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Schools Open! (To remote learning)

When we closed the door they became open more than ever!

In my first teaching job, many moons ago, the school was not doing well, teetering on the edge of being put in to special measures (which did eventually happen). Management wanted to get into the classroom more and also have teacher reflect on their own practise, their decision? Trial a camera that went into the classroom that recorded the lesson and everyone could watch back.

This is not the blog post where I explore the details of this. I did volunteer for this but it was inadequate, all the pupil acted because there was a giant camera in the room and I was wearing an obvious mic (surprise surprise, right?!).

What I do what to pick up on was the staff reaction, it was costly and staff rejected it. Many stating that they did not want to be filmed doing their job to be scrutinised at a later date, even if just by themselves. Who knows where this footage would end and how it would be used.

Since that point, on many occasions, there has been the discussion of cameras being used in classrooms or attached to staff. The reason? For behaviour, for training for many things. Some nurseries even allow parents to log in to see their children throughout the day. Often this was met with negative attitudes from the staff and unions. This footage could be misused and breaks many protected aspects allowed to teachers as professionals.

Then, in 2020’s pandemic lockdown it finally happened, a camera in many classrooms. What was worse? It wasn’t at school but in teachers home.

So what did this mean? Suddenly people had an insight into the world of a teacher, weather pupil, parent, uncle, granny or whoever managed to get hold of the Zoom code.

Unlimited Access, a lowdown…

This is something that was a dividing point within educational settings. Some schools, such as Ashton University Engineering Academy, had been having cameras for years before the pandemic but many had fought off this invasion of privacy.

Suddenly, without warning or sufficient preparation time many teachers opened cameras to their own homes to allow the face to face contact to aid their pupils. In came Google Meets, Zooms, Microsoft Teams and many more platforms where both bosses, pupils and parents could drop into a lesson and comment on what was being said and even the decor of the surroundings. Who knows if it was being recorded, scrutinised or celebrated on the other end of the lenses.

And what did teachers do? They let it happen, they adapted quickly and they made it work. Teachers have travelled the world with zoom backgrounds, read books with authors content and spent weeks and months having to deal with staring at their own face for a abnormal amount of time as their hair grew longer and longer.

It’s hard being on screen day in and day out. I have been more tired after a day of remote learning that I ever have after running around all day in a classroom. National Geographic ran an article about ‘Zoom Fatigue’ to explain this but what else happened? What about the worries of privacy?

The good, the bad and the ugly of opening the classroom door, through a lense window.

Firstly what I have learnt is that having a camera on can be scary, even for the tech savvy. I have found it hard to constantly look at my own face as I join a classroom meet and I have had to get over this. Maybe this is a part of lockdown meetings that people don’t think about but some people, staff and pupils, can be insecure of this. A flexible view on cameras might be useful here and pre-recording videos may aid those who struggle.

Secondly I have learn that finding a clear background can be a challenge! Thus many teachers are using innovative ways of adding a background that means their own space is not on show. Zoom has built in backgrounds but Google also has add ons like Snap Camera that can also do the same job to avoid your space being shown to the virtual world.

Is this what your staff meetings look like?

Managers have also had an insight into my world through meetings, most notably when my son decided to have a tantrum during a management meeting. What I learnt? I am lucky to have an understanding management team who say the reality or my situation and who support me as a mum working from home with the odd child interruption.

Lastly, and maybe most interesting, is the fact that many times I have heard parents and spoken to them over the class meetings. Never before would I think that the teaching community would move to many classes being “on film” with parents seeing all the aspects of a lesson whenever they liked. It is something I don’t think many teachers will have thought about either when linking it to those past debates.

What I have had is support from parents. Many parents have seen lessons in a way they would never have seen without the lockdown and remote learning. May of the pupils choose to have cameras off at points and so, until you hear parents, you don’t know they are there. Neither do the other pupils in the class. This means that we all get on as normal, we explain tasks, pupils make different points and parents can see it all. What I have had is many parents asking for clarification at points in lessons but also emailing their support and their admiration of how, as a school, we have adapted so well in such little time. This is a success of all of our schools. It is what we do as teachers across the land, we do what we need to do for the best of our pupils. No questioned asked. We allowed the cameras in for the best of our pupils, we replanned, we learnt, we adapted. Someone who struggled to turn a computer on in my school is now holding meetings and lessons online and easily attaching items to emails.

No doubt, I am sure, there have been negative points too. Parents making comments to teachers online, or critiquing staff. I hope these are few and far between.

Would I look to keeping the open doors to the outside?

No. Not in this way. This is a very different world and very different adaptations have to be made but it is not the norm and it should not become the norm….in this format.

I want to keep the doors open, but not to the expense of staff wellbeing

What I mean by this is it has been hard on staff. They have turned around on a six pence, some have worked over holidays, some have worked at the same time as supporting their own children, some have learnt more in the lat 3 months than they ever felt possible. I do not want this to be the norm but the exception, that goes for all professions, not just teachers.

I do want to keep learning, to keep communication open and to keep sharing ideas and flexibility that some aspects of remote learning has brought in, but at a sustainable level, that allows reflection time and revisions when needed.

So parents I want you in my classroom, I want to support your children (with as much “face to face” as I can do) so let’s keep that….so maybe, when this is over, we can can all remember that, if done correctly when you let people in they can support but also that sometimes we need to close the doors too.

So what now?

Keep on going…For now we keep going best we can. It seems we are not out of the pandemic affects, either directly or indirectly. So we must keep thinking about learning remotely.

Reflect and adapt…this means admitting you did things wrong. We all did. We did not have the planning time needed. Look outwardly to educators doing things differently. BUT don’t change too much or for change sake. Staff are still learning and don’t need even more change if it’s not needed. Look to Twitter for little changes from things that can make life easier and better. Or be ready to say this is the best we can do…it’s not perfect but that’s OK.

Be ready to learn..at the end of all this, and it will end, be ready to take things out of it. Be it better tech knowledge you want to add to, flexible working and meetings or wellbeing concepts make sure you add time. The amount of online notes of how much people have enjoyed time wouldn’t it be lovely if we remember this? How about making meetings all both live and online!? Then people can attend from anywhere, meaning flexibility.

Share…don’t close your doors. Share with both other schools and parents. No school is an island and it’s good to aid others who struggle. Think of all the work schools have done to help with things like PPE, how about we keep this going?! Also how about rethinking letting our parents in more. Read this post I shared in the past for ideas on different ways of doing reports!

Celebrate the effort. We never saw this on January 1st 2020, we just did it. Staff, pupils, parents…everyone. So when you can celebrate the effort made by all! Say thank you to everyone for keeping going on, throughout an unimaginable time that became reality.

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