Live Online Symposium on Fearless Home Learning!

Wednesday 29 April saw our virtual Symposium on Fearless Home Learning live streamed to colleagues from Sydenham High and local schools including Rathfern Primary School, with a panel of expert speakers providing the live audience with some really interesting insights into different aspects of this new period of Guided Home Learning.

Dr Kevin Stannard, Director of Education and Innovation at the GDST, kicked off the symposium with a recap of the situation so far, including the fearlessness already shown by staff turning their hands to a totally new way of teaching in a very short space of time and in the face of great uncertainty. As a Trust, schools have faced this period head on and took control of what was controllable by creating ‘Guided Home Learning’ – a connected, rather than distant, approach to teaching and learning. Kevin talked about the next step being very much about sustainability of the current model, with refinements based on learnings from Guided Home Learning so far. It requires collaboration of resourceful, heroic staff and resilient, adaptive pupils and working with parents as partners to allow for the most effective manifestation of this new style of teaching and learning. He also mused on the further stage of how we shape the future of education so that it doesn’t try to restore a pre-COVID19 situation but rather moves forward to an innovative new version which incorporates the best aspects of new and old.

Fiona Gray, Sydenham High School’s counsellor, spoke about Guided Home Learning from a pastoral perspective. This ‘new normal’ has sparked the need for fearlessness on many fronts but she emphasised the importance of pastoral care for staff so that they might be better placed to offer it to pupils. She offered top tips for checking in with your own mental health, including: listing one positive thing from your lockdown experience and one that makes you fearful, taking time to sit and breathe deeply and fully to give yourself a chance to stabilise and to notice where you are at and share this openly to model what you preach. Fear often holds us back, so there is a need to embrace the discomfort, find purpose and belonging, and engage in brave ways. However, she acknowledged that in order for us to be fearless, we must first be conscious of what our fear is, whether it is navigating fear of judgment, failure, disappointment, or others’ expectations. Staff were reminded that being courageous will look different everyday and we should not judge ourselves as we work through this unprecedented time but try to lean  into understanding our fear, as an important tool not only for our own wellbeing, but also as part of a community and for our pupils.

Director of Education and Research at the Chartered College Of Teaching, Cat Scutt, discussed what evidence there is about what makes effective online learning and how we can best support parents to support their children when learning at home. This is a difficult time for everyone, and given its unprecedented nature there is limited previous research; however, key aspects for this type of learning are to ensure that there are low barriers to entry, in terms of both access to work but also keeping instructions simple so that parents are able to support given their context of other familial and work responsibilities, and that the human connection element isn’t forgotten. Cat discussed the translation of effective practices from face-to-face teaching into practices for teaching online and the importance of understanding that children do adapt, but it takes time and most of all they need love, support and confidence from parents so it is key for schools to be realistic in expectations for what pupils should be doing and not place an unreasonable burden on parents in order to achieve this.

Matthew Llewellin, our Head of Digital Learning and Innovation, discussed the technology that has been embraced by Sydenham High School including two websites he created for staff and pupils as hubs for skill development and essential information respectively. The gamification of the staff site proved very popular, with staff teams learning a range of skills within the parameters of friendly competition, and he ensured effectiveness of the pupil hub by analysing the usefulness of the information provided through tracking access to each page. Matthew reminded staff of the value of Twitter as a resource, given the experts sharing advice but also the global staff rooms where colleagues can share ideas and encouraged the idea that we should utilise tech within classrooms more once schools resume onsite teaching as this period has shown staff, pupils and parents what technology can offer.

Our morning was closed by the Chief Executive of the GDST, Cheryl Giovannoni, who reminded us all to embrace the fear in a positive way and how exciting it is to be part of this innovative and exciting new approach to teaching and learning. Though this situation is far from ideal it has allowed us to have a powerful research platform with which to rethink the future of education and to ensure that GDST schools are leading the way. She acknowledged the partnership of teachers and parents and how we must remember that it is just as much about educating parents as pupils given their need to be engaged and motivated to support their children during this difficult time. As a learning organisation it is crucial that we learn everyday and our agility in moving away from the traditional models has meant that our pupils are able to learn without limits. Cheryl echoed the importance of the human connection – the power of an inspirational teacher with technology as a tool, but also the importance of disconnecting and ensuring that self-care is also a priority, checking in with yourself and establishing your own conditions for success in order to be able to engage fearlessly.

Thank you to our panel and to our wonderful School Consultant Teacher and Head of PRE, Rachael Vaughan, who, in putting this symposium together, absolutely embodies our school motto of ‘Fear Nothing’.

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