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5 Lessons for Online Teaching

How We Can Stay Positive, Fresh, Creative and Social in an Online Environment - With Ms Cat Garnett, Head of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE)

As the impact of COVID-19 has spread across the world, school closures and the rapid transition to distance learning have presented an unprecedented challenge to the global community of teaching professionals. At the same time, with teachers seizing the opportunity to utilise their creativity and upskill in Edtech and online learning tools,  it is clear the lessons being learnt throughout this situation may have positive and lasting outcomes on teaching and learning going forward; necessity is indeed the mother of invention. 
On her blog, Cat Garnett, Head of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) at Shrewsbury International School, Bangkok, chronicles the challenges that she and her PSHE colleagues are facing in this testing time. She also provides insights into how Shrewsbury has adapted and equipped itself  for distance learning, including how she has adapted PSHE lessons for learners in their home environment. She also describes some of the ways we can all stay sharp and calm through mentally testing times and the importance of remaining creative, so that both lessons and daily life remain exciting and engaging.
Her writing isn't just applicable for PSHE, but teachers of all subjects, parents who also have jobs of their own, and students of all ages. The text that follows is adapted from Cat’s blog, and summarises her thoughts in five key areas.

1. Stay social, stay connected

It's imperative to stay connected with the students. Shrewsbury has taken the approach in Senior School that tutors and year group leaders are the direct line of pastoral communication. I think this is absolutely right. So far, we've been using Google Hangouts to register our students in the morning, and when I say 'register', I mean to say 'Hello' and 'How are you doing?' or to send a thumbs up and daily well-being reminders.
My intention is not to follow up with students about online subject lessons, or to chase them for work, but to stay social and stay connected. Students already have enough on their plate with the changes to their daily routine and adapting to a method of work that is foreign to them, so encouragement and reassurance are the best methods of communication as a first port-of-call. My Year 10 Tutor group is hugely engaged with this, and truth be told, receiving 25 'pings' from them each morning at 07.30 am has been warming my heart at the start of each day. It's shown me how much students – and teachers – value a sense of belonging.
'Keeping a community' for students who are likely to be feeling a bit lost and unsure about what the future holds in regards to their school life, learning and friendships is the most important thing to remember during this period of school closure. I think this ethos can be extended to parents and our own families too. When we are isolated, depression can set in. Technology allows us to strengthen the ties that bind us together, and we should nurture them online while we are avoiding close contact.

2. Stick to the plan (mostly)

My role is to maintain the provision of top-quality PSHE for students across Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 (ages 11-16). We need to remember that the purpose of PSHE is to help students to develop the knowledge, skills and attributes they need to keep themselves healthy and safe. This is more important now than ever before. Remember, PSHE matters, and we have a responsibility to deliver the curriculum amidst these extraordinary circumstances. 
Like other subjects, we began to tailor our lessons for suitable online learning, and we continue to share creative ways to make this engaging, compelling and purposeful. Our lessons have shifted onto Google Classroom, and this has proved a useful tool for delivering instructions, sharing documents, information, links and YouTube videos on a consistent platform.

I'm currently in the process of sharing all of my PSHE curriculum resources covering the core PSHE themes: Relationships & Sex Education / Health & Well-being / Living in the Wider World for teachers and school leaders. This includes PSHE resources that have been tailored explicitly for School Closure, and online instructions and links that can easily be copy and pasted into Google Classroom or platforms such as Firefly. 
The importance of sharing clear, high quality planning and resources is highlighted in times like this, and as we all become more proficient in different ways to do so, this is certainly something that I feel will benefit the teaching community long after the COVID-19 crisis has passed. 

3. Keep it simple


I realised very early on that learning in this new environment was going to be a process. Talking to other colleagues across school, it became even more apparent that online lesson setting was time consuming, it requires a certain skill set and a lot of patience from students; and naturally this kind of teaching and learning will suit some more than others. 
This process of good distance learning has been better explained by many colleagues. I found this work from Doug Lemov very useful: Mastering Remote Teaching – Intro: Two Types of Learning. I understand that a balanced combination of 'active' teacher-directed learning (synchronous) and 'setting tasks' online (asynchronous) is critical. Overall, it is better to not over-complicate by using too many resources or multiple forms of technology and instructions for completing work that are too long. Consider what you want the lesson objective to be and formulate a plan on how you would like to see students attain these objectives.

4. Get creative

We then started to think more about how our current curriculum could be adapted to longer-term projects and how to provide students with structured step-by-step asynchronous learning that could also be community-based. We decided to work from what we'd already covered this term and ask the students to get creative. 

For example, we decided to adapt our current Year 8 – Global Citizens scheme of work into a group project. In previous lessons, students had been exploring questions such as, 'What is the real cost of an iPhone?', 'Do sweatshops make our clothes?' and 'How can I be an ethical consumer?', so we were confident that they had some baseline knowledge to follow onto an extended project on designing a Fair Trade Business. Students can work together on this project, the teacher can allocate roles and designate tasks. They can also opt into various different methods of demonstrating their work; creating surveys, market research, advertisement, logo design etc. Most importantly, while students' chip away' at the project teachers can check for accountability and be available to clarify or answer questions.

Instead of battering away at the scheduled curriculum, we have decided to focus on how we can extend the knowledge of students so their grasp on a particular subject is airtight and they are producing work that makes a difference.

5. Find some Headspace

Finally, and briefly, I think it's essential for students, parents and teachers to take the time to look after themselves. The world feels like a pretty chaotic place right now, and we're most definitely starting each day with a little uncertainty. Take some time out to go for a walk, meditate or just find something that de-activates the brain and helps you decompress. This time away from staring into a computer screen will allow your mind and body to reset and have the ability to continue on at a later date. Do not overwork or stress will become a factor. Stay healthy, stay safe and good luck!


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