What will become our new normal? As we begin to transition back to our physical campus over the coming weeks, I wonder what we will all take from this experience as learners? Teachers, students and families will never forget 2020 as the year when we had to learn from home. If we are fortunate enough to stick to the plan, our time in the Virtual Campus will be short lived compared to what we had planned for. This is of course a good thing, as we all appreciate more than ever that school offers so much more than just a place to fill our heads with content knowledge. We have made considerable efforts to acknowledge this during this time, as we have carefully considered all aspects of what makes a school a positive and productive place to be. I am seeing staff work harder than ever and students showing resilience, determination, enthusiasm, humour and kindness on a daily basis. We are doing what we set out to achieve; that is, to stay connected, positive and balanced at a time where it feels like uncertainty is all we can be certain of.
You will have no doubt been watching our social media posts and appreciating the story that is being told of all of these efforts from teachers and students alike. It is inspirational and, if we take nothing more from it than the pride that we feel as a community to be making this work, that would be enough. But, I know that we will take more away from this experience than just that. As learners, we have immersed ourselves in technology to make this happen. We have all become more proficient with our problem-solving skills, no matter where we entered as technology users. We have rapidly learnt to become more relaxed in the space of technical difficulty. Students who have had intermittent difficulty with internet connections have contacted their teachers, or messaged a friend to let them know that they are working on the problem and will join when they can. They have shown initiative, and determination to solve such problems and, while these may be seen simply as disruptions to learning, I would argue that they are lessons in themselves that will prove to be beneficial over time.
Our students have become more familiar with virtual interactions, both with their peers and teachers. They are learning important communication skills that are becoming more and more relevant to their lives outside of school. We appreciate that interacting with our digital world is exponentially becoming more entrenched into the fabric of our society. Our students are interacting daily with their friends, teachers and content in this digital space. They are managing to create and share work, both individually and collaboratively, without being in the same room as each other. As such, they are replicating how many business teams operate today. This involves skills of commitment, planning, communication, negotiation, time management and problem-solving. These skills are all being amplified and fast tracked as we continue in the Virtual Campus.
Our teachers have sought interesting and innovative ways to engage with their students. Through new technologies and ingenuity, we have managed to bring experiences that range from virtual athletics carnivals and virtual chapel services, to virtual playground spaces using Minecraft Education. Students have been provided with a wide range of activities that allow them to explore an interest or indeed a passion. Teachers have found new ways to assess student learning. Even the day-to-day task of marking work has been assisted in the Junior School by teachers using an iPad Pro to mark in excess of 150 student artefacts a day!
As we start to return to our physical campus, we will continue to mesh the required technologies that make learning accessible for all those who cannot make their return just yet. Web conferencing cameras will be used, allowing students in the Senior School the opportunity to Zoom into their lesson and actively take part in all aspects of their learning. Our Junior School, while not Zooming lessons, will continue to provide the required materials needed for those students who can’t make it back, to continue to be involved in their learning. Once again, we are embracing technology to create access to the learning. Skills and proficiencies that our teachers are gaining during this time allow us to keep an open mind in addressing how students can best access their learning remotely into the future, no matter what the circumstance.
These are just some of the observations that I have made during this time. While I, like everyone else, look forward to seeing us all return to learn on campus, I cannot help but acknowledge that we continue to grow together. While our greatest desire is to see us all remain safe and well, I have to acknowledge that I have seen some significant initiatives and skill development that we will continue to embrace well beyond our time within our Virtual Campus. We are firm in our resolution to be a stronger community for facing this situation with an open mind as one team.