It has been an eventful week for teachers in Hong Kong. In an attempt to manage the influenza epidemic, the Hong Kong Education Bureau (EDB) announced on Wednesday that all kindergartens and primary schools will close for students until after the Chinese New Year holidays. Although it has been widely reported as an ‘extended holiday’, teachers are still at work and expected to handle school matters. Furthermore, the EDB advised schools to provide learning materials where possible so that students can make good use of their time at home.
The announcement was made at around lunchtime. On Wednesdays, our students finish at 1.30pm to provide the teachers with weekly collaborative planning opportunities. This gave us very little time to discuss our contingency plan and communicate it with the students. But within minutes of the announcement, we met as a pedagogical leadership team to discuss our plan of action. Our aim was to minimise the impact on students and their learning. As a school-wide effort, I have been extremely impressed with our proactive and positive response to this situation, so much so that I wanted to write about it.
Every class in the school has been using Google Classroom with students. This year, we even launched separate Classrooms for the parents of each class. As a result, the whole school community is familiar with this platform and its capabilities. Furthermore, most of our teachers are Google Certified Educators following a highly-successful Google ‘Bootcamp’ PD day. With this announcement, our Principal immediately saw an opportunity to put all of our technology expertise to good use. As team leaders, we discussed how digital tools, especially G Suite apps, could be utilised for purposeful, uninterrupted distance learning. We then used the afternoon meeting time to organise the specific tasks.
“Technology puts a limitless world of learning at our fingertips.”
Adam Welcome and Todd Newsloney, 2016
The specifics vary from class to class and grade to grade, but all teachers (including specialist teachers) have used digital tools to continue their students’ learning. I hesitate to call it homework because it isn’t additional work outside of school hours. Rather, it’s the scheduled class learning that has been slightly adapted for online delivery. As well as distance learning, I would call it distance teaching because we, as teachers, have been actively involved throughout the days to offer support, extensions and feedback. Through technology, we have been able to deliver our lessons, assign tasks, monitor student progress and maintain regular contact. We have been online and available throughout these non-scheduled ‘holiday’ days. Despite different levels of technology confidence, it has been fantastic to see all teachers getting behind this initiative. The feedback from parents has been excellent because they appreciate our ongoing commitment and care.
As a teacher, it has been pleasing to see my students independently engage with these tasks over the last few days. They have worked hard from home, submitted their work and responded positively to my feedback and questions. In addition, my students have been communicating and supporting each other through these collaborative tools. Productive and supportive digital collaboration is something that we have been working on all year. Our contingency plan would have been less successful if meaningful technology integration wasn’t already a part of our teaching. Students already know how to work on shared documents, respond to flipped content and manage their workflow through Google Classroom. Furthermore, they have experience of accessing digital content even when they are absent from school.
Technology can also keep students connected during special events. This coming Tuesday is the scheduled last day of school and a celebration of Chinese New Year. Our special assembly will go ahead but, sadly, it will only involve our secondary students. We have plans in motion to live stream this annual event through our social media platforms.
In response to this difficult and unexpected situation, I believe that VSA, as a whole school community, responded admirably. I’m proud to share this success story on my blog. For everyone in Hong Kong (especially children, if you’re reading this), stay safe and look after yourself. I wish you all a happy and prosperous Year of the Dog!
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