ve actively encouraged staff to be honest with students about their own edtech journeys, because I can’t be the only teacher who’s had to be bailed out by a student when using an interactive whiteboard or similar – after all, they see them used all the time.
Of course, a teacher’s level of confidence with using edtech isn’t directly linked to their age, but let’s be honest – it’s often the more experienced teachers who feel the most concern about using technology (which is in no way meant as a criticism – just an observation).
As we approach the end of what will hopefully be our last lockdown in this pandemic, we should reflect on the extent to which we’ve served as role models to our young people in terms of acquiring new knowledge and skills.
I’ve seen the amazing effort and earned success of our teaching staff, and hope that we can all find the time to stop and celebrate our own learning – just as we would for our young people.
Vic Goddard is headteacher at Passmores Academy – as seen on Channel 4’s Educating Essex – and author of The Best Job in the World (Independent Thinking Press, £14.99)
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