27 March 2020
Mr Chris Kellaway, Teacher of Theology and Head of Year 9
This week of remote teaching was surreal for teachers up and down the country. For me, I had a strange sense of déjà vu.
Before I became a teacher I was a management consultant and I did a lot of remote working communicating every day with clients and colleagues across the world. All I needed was Wi-Fi or a hotspot. Six years on and I hadn’t used any of those tools in my teaching. And I hadn’t missed them. For me nothing replaces the physical, face to face experience. It’s the same reason that, even though technology is fantastic, large corporations will pay significant sums to get the expert in the room.
So as my week started, I began with a tremendous amount of sadness. I missed the warmth of Woldingham, the laughter in the classroom, the hubbub in assembly, girls walking past and saying hello in the corridor or having lunch with colleagues who I share laughs with every day. I felt a huge sense of loss for the Year 11 and Upper Sixth who have been deprived of their chance to show what they can achieve in their exams (especially my sets who were going to smash it…). But as I logged into work at 08.15 on Monday the old familiarity crept back - as my cat insisted on sitting on my computer – and the e-mails poured in as we all tried to communicate remotely. Except now I have two further distractions in two small children!
I love teaching. I love my subject. I love the human relationships you build with students, parents and staff on our journey together to get the best from every individual. And we need to continue to learn together.
What I’ve learnt this week is that remote teaching removes the human empathy of the classroom but it does not remove the relationship you’ve built up. I have finished the week with a renewed appreciation of the girls in Year 9 (who, as Head of Year 9, I already thought were the best!); of my excellent tutor team (who are just brilliant); of all my classes; and Woldingham in general with staff and parents being brilliantly supportive.
I’ve learnt how to use new tools and communicate in different ways. We’ve had tutor team meetings over Microsoft Teams and a fantastic Tuesday lunchtime remote REthink presentation on the philosophy of truth with 11 students from Year 10 to Upper Sixth and three staff. As Gabriella shared her talk and PowerPoint with us (see picture below) it was just like being a management consultant all over again, with the girls contributing questions via the message bar and directly to her. This proved to me what we could achieve remotely and how we might use these tools moving forward. Some students are more confident writing down questions rather than asking in class. Could this technology give us the best of both?
This week we’ve done assemblies on YouTube. We are learning new ways to make Woldingham work. It might not be the optimum way, as nothing can beat the face to face contact and experience of a Woldingham education, but we are finding ways to work through it to give the girls the opportunities that they deserve and to flourish. One of these opportunities is the ability to work independently. This is being thrust upon them at this time; but this experience will be invaluable for later life. In every difficult circumstance there is an opportunity for triumph and I believe the whole Woldingham community is navigating its way to this.
With this in mind, please see my tips for working from home below. I think this is an incredibly tough time for parents, trying to work from home themselves whilst having their family dotted around their space. We are all in unfamiliar times. But it gives us an opportunity to be grasped - for students to learn to work independently and to learn to ask for help, from the right people.
The amount of times I’ve told a parent how great their daughter is at school and I get the reply ‘She is not like this at home…’. Of course, there is a reason for this. While both are safe places they fill different roles. Home is a place to let your guard down. Whilst school is a place to fail (safely) and to try to be who you want to be. As Head of Year 9, I want my year group to be comfortable and confident being themselves and to become the best version of themselves.
The school/home life lines have been blurred this week and it’s incredibly difficult for girls and parents. Therefore, I think it is important to try to keep things separate by having a ’school’ room in the house and then their normal place of escape (normally their bedroom). Let them get on with their work to become the independent learners we want them to become but take control over the things they need help limiting, for example ensuring phone screen time is limited (perhaps to break and lunch) and they get some regular exercise and time away from it all. Perhaps losing themselves in a good book, as I plan to over the coming weeks.
As we come to the end of our first week of remote learning, well done to all of the Woldingham community; everyone has got on with things with a smile on their face.