Recent weeks has seen many things about our world and way of life change, rapidly and unexpectedly. And in the midst of the maelstrom, school must continue, albeit in a very different form.
As the COVID-19 crisis has evolved, we have quickly been bluntly reminded that Oxford Falls Grammar is defined by its people and community, not its site or location. So while our physical school is a virtual ghost-town (current student population of 8), Oxford Falls Grammar is still running.
Our connection and interactivity and teaching and learning model has changed from primarily face to face classroom teaching to a new online delivery mode. It’s a change driven by the need to protect our community, the students, parents, staff and the broader community at large by reducing our movements and physical contact as part of the new social distancing measures and restrictions to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
There are of course, many things about “school” that we all miss: face to face interaction, sport, dance, drama, Chapel, assembly, handball, music, performances, just hanging out with friends. (We have all quickly learned how much of the small stuff we value!) As a Christian school, fellowship and joining together in community is a central part of our culture. So we are using the power of technology in an attempt to maximise connection and interaction in an era of isolation.
In the Junior School, teachers of students in Kindergarten to Year 6 send a daily email to parents that includes a video welcome from the teacher; a daily devotion and an outline of the learning activities for the day. Students are involved in the full suite of subjects including, Art, Music, Science, PE, Literacy and Numeracy and more, all remotely. Teachers are providing feedback to students via the program Seesaw and our learning management system, SchoolBox. It is amazing to see what some of youngest students are achieving and how valuable the connection to their teacher and peers really is. One parent emailed the school and said, “We especially find the teachers’ morning videos comforting and reassuring. I see the anxiety in the house (mine included!) calming as soon as we all hear her voice! It makes them feel so connected and reassured when everything else is so uncertainty.”
Image: (From L to R) Lachlan Year 4, Anastasia Year 1, Jordyn Year 6, Emma Year 4 and Jessy Year 1
In the Senior School staff have been working so hard to deliver rich content and authentic connections with their classes. We are using our learning management platform, Schoolbox for teachers to upload work and for students to submit their work for correction and feedback. Teachers and students can also utilise the social stream and forum on Schoolbox to communicate with their students. Teachers have also started rolling out Google Meet, allowing staff to connect virtually with the class and be “seen and interact” with their students.
Staff are encouraged to connect with students on Google Meet for at least 20-30minutes at the start of each period to explain their expectations of the lesson and the content to be covered. We are constantly reviewing our practices and communicating daily with our staff through Google Meet devotion each morning and faculty/staff meetings on a regular basis. We are so impressed with the way staff have experimented with and embraced new technologies and have been so positive in adapting to the changes necessary to continue to provide excellence in teaching and connection.
Image: (From L to R) Samuel Year 7, Esme Year 8, Fraser Year 9 and Angus Year 7, Mia Year 8, Finn Year 7 and Ryley Year 10
There are of course many issues that will continue to arise. Remote learning is not just a simple matter of turning on video conferencing. We are all engaging in issues relating to technology, concentration, the cabin fever of parents working from home, all the while dealing with our own emotions and personal challenges. This generation are certainly going to be the most resilient the School has ever produced! And as novelty wears off the bigger picture of mental health and isolation is something we are all going to need to address. We have scheduled in devotions and physical activity breaks particularly for the younger learners, and doing our best to encourage mental health through the support of our wellbeing programs, staff and chaplains.
A critical part of staff culture is unity and gathering, so we still gather together (in our many staff meetings and regular morning devotions, singing and prayer) every morning through video conferencing to bring us all face to face in a virtual way. I expect ‘let’s zoom party’ or ‘google meet ya’ will soon become part of our modern day vernacular. It’s actually quite amusing seeing over a hundred staff engage in social chat like teenagers.
So Oxford Falls Grammar is going strong, albeit with significant changes for the time being. The staff are working. The children are learning. Children and staff might be dispersed physically for the moment, but we are still one as a community, and are going to keep on engaging with each other. The feedback so far from parents has been very positive.
But please pray for us as we settle in for the long haul, looking forward to the day we are back together (physically) as one great school.
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