In the following presentation to Cire’s all-staff forum on 9 November, Megan Small from Cire Community School shared her experiences as Lead Teaching and Learning VCAL during COVID lockdowns and how she overcame her own challenges to support and keep students connected, engaged and supported, as well as colleagues
END OF MARCH
One week to go in Term 1 and COVID numbers were starting to creep higher.
Schools were given two days to prepare to go online… Apparently, that’s all it would take. Teachers scrambled to learn new tasks on top of rewriting the entire curriculum to go online.
There was much research, sharing of ideas, folders set up for easy access, phone calls, emails, excitement, teamwork, frustration and tears.
I had been in a new role, for what seemed like five minutes, as Lead Teaching and Learning VCAL. My Achilles heel is technology, now I was to lead teaching and learning online.
I studied my degree online, so had some understanding and some resources that I could use to help me get through. Many teachers were less experienced and were terrified to go online with their classes.
School holidays were non-existent in semester one. Other than a few hours here and there, we were all working, all learning to go online.
I ran online classes in the holidays to pass on what I could. Sometimes it is easier to learn from someone that is not an expert, but the problem was I was in a lead role and the others were relying on me, so I had to learn before I taught my colleagues.
Term 2 started and we simply ‘went for it’. We had prepared as much as we could, supported each other and worked hard. We were exhausted before we even began… teachers terrified, students ranging from distraught to excited, internet failing, cameras not working, me forgetting to unmute when I was talking…
With every success, there was a problem to balance the scales.
On my planning day, I would visit the classrooms via google meets and often found teachers in a world of pain, asking for my help. Many times I would say “give me five minutes” and I would google my life away to come up with an answer for the team.
On Wednesdays the team would catch up, report on what was working and what they wouldn’t do again. Mark Hunt, my equivalent at the Mount Evelyn campus, and I made a huge effort to stay in touch with each other so we were prepared for our colleagues. We had meetings and communicated regularly with the school leadership team so they weren’t being inundated with emails from individual staff.
Executive Principal Paul van Breugel kept us as updated as he could but eventually we realised that some questions just could not be answered. This was and still is the nature of COVID.
We hit a groove with some students..they were turning up and completing work. I had one student attend online classes more than he had attended in the past two years. The quiet students were speaking up, making oral presentations and engaging in discussion. They were showing leadership and coming out of their shells.
However, not everything was fantastic. The outgoing students weren’t turning up. They could not relate to a classroom online. They were not receiving their much needed energy from each other, the banter, the rough and tumble, the very things that make them feel alive – human contact.
Teachers could see it happening, we called them, we begged them, we called parents, heard them cry, consoled them and soldiered on.
The wellbeing team set up a session for parents to talk about the craziness that was going on inside their families.
When COVID numbers started to drop, we had the chance to return to campus. The numbers of vulnerable students attending Mount Evelyn campus were slowly growing and teachers on the ground were run off their feet. However, many students just gave up and waited for third term before returning to the classroom
We had some time off during the holidays but I was preparing for placement, which was starting day one of third term. I was to spend a month recording the most incredible and difficult experience a teacher could endure. My uni is in Hobart, they had no idea.
Engagement interviews that were scheduled for the end of first term were happening at the beginning of term three. They focus was on setting goals, explaining the new COVID classrooms, preparing our students and their parents for the new normal. Then there were temperature checks, sanitiser, one (student) per desk, no food prep, no cuppas, no sharing.
We didn’t care, we were all so happy to be back in the classroom, the mood was jubilant, the chatter was infectious. It was hard not to hug them (students), it was all I wanted to do.
Try coming up with creative tasks again without touching, try teaching manicures or hairstyles without touch, sport without sharing a ball, cooking without sharing tools.
But we did it and were happy to do it, the amazing staff at Cire coming together once again to support our precious youth.
Three weeks in, COVID numbers were soaring and we were home again, for the rest of the term. Leadership opened both campuses so if one fell, we would not lose all students and staff to infection. There was no novelty with online teaching this time, we knew what there was to lose. Our students, our results and our sanity!
There were no meetings of goodwill, we taught an hour less each day to save us becoming exhausted. Mark and I were teaching full time, so we could not support the teachers by popping into classrooms.
And it was numeracy and literacy, day after day, beloved projects just could not be taught online, there was no room for peer teamwork.
To be honest, I started to struggle, I missed everyone, I was teary and dealing with people struggling at home. I was like the outgoing kids, I missed my dose of people, the ones that made me laugh, made me proud and gave me my energy to continue such a rewarding yet taxing job.
I also worried endlessly about the students that had stopped picking up the phone, the parents that were sick of talking and my colleagues that were dragging themselves to the other end of the day.
I stayed home, wore a mask and had no visitors, desperately trying to do my bit to help reduce COVID numbers.
Returning to school was wonderful, everyone was smiling, nearly everyone had made it through. It was wonderful to see everyone and I felt that my class had a special connection by sharing the challenges of going online together.
It was okay that we had no excursions, no speakers to welcome, no sports day, graduation dinner, work experience or volunteering
Less than half of the VCAL students will graduate this year because the lack of community involvement has not allowed them to finish all of their subjects. COVID has put many plans back at least six months for these students.
Unfortunately, some students didn’t make it. The lack of human contact, the lack of routine and the decisions driven by boredom have interrupted their journey to a positive life. However, we will keep contacting them, keep showing them that we care and keep doing our jobs.
I am so proud to be a teacher at Cire, now more than ever.
Thanks for your time and showing an interest in our teaching journey.
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