Remember that time when the whole of education changed overnight…
After weeks of remote schooling, teachers and students are returning to schools. So, what reflections do teachers have on this ‘unprecedented’ time of ‘pivoting’ the way they teach and learn?
I thought now would be a good time to ask a bunch of Australian teachers to look back and share their remote teaching experiences…
About the survey respondents:
150 teachers responded to the survey.
67.5% from Victoria, 24.5% from QLD, 6% from NSW, 1.3% WA, 0.7% SA (no respondents from ACT or TAS)
- F-2 teachers =41.7%
- Year 3-6 teachers = 49.5%
- Year 7-10 teachers = 5.6%
- Year 11-12 teachers= 1.73%
- Special Education = 0.86%
- Tertiary= 0.43%
- 79% Government
- 11% Independent Private
- 9% Non- Government Private Catholic
- 1% other (TAFE, Uni)
Status of remote teaching:
- 83% are about to return to face to face teaching this week
- 11% have already returned to face to face teaching
- 6% listed themselves as partially back (mainly NSW and QLD teachers) or as have different circumstances (university teacher).
In three words, describe your remote schooling experience:
Just a reminder on word clouds (I know, I know, you’re all tech whizzes after weeks of remote teaching and don;t need me to tell you this BUT I’ll clarify it anyway)- the more a word is repeated in the responses, the larger it’s displayed in the word cloud.
Interestingly, the teacher responses to this question closely mirror many of the parent responses to the same question. Here are the two clouds side by side (teachers on the left, parents on the right):
What were the POSITIVES of the remote schooling experience?
Increased tech skills
Not surprisingly, the most commonly reported positive to come out of the remote schooling experience was the increase in technology skills by teachers and students.
‘Who knew I had it in me to become a YouTuber!’
Home / school partnerships
The second most reported positive: better relationships with parents.
Teachers commented on how the remote schooling situation ‘brought parents closer together with us,’ how they learned more about the parents of their students and how they felt more supported by them because they now had a better understanding of teaching (‘parents now know how hard teachers work’) and their child’s learning (‘parents have a better awareness of their children’s ability/inability’).
“We walked the journey together and came out the other side of it!”
The view of teachers on the topic of positive parent relationships mirrored the view of parents on the same topic. This is great news for student learning! As Steven Constanino (2008) stated in his book, 101 Ways to Create Real Family Engagement:
“More than twenty years of research leaves no room for doubt: Family engagement leads to improved student achievement. Increased engagement leads to gains for all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, cultural background, ancestry, or special education status.”
I don’t think Constantino ever imagined a remote schooling situation when he wrote this next line, but it’s more pertinent / relatable than ever:
“When the school and families have a mutual respect for one another and depend on one another as partners in education, the result is increased achievement for students.”
The question now is how can schools leverage this significant leap forward in teacher/parent relationships to positively impact student achievement in the face to face environment?
After tech skills and parent communications, the next most reported benefits were:
- More independence shown by students– some students developed this as time went on, some teachers learned their students always had these skills but they weren’t aware of them or hadn’t let them express them (‘the realisation that I hand hold my students too much.’)
- Communication with colleagues– ‘We’ve spent more time together apart,’ ‘amazing support from colleagues (it’s always good but in this space, it was just mind blowing.)’
- ‘Slowing down the overcrowded curriculum’– ‘stripping back the curriculum,’ ‘being able to extract the essential learnings from the curriculum.’
- Some students have thrived in the online environment– this included students who were normally disengaged at school, students who were quiet in the classroom and students with ADHD or ASD.
- 1:1 support for students from their parents- ‘Some of my students have really flourished having the full one-to-one support at home; this is something I can’t always provide in the classroom,’‘it was like having numerous teacher assistants in a classroom.’
Numerous teachers made comments about the positive impact for students who had 1:1 parental support. Some comments included: ‘huge growth due to the 1-1 support’ and ‘some kids, particularly my lower kids are coming back better than before.’
This raises questions about the equity of experiences for students in the remote learning environment. It also connects with some of the parent anxieties around reporting and assessment potentially reflecting either their poor teaching skills or their lack of ability to provide 1:1 support for their children (i.e if parents were working during this time and were unable to assist their children.)
What were the CHALLENGES of the remote schooling experience?
The number one challenge listed by teachers was workload.
- ‘Trying to be all and do all has been a challenge – calling parents every week, zooming students, making videos of all lessons, making a video of all the videos for kids who needed help accessing work…’
- ‘The work load was massive, planning documentation has increased, conference note taking each half hour while teaching at point of need (often had to write notes later)’
- ‘No life balance workload doubled.’
Issues with technology
This came in as the second largest challenge.
In addition to no or poor internet connection, several issues arose from teachers and students adopting new platforms/programs and having to coach parents and students through these. (Taking on the role of tech support added to the teacher workload, although some teachers said this was ironed out after the few couple of weeks).
