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What equally challenging and interesting times we live in!

Due to the impact of The Virus, UK based schools were closed. Schools based in England were closed from Monday 23rd March 2020 yet kept open for the children of key workers and for young people who are vulnerable / have an Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP).

Working in a special school (that is also Alternative Provision) meant that we had to continue on site learning. Generally, I agreed with the school remaining open yet I was worried how to keep myself safe on public transport, once I returned after my period of self isolation. 

The initial plan was to run the school on reduced timetables starting from Monday 23rd March 2020 and continue with this throughout the Easter holidays. When Monday 23rd March 2020 arrived, students were either self isolating or understandably kept at home by parents / carers, so we had to quickly switch gears to implement the distance learning we had been planning for the past fortnight. With lockdown being imposed in England from the evening of Monday 23rd March 2020, this precipitated the need for everything to be conducted remotely.

The video conference call bingo card image below highlights many of the teething issues we experienced during our initial move to online meetings via Google Meet and then Zoom…

Image credit: E Gilliam

What initially felt strange became a much welcomed way to touch base with everyone at school.

Behind the scenes, key staff were touching base with students and key family members on a daily basis. Regular contact with relevant support services also occurred to ensure that (remote) measures were still in place to keep our students safe. 

With my responsibilities for teaching and learning, I was on hand to:

  • support the use of Google Classroom (I had a wonderful colleague that set up everything up for staff and our young people without a glitch)
  • support the use of Google Meet to deliver live lessons / touch base with students (staff follow a rota to ensure that this happens on a consistent basis).
  • share models of good distance learning practice for all subjects being taught remotely (thanks to the HomeLearningUK team for centrally collating great examples).

With a week under our belt, below are my reflections from a teaching and leadership perspective:

1. Keep things simple. 

We decided to go with Google for Education as this was already in place yet not heavily used. It meant that we were entering into the unknown with applications that we were (vaguely) familiar with. 

Keeping things simple also meant that our head teacher avoided overloading staff with things to do. She reminded us that during the lockdown period, many of us were parents as well as teachers and it was equally important to make time for our families. 

2. Keep calm

There were many opportunities for me to have my fears / uncertainties heard as I transitioned from self isolation to lockdown. My mind was in the right place to help organise remote learning for our students, without being mentally distracted. This also meant that I was able to consider things from the viewpoint of a senior leader. I was grateful to operate from a place of calmness as it prevented any sense of panic being passed on to anyone else. 

My head teacher modelled this every time we spoke by asking how things were, sharing her own updates and then getting down to school business. 

3. Keep communication channels open

Communication was split into formal and informal channels.

Formal communication included:

  • two short briefings at 9.30am and 2.30pm via Zoom for staff to catch up
  • email updates and actions 
  • regular communication with parents, carers and guardians
  • log updates whenever we were in contact with students via Google Meet 

Informal communication was undertaken through our school WhatsApp group. Generally they are light hearted exchanges (including Mothers’ Day greetings, snippets shared from online training and what we did during the first few days of lockdown) which help to  ensure that we are still in touch with each other. 

4. Touch base with students from a safeguarding and learning perspective.

As I mentioned earlier, key staff members were touching base with students and key family members to see how everyone was adjusting. 

I helped to draft for the code of conduct for students, parents and staff while distance learning was undertaken (thanks to @katypotts and @adamg_SEND for sharing specific materials in regards to this). 

For staff, it included aspects such as:

  • the use of an appropriate space to conduct video lessons 
  • conversations kept on a professional basis
  • The School Staff Code of Conduct also applying online

Furthermore, we all had to complete online training to help us revisit Keeping Children Safe in Education 2019.

Learning resources were already uploaded into Google Classroom for every student. I was involved in ensuring that they were relevant and allowed students to demonstrate their learning through the use of Google Docs, Google Forms etc. to minimise the need to print things out. It would also make it easier for staff to give feedback.

5. Maintain routines for our students

With my school, it is really important to maintain routines for our young people. 

Uploading learning resource on Google Classroom ahead of new timetables being shared, meant that students could see what they would be learning ahead of the lessons. This also gave them the chance and choice to start working through the resources. 

In order to ensure that there is some consistency during these turbulent times, reduced timetable lessons will still continue throughout the Easter break.