As the generative effects of COVID-19 unfold across Australia’s education landscape, teachers supported by Teach For Australia have been working on the ground, leading and navigating through unprecedented challenges and opportunities in Australian schools. From avoiding a “snapback” mentality to the importance of careful preparation, we spoke to two teachers about how they’re working to provide their students with the quality learning experience they need to thrive in an ever-changing environment.
Adam is an alumnus of TFA’s Cohort 2015, where he taught maths and physics at Balga Senior High School in Perth’s northern suburbs. He is now Deputy Principal at Clarkson Community High School in outer-northern Perth, where he has also held the role of Head of Mathematics & Science. As restrictions are lifting and students are back at school, Adam and his colleagues are making time for some important reflection.
“The fact that WA has been less affected than other states in Australia has meant that hindsight might have come more quickly. In WA we are in an interesting position, while in other states and other countries are still very much under heavy restrictions. With restrictions being lifted here, we’ve felt like we have had a start and finish sort of experience, and a clear view of how the school and greater community have been impacted.”
One important learning was the major challenge the school faced with some students having limited access to technology for remote learning. “This included not having a computer, but also sometimes there would be five kids sharing one computer, which was challenging to manage in a single school day.” Clarkson Community High School met this challenge by allowing for synchronous and asynchronous learning. “We had a level of structure where parents are assisted to manage time allocations and expectations around learning, while at the same time, giving a level of much-needed flexibility.”
As the students have emerged from lockdown, Adam and his colleagues are determined to avoid a “snapback” mentality, where everything is expected to go back to normal. “One thing we have really noticed is the impact on the mental health of students – on a lot of kids, particularly kids from challenging backgrounds or with parents who may have heavily impacted or who work in healthcare. It is important for these kids to feel like they have a safe space, and the time to reintegrate slowly”.
Avoiding this “back to normal” mentality has also allowed Clarkson Community High to reflect on how to keep innovating in the classroom. “We know that what we did during the crisis time, a lot of positive things have come out of it – staff collaboration, a lot of team teaching where teachers worked together to deliver zoom lessons. This was really successful, and although we don’t usually use this method in classrooms, it made us realise that it could work. A lot of teachers who were resistant to new technology have also been able to upskill.”
Chris is a second-year associate at Numurkah Secondary College in Victoria teaching English and History and Coordinating VCE, who joined TFA because he wants to become a leader for change in his classroom, in the education system and the broader community. Chris and his colleagues are experiencing a very different context to Adam and his colleagues – as Victoria faces rising cases and tighter restrictions – but he’s comfortable with the success of the student’s remote learning during the first lockdown. He believes this can be greatly attributed to the careful planning and preparation.
“Our response was characterised by the preparation that we did over the holidays, responding proactively to the Premier’s updates we followed on Facebook. We held a series of opt-in collaboration sessions with staff over the holidays about learning the online platform we chose, and learning and sharing the best ways to use it. Before remote learning started for our senior kids, we did a week of preparation for them, from the learning platform, to study skills, to parent information sessions so that they were in the loop, and also surveyed some of our seniors to gauge their preparedness. We saw high levels of engagement during remote learning, which was awesome.”
As the situation unfolds across Australia, we’re continuing to collaborate closely with our Associates and alumni to discuss what we’ve seen, what we’ve learned, and how this will guide us into the future as we continue to strive to create an Australia where all children, regardless of their background or circumstances, attain an excellent education.