Feeling isolated and/or disconnected
Many teachers felt isolated from their peers as well as their students and believed their students felt this sense of isolation too. Teachers were worried about the lack of opportunity for students to learn from their peers in the remote environment in the way they would in a normal classroom.
It was evident that teachers missed being able to see and teach their students in a face to face environment every day:
- ‘I miss my kids.’
- ‘Not seeing kids every day and having a conversation of learning. Not reading to my students.’
- ‘Not getting the ‘high’ of face-to-face teaching.’
- ‘No incidental teaching points or correction of misconceptions. Once the work was started incorrectly it was submitted incorrectly.’
Finally, in addition to excessive screen time and frustrations around students or parents who didn’t engage in remote learning, teachers were deeply concerned about widening inequities between students:
- ‘My student experiences depended greatly on the ability of the parent to facilitate their learning. In some cases, the parents were struggling with their own mental health and as a result, remote learning was not one of their priorities.’
A couple of interesting additional issues raised were:
- Issues with peers and team members- E.g. ‘Disfunctioning team created lack of support and collaboration.’ This was listed by 6 different respondents and demonstrates that technology really does amplify practice; if cracks exist in the offline environment they will only widen in the online environment.
- Excessive or boring online meetings- ‘being subjected to pointless meetings and PD.’
- Eating way too much- This was listed by more than 1 person (and I have to say, I totally hear you on this one!)
What were the INTERESTING things to come out of the remote schooling experience?
Numero uno: parental ‘support’
- ‘How much some parents do for their kids. They won’t let them learn how to use technology or do an online pre-test. Some parents speak for their children during WebEx sessions.’
- ‘One very interesting thing is when students post work that has obviously had a lot of adult input into it. What year 2 student or for that matter myself, uses the word ‘moreover’. A colleague set a pre-test to find out what was known on a topic. She stated that there would be questions that students wouldn’t know but for them to do their best. Imagine her surprise when most of the tests came back with 100% correct.’
- ‘Amazing how more work is magically correct.’
The ‘over support’ provided by some parents led to many teachers listing assessment of students in remote learning as difficult because they couldn’t determine who had actually completed the work. Assessment was also raised as a challenge as some teachers felt they would be assessing privilege: ‘Students thrived or failed on the willingness of their parents to get on board. I fear my reporting will be more on privilege (what they received at home) than on anything else.’
Another area of parental support that arose was how some viewed mistakes: ‘A lot of parents don’t reinforce making mistakes as part of learning (They correct their child negatively instead of constructively).’
‘Seeing different students shine during remote learning’
- ‘The divide between the students who engaged in everything everyday, and the students who didn’t engage regularly/only once a day. It wasn’t representative of student academic skill, which was interesting.’
- ‘It was interesting who did the learning and who did not.’
- ‘Some of the better kids produced the least amount of work.’
- ‘The children that are easily distracted in the classroom showed the most growth.’
- ‘The different levels of motivation from students. Some I have never had more work submitted from and some are not motivated to do any. But not always who I would’ve expected.’
- ‘I have been floored by the work ethic and independence of some of my students who I wouldn’t call leaders in the classroom. They have shone remotely. They are just brilliant.’
Other ‘interesting’ findings:
- ‘How amazing some EAL parents were the children’s scrapbooks and work blew us away.’
- ‘That parents found it almost impossible! I had emails saying “how do you even teach my child?”
- ‘I haven’t ever walked around my neighbourhood as much as I have this term!’
- ‘Being able to focus on teaching more than admin’
- ‘I actually really enjoyed having staff meetings online. I found them more structured and purposeful.’
- From a secondary teacher: ‘During remote learning we have had weekly catch ups and noticed a huge differences in consistency of teaching and learning.’
- ‘I have a greater respect for YouTubers after this.’
- ‘How much I love to wear tracky pants and ugg boots.’ (Definitely with you there!)
What have you learned about teaching through this experience?
The strongest lesson learned about effective teaching during this experience was the power of short, sharp and explicit minilessons: ‘8 minutes of a carefully crafted lesson is better than 30 minutes of rambling.’
‘Explicit face to face teaching and online learning platforms complement each other, not replace one another.’
Relationships are key
Teaching has always been about relationships and remote learning has reinforced this belief for many. ‘Relationships (teacher, parent, student) are key to success in any setting.’ The positive impact of relationships with parents in particular was highlighted numerous times.
‘The curriculum is way too crowded!’ ‘There’s far too much content in the curriculum.’ ‘The curriculum needs to be refined.’
Crowded curriculum popped up in many of the responses to different questions on the teacher survey. Teachers felt the stripped back curriculum presented during remote teaching was beneficial for students and they are keen to carry a simplified version forward into the face to face environment.
