OPINION: What do we do when we don’t know what to do?
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OPINION: What do we do when we don’t know what to do?

As teachers, parents and students adapt to a new reality of home-based education, JCoSS head Patrick Moriarty offers advice and support.

Patrick Moriarty
Patrick Moriarty

Dear parents

I hope you will forgive my silence so far today, while families across the nation have been reeling from the demands of home schooling, on top of home working, social isolation, concerns about family, and more.

We fully intend to keep in regular contact with students and parents, but we have been doing some reeling of our own – whilst also trying to plan the provision for vulnerable students and the children of Key Workers and figure out how to provide for students in Years 11 and 13 who are unsure what they may or may not need to do, and when, to secure their exam results.

What do we do when we don’t know what to do?

My guess is that almost everyone has asked themselves a version of that question today.Whether the government advice is unclear, the internet is down, the videoconference app is unfamiliar, the parent or older sibling is hogging the laptop and/or the bandwidth, the volume of emails from worried parents and staff is overwhelming, the teacher’s instructions aren’t clear, the work is too hard or too easy, or the whole thing has simply sent us into a kind of paralysis…the situation is the same.

We hit a wall and cannot see a way over, under, around or through it.

Those are just some of the situations I have faced today as headteacher, parent or human being…and I am not able to offer magic solutions.I simply observe that the underlying question, ‘What do we do when we don’t know what to do?’, is right at the heart of what learning is.

All of us are struggling, the school included; but what we are also all doing is learning: we are confronting a totally new situation and trying to find ways forward.That is what learning is – we expect children to do it all day long, and now we are all having to do the same.They are seeing us adults flail around a fair bit, which is scary for everyone, but perhaps good for us too. It is said that babies often survive earthquakes better than adults…in the same way, we may find that our children can teach us a thing or two about learning and flourishing in this mad situation.

A few practicalities:

  • You are not alone if you are struggling.Whatever your frustrations with online learning, be assured that they are being reported across all schools and across the world.Your child is not being uniquely disadvantaged, and neither are you – even though it feels that way.
  • Please bear with us as we try to get our online curriculum less clunky.
  • Only one week ago, we got Microsoft Teams, which allows teachers to run virtual classrooms and videoconferencing.At least one lesson took place that way today. But teachers have had almost no time to learn how to do it.Some will find it easier than others, some have ten times more classes than others, some have children of their own at home, or vulnerable partners or parents to worry about…so the offer may be uneven for lots of reasons.
  • We know that your home IT is also uneven – the availability of broadband, computers, tech support and parental proficiency varies hugely.That is one reason why we are not proposing to do very much ‘live’ online teaching, where the gap between those who can access it and those who can’t is big.
  •  Our resources are focused in the first instance on Key Stage 4 and 5, Years 10 and 12, but also Years 11 and 13 if required.
  • There is even less likely to be live teaching in Years 7-9, at least until we get better at it.Any that there is will follow the timetable and you will have warning of it to help you plan.It will be recorded so that those who can’t join live can still see the content
  •  Your wider home circumstances are also uneven – the supply of physical space, adult patience, emotional capacity…versus the demands of aging parents, health concerns, pressurising jobs of your own.That will affect your ability to support your children.

We suggest the following

  • A routine is helpful for children (and indeed for all of us): some will want to follow a similar timetable to school, I suspect most will want a bit more flexibility…whatever works for you is ok.
  •  If you can’t manage any of the work just now – whether for technological, emotional, family or other reasons, that is ok. There is time – all too much of it, probably.
  •   For as long as we are all still allowed to be outside, frequent breaks and fresh air are helpful.
  •   We will continue our twice weekly ‘JCast – a brief “Thought for the Day” podcast on Mondays and Thursdays (I am grateful to Rachel Fink at JFS for the idea, some months ago!).Students are used to this in school, but now we will put it online so that the whole community can see it…and maybe some episodes will have video too.Students, even parents, might want to contribute!
  •  I have attached some advice from Jessica Overlander-Kaye our Wellbeing Practitioner on how to care for ourselves emotionally in the weeks ahead
  •     Check in with your children when you can – get them to tell you what they’ve learned, perhaps teach it to you.There’s lots of evidence that this conversation will do more for their learning than anything else.

At the weekend I attended a Shiva on Zoom, co-led a live-streamed Communion service on You Tube, and my parents (both in their late 80s) got to grips with Skype. Life is going on – and so is death, of course – but it is changing, probably forever and probably in some good ways.Please can we be kind and patient with each other – parents, children, students and teachers – as we all learn what to do when we don’t know what to do.

Thank you for the many kind messages of thanks and support you have sent, and I wish you, and all whom you love, good health in body, mind and spirit.

• Kindly reproduced courtesy of JCoSS.

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