Online learning during the COVID-19 closure

On 15 March, our President announced that all schools would close early for a 3-week holiday, due to the threat of the Coronavirus.

imag1We decided to use the first few days of the unexpected holiday to upskill our teachers for remote learning, just in case the temporary closure turned into a total lockdown.  The following Sunday, the lockdown was announced.  When the school holiday ended we re-opened with our “school at home” curriculum.  It has been a huge success.  Teachers provide clear guidelines for parents, set tasks for students, and schedule daily online meetings with all students for direct instruction in disciplinary subjects like Phonics, Grammar and Maths, as well as discussion of ideas in the texts they are reading.  In this way we preserved the relational aspects of Ambleside education, despite being separated physically.  

All pupils have access to their own classroom, Art and PT classes filmed by our specialist teachers, and a resource room with links to audio books, museum tours and the music of the great composers that we learn about.  The programme was extended into the third term so that families had the option of keeping their children at home until COVID-19 infection rates dropped. 

The learning curve was steep but very rewarding.  Key to the success of the project was alleviating anxiety and stress.  Teachers and pupils so enjoyed the time they spent together in virtual meetings, highlighting the importance of relationships in education.  We made sure there was a balance of lessons and activities to keep minds, bodies and creativity active, with a varied programme focussed on the essentials like Maths and Reading, but including inspirational subjects like Poetry and Art and reasons to go outdoors for Nature Study and PT.

During this time students celebrated their own birthdays and the school’s 8th birthday.

We tried to keep to our normal school calendar, including scheduled events such as our Pastor Appreciation Day, when staff and students wrote greetings, took photos and sent messages to their pastors.  We reopened as scheduled in July, and intend following our original term dates for the rest of the school year.

Our experience of the pandemic was more profound than simply moving the classroom from school to home.  School families felt the impact of job losses and pay cuts.  As fee income plummeted, our teachers also took large pay cuts. We all adjusted to working, teaching, learning and living 24/7 with our close families. We connected and learned in the Google Classroom but still missed each other. It was tough, but there were also many blessings. Seeing people respond with faith and courage was a blessing. The generous response to the needs of others was a blessing, as was growing in understanding of the Ambleside approach and getting to know parents better. It was heart-warming to see many parents pay the most they could towards school fees, even when they were struggling to get by. It was amazing that this time of separation produced such a sense of community and warm appreciation of one another. 

It is a beautiful testimony to the truth of Psalm 133: “How good it is when brothers dwell in unity ... for there God commands a blessing”. 

Third term 2020 - a hybrid school

In the June holidays we prepared the school for a safe return.  We reopened at the end of June and within a week, the rest of the school had been phased in.  But it wasn’t school as we had known it before.  About 70% of pupils returned to the physical classrooms and the others continued in the Google classrooms.  Additional staff were employed to ensure an optimal experience at school and at home.    

Pupils soon got used to the hygiene protocols - screening on arrival, sanitising hands throughout the day, wearing masks and new “contact-free” playground games. Teachers supervised constantly to maintain safe distancing.  They missed gathering around the coffee station or meeting together in person, but one and all adapted and the school remained a happy place where education went on, uninterrupted, in an atmosphere of joy and gratitude.

Grapevine Newsletter 2020 2nd term

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As a teacher how has the experience been for you, working remotely and teaching pupils?

Tanya AdeyOn the positive side, it has been meaningful to gain more of a personal connection with each student without some of the classroom dynamics and distractions. The workload has shifted from classroom management and time on your feet, to managing my own time and workspace.  Getting the same lessons across in a digital format is a time-consuming feat.  It has meant training and teaching parents as much as children.  We have all had a crash course in IT!  

I had to be more and more inventive in keeping interest and motivation in this new format of teaching. The downside is that you aren't able to actively help and assist each child in their day-to-day work tasks. Some of those who struggle may not cope without that extra help. Hopefully many will come out of this as more independent thinking with an increase in self-motivation.  Something I have observed is the enthusiasm and commitment to the work that they have been given while also finding new ways to keep themselves occupied.

Are the teachers missing their school and pupils during lockdown?

studentRegular video calls and chats have kept the relationships going, but the feedback I have from the children is that they miss their friends; being able to play with them on the playground and chat to each other daily.  From a teacher's point of view, I miss the daily camaraderie of colleagues and friends to share ideas with and offer support to one another. One of the reasons I changed careers from working mostly from home was to have that human connection. I miss the classroom chats and laughs and working as a team as well. I also miss observing different personalities and the struggles and triumphs that occur on a daily basis in the active working classroom.

As a teacher how has the experience been for you, working remotely and teaching pupils?

Mrs Gabi Ann AfricaIt was weird and wonderful working from home. Creating a home-office space (in a one bedroom flat) was quite challenging. The lessons and content took a lot of preparation and planning. However, getting to work alongside willing parents and "meeting" with my class each day made this new challenge totally worth it!

As a class we have been able to relate to one another on a different level through remote learning. We meet each others’ pets, share in their joy of completed drawings and show off new lego designs.  We can’t always share these things at school.  

Are the teachers missing their school and pupils during lockdown?

student2I missed my children SO MUCH!! The daily call was my highlight, being able to see their smiling faces for a moment and to hear their voices, stories and wonderful answers made the lockdown a lot easier.  My colleagues, the joys and laughter shared during our school day, the devotions and praying for one another were things I really missed. The lockdown was hard, but being a part of school that tried every avenue to connect with our children and parents in a meaningful way, made me feel proud to be part of The Vine School.