Teaching in general
Most teachers agreed that they’d certainly prefer to teach in a face to face environment. ‘Teaching is a face to face occupation that cannot be effectively delivered totally in remote way.’ In addition to listing differentiation as a challenge in the online environment, a number of teachers comment on the minute-by-minute and adaptive nature of live, face to face teaching: ‘Real teaching is about responding to students needs in the moment. You can plan all you like, but much of what we do is in the moment.’
The final comment that seemed to resonate for many was that teaching in the online environment enabled teachers to ‘focus on teaching more than admin,’ this is an aspect of teaching they would like to carry forward into the face to face world.
What remote teaching experiences/learnings/practices will you carry over to your face to face teaching?
Numerous teachers suggested they would continue to use online platforms such as Google Classroom and Seesaw once they returned to face to face teaching. They liked the differentiation options these platforms enabled and the ease of tracking student work submissions.
More technology in the classroom
After a huge technology upskilling by teachers and students, many teachers plan to incorporate more technology into their face to face lessons. Creation of video instructions and demonstrations for small groups and independent work was high on the agenda, as well as the continued use of GoogleSlides/PowerPoint to support lessons.
Teachers plan on continuing regular parent communication and using technology to assist with this. Some teachers even said that they would continue to send parents a daily outline of learning and an email copy of the weekly homework. One teacher suggested they would like to offer parents the option of attending parent teacher interviews using Zoom.
My favourite answer to this question:
‘I am planning on asking the students this question.’
What a great idea!
It would be a missed opportunity if teachers and schools didn’t reflect on this remote schooling experience and learn from the students and parents, to inform a better ‘new normal’ for schools. How exciting!
One final carry over…
Several teachers suggested they would like to carry over the use of the mute button into their face to face teaching! (If only…!)
What advice do you have for teachers who are about to return to face to face teaching?
- ‘Just take it one day at a time and don’t stress yourself out.’
- ‘Take it easy and celebrate being with the Kids again. Reflect on what worked and what didn’t and experiment to find what works.’
- ‘Revise everything, some have done everything, some nothing and some have had it completed by someone else.’
- ‘Celebrate your return with your students and just start slowly. Don’t go pushing the curriculum with full teaching days the first week back. The children as well as yourself will be exhausted and overwhelmed.’
- ‘It’s harder than you think to go back, so be easy on yourself.’
- ‘Be prepared to teach all your classroom routines and procedures again!’
- ‘Its like the first week of the school year all over again.’
- ‘Make the first day back fun, get back into routine. Talk about what they did at home and how they are feeling. Remind them how amazing they are.’
- ‘Ours is life as normal, nothing different except we wash our hands after fitness.’
- ‘Breathe and breathe (but not on anyone)! Don’t sweat the small stuff and look after yourself!’
Any final comments?
- ‘A once in a lifetime experience (hopefully) that was interesting. I quite enjoyed this time teaching from home, although found it frustrating, annoying, rewarding, exhausting and fun as well.’
- ‘What a chance to learn, grow, be challenged & enjoy a different facet of our job!’
- ‘It brought the whole school teaching community closer together.’
- ‘Parents need to be congratulated on their amazing work keeping the ball rolling.’
- ‘I would have preferred it went for rest of term as I feel like I’m now just getting traction.’
- ‘I was able to teach rather than crowd control as I have behaviourally challenging students in my class who dominate the classroom and take away the other students learning. Remote learning removed this issue and I was able to focus on the other children in my class.’
- ‘Who would have thought I would be a child entertainer and have to edit my own videos!!! To then have parents critique like it was Trip Advisor!!!’
- ‘Don’t want to ever do it again.’
- ‘Thank you for continued blogs and support in this process.’ (No problems, thanks for the appreciation!)
Countless teachers referred to the remote teaching experience as ‘a hell of a ride.’ And, considering the entire system transformed almost overnight, I don’t think anyone could argue with that.
Although many teachers (and parents) found the time ‘frustrating,’ ‘challenging’ and ‘exhausting,’ there were many positives to come out of the experience as well (greater parent relationships and more tech skills being important ones for future teaching and learning).
I absolutely agree with the survey respondents who said, ‘teachers are flexible, adaptable and can achieve great things even in the face of a crisis.’ ‘We are superheroes.’ Well done everyone!
I am so excited about the possibilities that have now opened up for education as a result of this experience! Now is the time to leverage the learning from this time and dare to rethink how education looks and feels for our students. Us ed tech lovers have been banging on about re-imagining teaching and learning for years, but NOW is the time that we finally have the skills and knowledge (and experience) to be able to actually do it.
Oh my goodness, how exciting!
Share your thoughts
What resonated for you? What have been the positives, challenges and interesting learnings from your remote teaching experience? Tell us about it in the comments below or over on the Oz Lit teacher Facebook Group.
- Constantino, S. (2008). 101 ways to create real family engagement. ENGAGE! Press.