In the song ‘I believe in father Christmas’ by Greg Lake, he finishes with the line ‘the Christmas we get we deserve’. If Greg was right, anyone working in schools, should be in for a great Christmas! I don’t think many would disagree that this has been one of the most challenging terms we have experienced in our careers (and for some of us, that’s a long time). Despite this, as is always the case, we have risen to the challenge and made sure that our young people continue to thrive and feel safe and secure in our schools.
Usually at this time of year, I write a blog that signposts us to some of the best blogs from the year. As this year has been a bit different in so many ways, I thought I would do something different and try to tease out some of the positives from the past few months. What has 2020 shown us and how might it change what we do for the better?
Looking after each other
When we are going through difficult times, it becomes more important than ever to look after each other. This year, we have had to adapt to bubbles, new school-day times, teaching outside of our classrooms, moving around the school in between lessons and much, much more. In the same way that geese know how to work together and look after each other we have seen this exemplified by so many colleagues in school. Acts of kindness such as taking the time to check in on colleagues, helping them to move that pile of books and making them a cup of tea when they look exhausted will have made such a difference to colleagues and helped them through. So we need to keep ‘honking’!
In this paper by Kirschner, sweller and Clark, they make the case that ‘for novice learners (virtually most students), direct, explicit instruction is more effective and more efficient than partial guidance’. When this is translated into the classroom it means strong teacher explanation and modelling, punctuated with effective questioning and feedback, accompanied by periods of practice by the students. This is in contrast to pupils being required to discover many aspects of what they need to learn themselves.
‘Covid safe classrooms’ where students sit in rows and teachers are limited in their movement around the room, has encouraged teachers to adapt their teaching to a more direct explicit instruction approach. This is a good thing, as the evidence suggests that this approach to teaching is most likely to have a positive impact on learning.
We’ve always known that teachers are adaptable. We have to be, as we respond to so many complex interactions with children and adults every day. Covid has tested this to the maximum though and teachers have responded brilliantly. Who would have thought this time last year that year groups would be separated by bubbles, many teachers would no longer have their own classroom, all staff and students would be wearing face masks and hand washing sinks and sanitizer stations would be appearing all over our schools?
Renewed spotlight on socio-economic disadvantage
Marc Rowland describes students from a socio-economic disadvantaged background as the canaries in the coalmine. When things are bad in education, disadvantaged students are affected disproportionately compared to their more fortunate peers. This was supported in the summer by estimates from the EEF that the disadvantaged gap could widen by around 36%. The consequence of this has been leaders and teachers thinking with much greater clarity about addressing this gap, using evidence informed approaches. Rather than rushing into surface level, low impact interventions, schools are thinking deeply about how socio-economic disadvantage impacts the learning of their students and how this can be addressed through the day to day teaching that is happening in classrooms. This has to be the best way to address the stubborn challenge of socio-economic inequality.
The well-being of young people
During the first lockdown there was understandable concern about the impact it would have on student well-being. Evidence suggests that whilst of course there will have been cases of students struggling with the isolation of lockdown, generally speaking the well-being of students has remained relatively stable. This tends to confirm what we know about the majority of the young people that we teach – that they are incredibly resilient and will have supported each other well during these challenging times. I think we have seen this in our schools since students returned in September. They have come back calm and settled (mostly!), adapted well to the new routines and systems imposed by Covid and are just keen to be learning in classrooms again with their peers.
I think this goes without saying! Over the past few months teachers up and down the country have been on an exponential learning curve, as they got to grips with platforms such as Google Classroom, Loom and Zoom – to name but three. Evidence from the EEF has suggested that when it comes to remote learning, what matters more than the technology used, is how it is delivered:
“Ensuring the elements of effective teaching are present – for
example clear explanations, scaffolding and feedback – is more
important than how or when they are provided. There was no clear
difference between teaching in real time (“synchronous teaching”)
and alternatives (“asynchronous teaching”).”
As well as delivering online lessons, the world of education has also adapted by delivering remote CPD. Organisations such as researchED have hosted brilliant online conferences and the research school network and others have moved all their training online. Undoubtedly many of these new approaches will be maintained, post Covid. I look back on a number of meetings in the past that myself and others may have travelled for hours to attend and have thought, ‘why on earth didn’t we do that on Zoom?’.
So, I hope Mr Lake’s words come true and you do all have the Christmas you deserve. A restful, peaceful, healthy and happy one, spending time with your nearest and dearest – as much as is possible of course. We all deserve it.
See you all next year.