At the beginning of February, I wrote about our contingency plans for the coronavirus school closures in Remote learning: tools and principles. That post is still highly relevant because, as the title suggests, it outlines some key tools and principles. However, the situation has developed since then. Most significantly, the closures in Hong Kong have been extended until Monday 20th April, at the earliest.
Increasingly, the coronavirus is affecting more and more places around the world. If your school is likely to close but hasn’t yet, make good use of your time with students and colleagues to make sure that everybody is fully equipped to embrace remote learning. I hope that my blog posts offer some useful information and a starting point for discussions. But, again, what works for one school won’t necessarily work for others.
As well as the extended closure, another reason for tweaking our practices came from parent feedback. We sent out surveys on February 14th and the results were extremely useful (and very positive). I would urge all affected schools to do this if they haven’t already. Parents are always important partners, but especially as we try to keep learning going while students are at home. It’s essential that we understand their experiences and challenges.
Here are a few updates that were made as a result of parent feedback and/or the extended closures:
Weekly specialist days
At our school, we have specialist teachers for music, art, drama, library and PE. Previously, these teachers were assigning their tasks on whatever day they would normally teach each class. However, feedback from parents highlighted an important point: students didn’t have time for specialist tasks because of all the learning engagements already set by the class teachers. This was also unfair for the specialist teachers who were working just as hard but getting so little engagement from the kids.
To address this, one day per week is now the specialist day (it’s a different weekday for each grade). On this day, the class teachers don’t assign any additional tasks so that students can focus solely on the specialist learning. This also gives class teachers a welcome breather! We can use this time to collaboratively plan and provide feedback to the students.
Virtual parent conferences
Just before the Chinese New Year break, mid-year reports were sent to parents. Because of the closures, we have not had the opportunity to meet and discuss them. With the extended closures, it will be a while before this is possible. Therefore, we will offer parent conferences using Zoom. Some other schools have done this already and the feedback has been excellent. In fact, parents seem to like the flexibility instead of taking time away from work to go into school. I’ll let you know how they go!
If you’d like more information on how we set these meetings up, just let me know.
Considering the length of time that schools in Hong Kong will be closed, it’s important to take a closer look at student engagement and ensure that students are working to the best of their ability (without adding too much pressure). We have a separate system for marking attendance, but attendance doesn’t always mean engagement. We’re keeping an eye on individual assignments and tracking throughout the week. If students miss one or two tasks, it’s not a big deal. We have to be empathetic towards their different circumstances. But if engagement is low enough to worry us, we reach out to parents. They have been incredibly supportive so far.
Maintain routines and systems
As much as possible, we’re working hard to maintain routines, systems and a sense of normality. Initially, we focused on classroom activities to ensure that academic learning can continue. But it isn’t just classroom activities that make a school; it’s all the little extra, day-to-day activities. We now have assemblies, competitions and other school initiatives online. We even had a virtual PTA meeting last week (see below).
Zoom, by the way, is invaluable during this period of school closures! We use it every day with students and colleagues.
Those are a few school-wide changes that have been made since the last post. On a personal note, here are a few recommendations from me:
Keep everything simple and clear
This is a challenging time for everyone, especially parents. It’s so easy to overwhelm and confuse. When creating online learning engagements, make the instructions as clear and simple as possible (screen recording tools like Screencastify help with this). This isn’t just important for the kids, but for teachers. Otherwise, we’re bombarded with emails or comments from kids who seek clarification. Keeping these to a minimum is really important for our wellbeing and productivity. We need to focus on the important tasks, like providing feedback to students. Students should be able to independently follow the instructions and know exactly what is expected of them.
Embrace this opportunity to upskill
As I said last time, I believe that this terrible situation has a silver lining: everyone is embracing technology! They don’t really have a choice! But the teachers who are making the best of a bad situation are grabbing this opportunity to upskill. Wherever you are in your journey with technology, take the opportunity to try new things!
On a side note, I have just started to read The Interactive Class. It could not have arrived at a better time! It’s full of practical classroom ideas that utilise powerful technology tools. Definitely worth a look!
The final video of me winning the marathon looks very slick and professional, honest. But I thought my PLN would much prefer to see the behind-the-scenes footage. Yes, I’m much taller than the green screen. We made it work. Thanks again, @mrkpyp! #VSAHKG pic.twitter.com/PUFAWJT6Jx
— Adam Hill (@AdamHillEDU) March 9, 2020
Our technology coaches (Ryan, Fred, Dalton and Pat) have gone above and beyond to help others. Their support and encouragement have been incredible. Last week, I took the opportunity to learn something new. I have seen other teachers using green screens to enhance their remote teaching (for example, check out my awesome colleague, Chris Gadbury) but I always assumed it that it was complicated and beyond my skillset. Actually, Ryan walked me through the process of creating content with a green screen using iMovie, and I couldn’t believe how easy it was! But, as with most technology, the skill itself is easy; the challenge is to use the skill to create meaningful content (like Chris does). That’s what I’m working on right now.
Take breaks away from your devices
I dread to think about my screen time this month (I obviously don’t help myself by blogging). During this period, we need to spend a lot of the time on our devices to support the distance learning. But I strongly recommend that teachers take regular breaks to do something active and, ideally, get outdoors. Brain breaks are essential during this time. We need to keep this in mind for students too. I recommend following Kevin O’Shea on Twitter. He shares loads of ideas for low tech or no tech activities. Great for both students and teachers!
Lift each other up
Like I said, this is a challenging time for everyone. We all have different levels of confidence and ability with regard to technology, recording ourselves, and other important skills during this time. If we start to tear each other down, gossip or complain, we make the situation even more difficult. My experience so far has been amazing. Everybody in the school community, Hong Kong community and global community is pulling together to support and celebrate each other, and rightly so. Keep sharing!
I hope that this advice is useful. Feel free to add more ideas in the comments below. Also, click here to read my other posts about these coronavirus closures. Please reach out if you have any questions or concerns. I’m always happy to help. Finally, please look after yourself and those around you. For healthcare information on the coronavirus, click here.
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