345 days. Three hundred and forty-five days since the first lockdown in the UK. As we prepare to welcome children back to our schools, we are reflecting on the positives of remote learning. Even 365 days ago, who’d have thought we’d have to close schools?! Who’d have known we would be conducting our hourly register from our home office, kitchen or living room?

In a dystopian-style turn of events we saw our schools empty in a matter of days. No children, no teachers, no support staff. But did we stop educating? 

Did we heck.

We continued. Through strength, determination and resilience, we ensured our children were not left behind. We transitioned from bustling school corridors, chatty classrooms and chaotic lunch halls, to quiet and isolated online lessons, and we did so at pace. We were thrown in at the deep end, figuring it out simultaneously. There was no expert in pandemic remote learning to turn to for help – although who’s to say it won’t be an SLT (Senior Leadership Team) post next year!

Parents across the UK were spending more time homeschooling their children and teachers were receiving a newfound admiration for their career (and patience!). As human beings, it’s all too easy to get bogged down with the negatives of this new, unsolicited lifestyle. Focusing too heavily on the bad is detrimental to our mental health. We should also reflect on what we have learnt and identify the positives, for there are always silver linings.

Teachers across the UK are getting ready to steadily revert back to their face-to-face, traditional teaching methods. But we must be prepared that, for the foreseeable future at least, our virtual classrooms may be present in some form. That may be fully online, partly online or periodically online. With that in mind, let’s reflect and focus on the positive impacts we have seen from teaching remotely. 

Four positive impacts from remote learning

Positive #1: real-world preparation for a remote future

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work was becoming vastly more popular and widely acceptable for adults. With remote workingtechnology being significantly more accessible worldwide, adults have increasingly reaped the rewards of working from home over the past decade. It has made childcare easier, saved on commuting expenses and increased productivity by limiting distractions in the workplace.

Until a little under a year ago, it was largely an alien concept for the education of primary and secondary phase students in the UK to be provided remotely. Although a temporary solution, it has given children a taste of how their future may look in terms of remote working. Students are developing real-world experiences in online communication, IT skills and, perhaps most importantly, self-discipline. Although students have always had the biggest part to play in their educational success, not having to physically be in the classroom has meant that children are having to take more ownership of their studies in order to succeed. This ownership leads to the development of valuable life skills and self-discipline that will serve them well throughout their future careers.   

We asked Headteacher of Sheffield’s King Ecgbert secondary school and Leader of EdTechSheff , Paul Haigh, what kind of changes he has seen in his students. He commented: “Students’ IT skills have improved. The loss of the ICT curriculum means at the start many didn’t even know how to use email properly. They are now equipped with 21st century remote working skills that will support them in the workplace of the future. They are also more resilient and skilled at managing their own learning from home and using the technology to access it.” 

 

Positive #2: better understanding from remote lessons

student comprehension

We never want our children to feel embarrassed or fear not knowing the answer when asked a question. But how can we know they haven’t understood unless they are directly telling us that they don’t get it? You may end your lesson feeling it went very well. Everyone was engaged and seemed to respond positively, but are you really 100% sure that every single student gets it? 

Since teaching online and having the ability to use programmes such as Poll Everywhere, teachers have been able to get a much better understanding of their students’ comprehension levels. Anonymous polls and questions give teachers the insight they need to really know whether their students have grasped the lesson. Having access to this otherwise non-existent knowledge is the key to delivering succinct, informative and understandable lessons for all students. 

Once we return to the classroom, we must continue to reflect on the level of comprehension of our students. How can we incorporate anonymous question time in our in-person lessons in future?

Positive #3: improved behaviour management in remote lessons

well behaved childrenLess time spent trying to maintain order, more time learning. Historically, managing classroom behaviour has always been at the forefront of teaching challenges. It has been reported that time spent managing behaviour has largely reduced since teaching remotely. Aside from having the ability to mute students’ microphones, the lack of in-person interaction has reduced distraction and disruptions.  

Some teachers do find group work essential for their lessons and, of course, it’s important to develop children’s team working abilities. Fortunately, with programmes such as Google Groups, group work can be carried out efficiently, giving children the much-needed, time restrictive interaction with their peers, without disrupting the rest of the lesson. 

Reflecting on this, how can you take some of the lessons you have learnt with managing behaviour online back into the classroom? 

Positive #4: continuous professional development for teachers

online learningWe’re perhaps all a little guilty of being stuck in our ways when it comes to technology. There’s always a new platform or piece of software that claims to make our lives easier. But it certainly doesn’t always feel like that. The urgent need for virtual lessons has encouraged all teachers to step out of their comfort zones and immerse themselves in the tech world.  

Self-confessed technophobes have had no choice but to adapt and have taken on new platforms in a matter of weeks. In contrast to life pre-COVID, EdTech teachers have seen their colleagues embrace technological innovations. This has boosted their confidence and broken barriers to further online development.

We asked Paul Haigh whether the lockdowns and need for remote lessons will alter the approach to CPD next year. He said: “Yes, online CPD from the comfort of homes, with access to recordings afterwards, great speakers from other continents, Dylan Wiliam for example, and with ways to link up staff in different schools without travel and hosting logistics, means online CPD has a big role for the future. But we do miss face to face interaction so it won’t all be on Teams!”

These are just a handful of the positives we have stumbled across from remote learning, and there are many more. We’d love to hear more positives you have found during the pandemic. Whether they’re related to remote learning or your pandemic journey in general. Please do send your stories to info@southyorkshireteachinghub.org, or fill out a contact form so we can continue to spread positivity.