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Apollo-13ing teaching in a global pandemic

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From the start of this global pandemic, my aims have been to help protect the health and wellbeing of my students, to maintain some continuity in routine, and to meet my students’ learning needs. As I have adapted and evolved, four principles have framed my teaching response:

  • Keep it simple. Pedagogy and relationships over tech tools.
  • Keep learning pared back to what is essential.
  • Focus on keeping up connections and relationships – that’s what matters.
  • Don’t stress about high stakes assessment.

I know that the learning experiences I design on campus cannot be easily replicated through distance learning. In a short space of time I have learned how to: use the tools online learning offers; balance synchronous and asynchronous connections and collaboration (if you have ever watched a YouTube video for 60 minutes you will understand what I am trying to avoid!); and establish trust and cultivate engagement in an online environment.

At the beginning of each week, I post the instructions for learning on the school learning management system. A weekly videoconference check-in is followed by a series of short assigned prompts or projects, classes are divided into smaller online tutorial groups on discussion boards, and office hours are made explicit to respond to questions and to provide feedback.

The transition has been challenging and the superhuman efforts demonstrated by the entire global teaching profession under trying circumstances have been impressive. There have been teething problems and I have trusted my professional judgement. I am, after all, learning how to teach via distance in the middle of global pandemic.

There is a steep learning curve in the first week, online fatigue needs to be managed, and I have had to rethink how to engage students and have empathy for their experience. It is really important to connect with students online and design tasks that are interactive. It gets easier after the initial learning curve.

My students are also adapting the ways in which they learn and this has been a large adjustment. They have been brilliant, demonstrating independence, developing their ability to self-regulate, and coping with frustrations. When I asked them for one word to describe their feelings about distance learning, replies included: “neutral”, “open-minded”, “curious”, “different”, “interesting”, “excited”, “isolated”, “relaxing”, “flexible”, and “unsure”.

Parents have modelled patience and partnership. Two examples from emails I received:

“We are very appreciative of everything the school is doing to keep our children connected and moving forward. Thank you to all the staff for their amazing work.”

“Our three children have had to manage the changing learning environment without us being physically present to support them. Despite the rapidly changing environment, they have coped extremely well and I am proud of their resilience and the positive perspective they are bringing to this difficult time.  I attribute much of the ease of this transitional period to the approach and support provided by the school.”

I am providing opportunities for parents and students to give feedback as I navigate and fine tune my distance teaching techniques. My teaching skills are evolving and I am enjoying the stimulation, collegiality and creativity of this steep professional learning curve.

 

Cameron Paterson

Cameron Paterson was one of the finalists of the Varkey Foundation's Global Teacher Prize.

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This piece is part of the Teacher Task Force’s #TeachersVoices campaign, created to bring forward the experiences of teachers working every day to ensure their students continue to benefit from a quality education despite the COVID-19 pandemic. To participate, go to our dedicated webpage.