The following article comes from guest author Amy Cunningham, who shares how her school Attenborough Primary in Germany has been handling remote learning.

The Unknown

Preparing for a school closure due to a global pandemic is unprecedented in the education world. Receiving the news here at Attenborough School in Germany, that our school would close, sent shockwaves rippling through the school and community.

Speculation had been mounting in our host nation, however the thought of closing the school had been unimaginable for many of us. We had to prepare for the unknown. The unknown being that so-called ‘remote learning’ would now be taking over our day to day routines, not only for us as teachers, but also for our pupils and parents.

The compelling response of all in the school was extraordinary.

Amy CunninghamPrimary teacher at Attenborough School

I’m fortunate to work with an incredible team at Attenborough School and our values, ‘WE CARE about each other, our learning and our school’ really began to shine through as we prepared the children for life without school.

The compelling response of all in the school was extraordinary. Within a few days, children were set up with home learning packs sourcing a range of activities, suggested websites and reading books, while Year 6 pupils were exposed to a quick tutorial about how to use Skype in order to take part in virtual lessons due to the upcoming SATs (which were still happening at the time of closure). The use of the online platform, Seesaw also heightened its purpose to become the key communication tool between teachers, pupils and parents, with daily activities set in order to allow children to access learning.

Sustainable Learning & Well-Being for All

The first few days passed, and the response and resilience of our pupils was incredible. Most children were engaging with the daily activities set on Seesaw, which enabled them to post their learning responses online – giving myself and colleagues access to their learning from home.

The positive response was encouraging; however, what was stark was that this was not home schooling for children by the parents, but remote learning. As an open and reflective staff, we asked for parental feedback and the response was encouraging. Parents felt that the amount of daily activities that were set were just the ‘right amount’, however children were spending longer completing them than they would normally do in school. Most needed some parent support, along with the reality that some of our parents were operating as single parents with more than one child, or working for the school themselves. We had to continue to listen to try and find the balance; a sustainable programme of learning for all.

The well-being of our teachers, learners and supporting families during times of heightened stress and worry were crucial if we were to sustain positive learning experiences over a period of time. We see parents as vital educators of their children, however it became clear not all were comfortable taking on the role of teacher, as they were also adapting to an unfamiliar way of living.

We therefore needed to be mindful of:

  • Parents and pupils feeling overwhelmed. With countless websites and learning resources being shared online, such support can be engulfing for parents.
  • Parents are trying to balance working from home as well as supervising remote learning for their children (often more than one child).
  • Parents are limited to resources available in school – remote learning needed to be accessible for all.

As a result of listening to our community, our daily learning was reviewed and during a team Skype meeting, we thought about how learning could become more sustainable for the pupils, parents and equally for us as teachers.

By evaluating our learning outgoings, we simplified daily activities and where we could, facilitated activities in order for children to access learning independently, which were also engaging and fun. This ranged from teachers recording video tutorials to demonstrate handwriting and creating nursery rhyme videos for our youngest learners, to a mini-beast project in Year 1 and setting whole school daily PE challenges to encourage the children to be more active.

Top Tips for Teachers Attempting to Set Effective Remote Learning Opportunities

1. Routines

If using an online learning platform, set short activities that are structured in a similar way each day, e.g. daily SPaG skills or maths skills.

This will keep a routine and consistency for children and help support parents with setting up a home routine. Add time limits for activities too to help with the manageability of tasks.

2. Encourage project-based learning

Ask yourself: do we as teachers always have to impart knowledge? Can learning happen when children explore, investigate and research?

Set projects that last over a longer period of time that facilitate children’s exploration, investigation and creative skills. You’ll be amazed at the responses you get!

3. Online websites

Online websites and resources are great, but they can be overwhelming for both parents and teachers.

Select a few online websites for children to use at home. Parents can then choose from the few and decide on the appropriate screen time for their children.

4. Video tutorials

By sharing a short video clip explaining an activity or project, this can have an affirming impact on children and families.

The children in our schools are used to seeing us each day. As a result of our global situation, they have been removed from their ‘normality’, so sharing a video enables them to see you, hear your explanation of an activity, as well as giving them some sense of familiarity in very uncertain times.

5. Look for the ‘extraordinary in the ordinary’

We are all currently limited for resources; however now is the time to investigate what’s around us.

Encourage children to use items around their homes to be creative. You could ask them to collect natural resources from their garden to create a piece of artwork, or ask them how they would transport an object across a room using kitchen roll holders!

6. Set up a virtual playtime.

Children need social interaction. It’s what helps them to develop and grow as learners.

Using one of the many video conferencing technologies out there, set up a regular virtual play time where children have time to chat with their peers.

7. Celebrate success

Celebrate your children’s learning by sharing a weekly post on your online learning platform. It will give children a boost that they’re doing a great job whilst sharing their learning with peers.

If there isn’t access to an online learning platform, perhaps share successes on your school’s website or during a virtual playtime.

By exercising these tips, we as teachers have found remote learning much more maintainable.   Our well-being is also essential during this ambiguous period, with many teachers working from home with families and children.

Here are our tips to looking after ourselves at Attenborough School:

  • Set a working day.
  • Avoid work at the weekend/during holiday time.
  • Make time for family, exercising and hobbies.
  • Turn off notifications to online learning platforms.
  • Limit time spent on social media.

Related: How to Support Your Mental Health when Working from Home

The Future

At Attenborough School, we will continue to collaborate and reflect on remote learning practice, to ensure that our learners continue to engage with an unparalleled curriculum design.

We know that as educators, the learning we would like to be happening in our classrooms currently cannot take place. We know that standards are not the same as we are no longer delivering high quality teaching and we know that this time in education will never be forgotten.

However, what we also know is that there are many questions that we as educators will reflect on during this time.

What will the future of education look like? How will this historic time in our lives impact on the social well-being of our learners? What will we learn as educators about how our children learn and what will we do differently?

All of these pose significant responses as we move forward, but for now we need to know that during this unprecedented time, we need to continue to work together in order to keep doing the best we can for our learners.

Amy Cunningham Headshot

Author

Amy Cunningham

Amy Cunningham is a Year 6 teacher, English and Key Stage 2 Leader at Attenborough School in Germany. She has 12 years teaching experience and enjoys collaborating with others to provide the best education for her learners.
Outside of school, she enjoys spending quality time with her children and husband, as well as travelling to new places.
Follow Amy on Twitter – @Amy86Cunningham.
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