What a week we have had??
At Newmarket School we have been preparing for online learning for several years. This past couple of weeks have thrown us all into that learning whether we are fully prepared or not. Personally I needed just two more days and I would have felt better about our processes and systems for home learning during our lockdown period. I had begun preparation a few weeks earlier by checking how robust our systems were and whether our teachers would be ready to enter this new phase of teaching and learning. I had already sent out a home questionnaire and one key idea was using video to help maintain effective social relationship between learners and their teachers. Families wanted to see videos of teachers reading and maybe sharing lessons. This did not have to be in real time.
Then I read Danielle Myburgh’s Tweet, and spent a few days pondering some of the questions she had on the graphic.
‘Is your School Really prepared for Lockdown.’ Danielle Myburgh
- To what extent do you think your school has prepared all students for managing their own learning at home?
- To what extent do you think your school has prepared students and staff for managing rapid change and volatility?
- How will your school ensure equitable learning outcomes for all students during lockdown periods?
- How will your school be supporting vulnerable and physically at risk students during lockdown?
- How will your school support students with special learning needs during lockdown?
- To what extent will your existing policies need to be adjusted should lockdown processes continue for longer than four weeks?
- How prepared is your school to support teacher well being and personal circumstances throughout lockdown periods?
- What do you anticipate will be your biggest challenge should lockdown continue for longer periods of time?
At Newmarket School below are some of the online tools and systems we use.
Hapara is the system that sits behind Google Apps for Education and has been fabulous for ensuring learning is accountable. At the end of last year, our records showed that most of our year 3 and older teachers had completed their Hapara Champion Educator Certification. So with a little encouragement our next cohort completed theirs by March. They were our newer teachers.
For home communication, we use Seesaw and this platform has been particularly useful for our predominantly migrant families as it has the ease of working easily on any device and is accessible via smart phones, Seesaw also has a facility for quick translations for our families. At our school nearly all of our teachers are Seesaw Champions and this has made a tremendous difference in taking advantage of all features of Seesaw and in using the platform for teaching and learning.
Our other paid for Apps include WeVideo for creating movies online and Reading Eggs which is an online system that helps reading.
We also have been delving into a few free tools for chrome books.
Last year we explored FlipGrid which has been great for capturing learning in real time and for capturing student voice. This year our year 3 and older teachers have embraced the platform.
Last year we explored Book Creator and our year 3 and 4 teachers embraced the platform for writing. This year our year 5 and 6 teachers took it on board to learn how to use for teaching and learning. During this lock down period Book Creator have opened up their free introductory system to the paid level of collaboration and so we have made use of this free upgrade.
Last week I undertook to learn Zoom an online virtual meeting platform and this has proved valuable for hosting meetings. Last Monday our Pandemic team met via Zoom and together we finalised what would happen in event of school closure. After school we had a quick training session with all the teachers.
The last few days
During our final few days, we checked our systems and had sent a form to all families in preparation for closure. The data gathered helped identify students who needed a device. We also identified which families might struggle with access to WIFI.
However we did not ask if there were any children who would be in a different lock down address to their normal home address.
Level 3 Lockdown.
When the news hit us late on the Monday afternoon, the unrest had already begun at our school because we had so many children away. Our management team made the decision to send all school devices home as well as the letter of agreement for its use and asked for these to be emailed back to me. On Tuesday many more families arrived to collect their bag of learning which included a device and letter of agreement signed for on the spot. On Wednesday, we locked down devices remotely and sent a reminder message that I was still waiting on agreements from families. We were successful in doing this, because we received 90 responses via email.
On Thursday we held our second Zoom Staff meeting synchronously and this was successful because everyone managed to get on in time and we had no problems with the tool. Thank goodness for all those years running TeachMeetNZ. This gave me the skills to pull this learning quickly and easily. One clear message from our senior management team was how to support teachers’ well being and personal circumstances during this period. We agreed that we would continue to work in teams online and that all planning and access to all spaces continue to be shared by all. If anyone was sick, then the team picked up the pace with monitoring. We agreed on hours of work when we would be available to our learners. We agreed on locking down devices over the holiday period because the children were using school devices and school systems and so if they were open, teachers needed to be actively managing them.
During this trial period we prepared our support staff too. They all have access to both a chromebook and a school iPad. I ensured they also had training with Zoom and we then met online on Friday to find out how they were coping. On Wednesday with the children online, we identified hot spots of learning and so on Thursday I placed support staff in strategic places to support teachers with monitoring. The time spent moderating on Superclubs plus helped me anticipate areas we could find challenging.
Strategies I have learnt from being a Global educator
We had an issue with communication across the school that we have since dealt with. One way of ensuring that miscommunication does not happen again is to use our group text communication. We told families that school devices would be locked down overnight as a trial, but had not told our teachers. The test happened with our senior team but our middle school team was swamped with seesaw messages and this affected them working effectively during their first full day of managing home learning.
What have we learnt?
How important it is to manage school devices remotely which we do for our school chromebooks via Google Management System, our students log ins, via Hapara Student learning system and our iPads using Meraki.
Teachers recorded reading using youtube unlisted using their school account, however when sharing, chromebooks had the link blocked. Teachers sharing FlipGrid videos via Seesaw had a blocked message. Then we received a message from LIANZA reminding us about copyright issues when recording teachers reading a story and sharing this online.
So a quick reminder was sent to all teachers reminding them of their obligations when reading books. A lot of this is just good teacher pedagogy.
- Introduce yourself and where you are from.
- Introduce the title, author, illustrator and publisher.
- But if we used a hidden link on youtube, then our learners cannot hear the stories read by their teachers on a chrome device.
My principal reminded me that we pay print copyright fees, but we are both unsure of how this new way of sharing is affected.
We have tried to focus on the positive such as our principal asking the children and parents via email to send her photos of home learning happening. Photos of the joy or silving lining each day brings.
Over time, we know that children will test the systems and how we deal with this is of vital importance. So we screenshot and follow up any incidents. Warn using Hapara Highlights, or we change their passwords and alert parents. We utilise support staff with monitoring and tracking. I get them to add a heart on Seesaw. I have placed two support staff to support teachers in highlights, one for each team. They have alerted me to a few unusual activities.
But most importantly we are all being kind to ourselves, and celebrating the huge step up that our teachers have undertaken.
During this period of uncertainty, our school values become even more important and guide our school and home learning.
Where to next
Currently our system is locked down for the two week break. We have encouraged all our families to focus on non device activities and to spend time with each other when they can. Teachers will continue to meet via Zoom and plan the next two weeks. They will spend time familiarising themselves with unknown tools and also take some time to spend with families and look after themselves.
Right now I am in the process of collating data for the Ministry of Education as to where our children are living in this Stage 4 lock down period.
Myself, I have been gardening, walking every day, and working online finalising a few last minute school tasks to ensure that both teachers and students have a positive experience when learning from home.
A big shout out here to all those providers who have opened up their systems for a longer trial period. An extra big shoutout to Newerait our technical team who work to ensure our systems are operational and to N4L for the high speed internet access provided to us at school. My home WIFI is a tad slow and I really notice this when I am uploading learning.
I also give an extra big shout out to the staff, children and families at Newmarket School. They are absolutely #NPSFab and have taken to home learning with enthusiasm and growing excitement.
My final shoutout goes to Wendy and Ginny our senior management team for being the first to create video messages for our children.