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June 2020: Back to school

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Looking into the future

Head of ACMI Education Christine Evely reflects on lessons learned.

Now that we’re back at school, and adjusting our teaching and learning identities once again, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the impact of at-home schooling, including the use of screen and digital technologies. For teachers the need for a quick turn-around of remote program delivery with limited time for planning, upskilling and testing of unfamiliar platforms, and no real opportunity to induct learners and families in the use of flexible learning tools, resulted in some finding this period one of the most difficult in their careers. For other teachers, screen-based technologies have enabled unprecedented opportunities for innovative approaches to both teaching and learning.

What we've learned 

Most teachers have developed a raft of new tricks to engage and motivate learners from afar, quickly moving to regular, short online class sessions for explicit teaching, and smaller online groups to enable learners to share learning intentions and plans and findings. They incorporated a mix of explicit teaching and self-driven and self-paced learning strategies and incorporated face-to-face, paper-based, online modules and various digital technologies to support student learning. Going forward, this blended learning approach will help students make the best use of face-to-face, virtual and remote learning experiences.

Teachers, and many parents, are now skilled in accessing and using screen and digital technologies for learning and exploiting its potential, and their value has been recognised in connecting, maintaining relationships, a sense of belonging and shared care. Teachers are thinking critically about pedagogy, considering new things they have discovered about the diversity of individual learners’ needs and family circumstances, and differences between face-to-face, virtual and other forms of remote teaching and learning. Powerful discussions have been occurring in many school communities between teachers, parents and students, enabling targeted planning of appropriate content and innovative use of tools, platforms and teaching strategies suited to face-to-face, virtual and blended teaching and learning.

As confidence has built amongst teachers, students and families, they have begun engaging with the possibilities offered by virtual lessons presented by arts and cultural organisations.  Educators in museums, arts and cultural organisations who strive to employ inclusive practices, and who are skilled in engagement of learners and remote delivery, are enjoying collaborations with classroom teachers sharing and discussing strategies– particularly those central to virtual lessons such as those offered by ACMI.

How can we ensure equity?

Whatever your experience may have been, as teachers, you will also be aware how this period of remote learning has thrust the digital divide into the spotlight. Issues include:

  • access to appropriate devices for online learning for every child

  • access to reliable and functional internet connections in every home

  • ensuring genuine consultation with parents and carers and failure to provide them with the understanding and skills to support their children’s use of screen media and digital technologies

  • limited planning time and upskilling of teachers in best practice delivery of virtual, remote and blended learning opportunities

  • teacher capacity to assist learners to be: mindful about the reliability, validity and age appropriateness of screen media and online content; wary of the digital footprints and traces they leave behind; informed about data capturing techniques and safeguards; and aware of the intended and unintended purposes connected with the production of screen media, apps/platforms and tools. 

As a community we need to find ways to redress the lack of equity. A thoughtful rollout by the nation’s schools of a one-to-one device program for all students including plans for upgrades on a regular basis and adequate access to reliable internet would be a good start. This would need to be complemented by regular skilling of learners and their families in the (appropriate) tools and platforms being used; in fact, this aspect could be actioned immediately. Many schools were able to redeploy laptops or tablets for those who needed them during the period of at-home learning due to COVID-19. As a community that comes together for one another in tough times, finding ways to continue such support to improve learning opportunities for all students should be a high priority.

Of course, COVID-19 also placed a spotlight on issues around health and mental wellbeing, isolation, separation, loss, grief, poverty, disadvantage and caring for those experiencing family violence – highlighting our community’s inability to adequately meet key everyday needs for some young people – including safe shelter, food, a place to study, and caring relationships. Young people cannot learn if basic needs are not met. In this remote learning period, schools have worked harder than ever to connect with, and look after their students everyday needs and wellbeing, however long-term solutions are needed to ensure young people are able to stay engaged with their schools and with learning, whether at school or at-home, to provide the best chance for them to have happy and fulfilling futures.   

Let's stay connected

Without ignoring the issues and challenges that our community must address; how can we move forward at a local level to capitalise on some of the positives that abounded from the period of at-home learning? As a caring profession, teachers are acutely conscious of the important role they play in the lives of the children they engage with each day. Rather than falling back into the relentless meeting of curriculum demands, testing and reporting, this is a time to focus on the needs of children and their families, to show empathy for the challenges many families face, not just now, but every day. Teachers and parents have come together as never before with understanding and empathy for the demands each face in their everyday and working lives. Schools can do much to capitalise on the growth of positive partnerships between teachers, children, parents and carers and strengthen connections between everyday and school learning to enable richer and deeper learning.

This is a great time to embrace and strengthen the school, home and community partnerships that have abounded over recent weeks. It is important to find ways to maintain and build these connections. The tools employed during this remote learning period may continue to be valid – telephone, email, chat or discussion forums and use of other screen and digital technologies. Parents can share insights gained about the learning dispositions of their children that may not have been previously evident. What inspires, motivates and encourages them? How do they handle challenges and disappointment? What can you say about attention to task, perseverance and resilience? How have parents supported the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of their children? What struggles have learners and parents experienced? Have parents found ways to support each other? How have parents and teachers worked together effectively? or not? Have students been able to make effective use of digital technologies? What are their strengths? Areas for development, barriers? How have the school and families worked together to safeguard and monitor learners’ online engagement? How have parents capitalised on everyday learning at home? How have other organisations such as ABC Education, the ACTF, galleries and museums such as ACMI contributed to remote learning through online provision? How can these platforms be drawn upon going forward?

Going forward we will do well to apply some of what we have learned in this remote learning period, to school and home tasks and to informal learning opportunities; and recognise the value of nurturing teaching and learning partnerships between school, home and other learning contexts, including providers of onsite and virtual excursion experiences at museums, galleries, zoos and other venues. All offer opportunities to collaborate and to share observations of learners’ capabilities, levels of engagement, ways of interacting, responding, communicating and sharing questions, ideas and reflections on learning.

We need to keep listening

We have a great opportunity for teachers, parents and carers to continue to encourage learners to be independent and forward thinking in positive ways – to help them to consider what they might need to learn about and be able to do, to manage their everyday lives, working pathways, and the world in which they live. As we adapt to the continuing impact of COVID-19 it is imperative for schools and other education providers to keep listening, to find out more about the things that are important to children and their families, the issues and stresses and ‘everydayness’ of their worlds. We need to continue to connect with and integrate family life and learning, planning for and valuing learning experiences that empower parents and carers to be part of school life, ensuring that teaching, learning, families and real life can intersect in positive ways, both face-to-face and through appropriate use of digital technologies. Most of all, by engaging in multifaceted learning partnerships we can give voice to our young people – finding out about their learning needs and passions, building their capacity to have control over their learning, to have fun, to drive, self-manage, collaborate and celebrate their effort and achievements.

– Christine Evely