Laura George discusses the impact of delivering a remote lesson and what can be learned from the experience.
So there I was, sitting in a classroom that many would have described as “toxic” being observed by 15 different leaders. Each making a silent judgement as I taught through my planned lesson…
This had become something of the norm in the educational setting I had found myself in and the only new experience came as one of them suddenly spoke up as I was mid-sentence explaining my point, never had I been interrupted in a lesson observation until this point.
“Um, Mrs George, could you repeat that as Neil has only just managed to join in and he didn’t hear what you just said”.
Silence fell across the class as the pupils waited for me to introduce the lesson, except in fairness I wouldn’t have noticed as they were all on mute anyway. I took a deep breath to centre myself after a mid-sentence bout of instant feedback.
“No worries, Mr Graham”, I said “I’ve uploaded the video with me explaining the lesson so Neil can just check with that and I’ll explain again in a minute”.
Where this all began
Many moons ago when I first started teaching, the school I found myself in was not doing well. It was teetering on the edge of being put into special measures (which did eventually happen). Management wanted to get into the classroom more and also have teachers reflect on their practise; so what was their decision? Trial a camera that went into the classroom that recorded the lesson and everyone could watch back.
This is not the blog post where I explore the details of this and I did volunteer, but it was inadequate; all the pupils acted because there was a giant camera in the room and I was wearing an obvious mic (surprise surprise, right?!).
What I do want to pick up on was the staff reaction; it was costly and staff rejected it. Many stated that they did not want to be filmed doing their job for it to be scrutinised at a later date, even if just by themselves. Who knows where this footage would end and how it would be used?
Since that point, on many occasions, there has been the discussion of cameras being used during a lesson or attached to a member of staff… the reason? For behaviour, for training for many things… We discovered that some nurseries even allow parents to log in to see their children throughout the day. Often this was met with negative attitudes from the staff and unions. The footage could be misused and breaks many protected aspects allowed to teachers as professionals.
Then, in 2020’s pandemic lockdown, it finally happened… a camera in many classrooms. What was worse? It wasn’t at school but in our homes.
So what did this mean? Suddenly people had an insight into the world of a teacher; pupil, parent, uncle, granny or whoever managed to get hold of the Zoom code were there, and in my case, this included Neil’s Dad as well as the parents from the rest of the class.
Unlimited Access, a lowdown…
This is something that was a dividing point within educational settings. Some schools, such as Ashton University Engineering Academy, had been having cameras for years before the pandemic but many had fought off this invasion of privacy.
Suddenly, without warning or sufficient preparation time, many teachers opened cameras into their own homes to allow the face to face contact to aid their pupils.
In came Google Meet, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and many more platforms where leadership, pupils and parents could all just drop into a lesson and comment on what was being said and even the decor of the surroundings. Who knows if it was being recorded, scrutinised or celebrated on the other end of the lenses?
And what did teachers do? They let it happen, they adapted quickly and they made it work. Teachers have travelled the world with Zoom backgrounds, read books with authors content and spent weeks and months having to deal with staring at their face for an abnormal amount of time as their hair grew longer and longer.
It’s hard being on-screen day in and day out. I have been more tired after a day of remote learning than I ever have running around in a classroom all day. National Geographic ran an article about ‘Zoom Fatigue’ to explain this but what are the other implications? What about the worries of privacy?
The good, the bad and the ugly of opening the classroom door, through a lens window.
Firstly what I have learnt is that having a camera on can be scary, even for the tech-savvy. I have found it hard to constantly look at my face as I join a classroom lesson and I have had to get over this. Maybe this is a part of lockdown meetings that people don’t think about, but some people; staff and pupils, can be insecure about this. A flexible view on cameras might be useful here and pre-recording videos may aid those who struggle.
Secondly, I have learned that finding a clear background can be a challenge! Thus many teachers are using innovative ways of adding a background that means their own space is not on show. Zoom has built-in backgrounds but Google also has add ons like Snap Camera that can also do the same job to avoid your space being shown to the virtual world during a lesson.
Is this what your staff meetings look like?
Managers have also had an insight into my world through meetings, most notably when my son decided to have a tantrum during a management meeting. What did I learn? I am lucky to have an understanding management team who see the reality of my situation and who support me as a Mum working from home with the odd interruption.
Lastly, and maybe most interesting, is the fact that many times I have heard parents and spoken to them over the class meetings. Never before would I think that the teaching community would move to many classes being “on camera” with parents seeing all the aspects of a lesson whenever they liked. It is something I don’t think many teachers will have thought about either when linking it to those past debates.
What I have had is support from parents.
Many parents have seen lessons in a way they would never have seen without the lockdown and remote learning. Many of the pupils chose to have cameras off at points and so until you hear parents, you don’t know they are there and neither do the other pupils in the class.
This means that we all get on as normal, we explain tasks, pupils make different points and parents can see it all. What I have had is many parents asking for clarification at points in lessons, but also emailing their support and their admiration of how, as a school, we have adapted so well in such little time.
This is a success in all of our schools. It is what we do as teachers across the land, we do what we need to do for the best of our pupils. No questions asked. We allowed the cameras in for the best of our pupils, we replanned, we learnt, we adapted. Someone who struggled to turn a computer on in my school is now holding meetings and lessons online and easily attaching items to emails.
No doubt, I am sure, there have been negative points too. Parents making comments to teachers online, or critiquing staff. I hope these are few and far between.
Would I look to keep the doors open to the outside?
No. Not in this way. This is a very different world and very different adaptations have to be made but it is not the norm and it should not become the norm….in this format.
I want to keep the doors open, but not to the expense of staff wellbeing.
What I mean by this is it has been hard on staff. They have turned around on a sixpence; some have worked over holidays, some have worked at the same time as supporting their own children, some have learnt more in the last 3 months than they ever felt possible. I do not want this to be the norm but the exception and that goes for all professions, not just teachers.
I do want to keep learning, to keep communication open and to keep sharing ideas and flexibility that some aspects of remote learning have brought in, but at a sustainable level, that allows reflection time and revisions when needed.
So, parents, I do want you in my classroom, I want to support your children (with as much “face to face” as I can do) so let’s keep that….so maybe, when this is over, we can all remember that, if done correctly when you let people in they can support but also that sometimes we need to close the doors too.
What can we learn from Remote Learning?
Keep on going… For now, we keep going as best we can. It seems we are not out of the pandemic’s impacts, either directly or indirectly, so we must keep thinking about learning remotely.
Reflect and adapt…this means admitting you did things wrong. We all did. We did not have the planning time needed. Look outwardly to educators doing things differently. BUT don’t change too much or for change sake. Staff are still learning and don’t need even more change if it’s not needed. Look to Twitter for little changes from things that can make life easier and better. Or be ready to say this is the best we can do…it’s not perfect but that’s OK.
Be ready to learn..at the end of all this, and it will end, be ready to take things out of it. Be it better tech knowledge you want to add to, flexible working and meetings or wellbeing concepts, make sure you add time. How about making meetings both live and online? If we did this, then people could attend from anywhere which brings great flexibility.
Share… don’t close your doors. Share with other schools and parents. No school is an island and it’s good to aid others who might need it. Think of all the work schools have done to help with things like PPE, how can we keep this going?! Also how about rethinking letting our parents in more. Read this post I shared in the past for ideas on different ways of doing reports, for example.
Celebrate the effort. We never saw this on January 1st 2020, we just did it. Staff, pupils, parents…everyone. So when you can celebrate the effort made by all, say thank you… thank you to everyone for keeping going on, throughout an unimaginable time that became reality.