With school closures a feature of life in the past year, the question has been – how can we provide the most professional online learning product? As a new school with only first years and second years, we have been in the perfect position to develop a prototype for online learning – a prototype that allows us to keep education going!
In terms of our journey with online education, we were the same as everyone else last March when the first closure was announced – we had little experience of online education. We decided back then to take as progressive an attitude as possible in working online and looked at the possibility of providing students with live classes.
This involved training staff and building confidence in a form of teaching way outside everyone’s comfort zones at the time. We developed protocols for teachers and students and organised a normal timetable.
As skills and confidence grew, we were able to introduce new initiatives: (a) an online ASD class for ASD students; (b) an SNA support plan using breakaway rooms in Microsoft Teams; (c) a system for tracking and working with students struggling to engage; (e) a homework club; (f) wellbeing initiatives such as assemblies, student of the month awards & online chess competitions; (g) a full set of online exams for the summer; (h) invitation days [for the incoming first years to attend classes for a day; for the Board of Management to see how the online school functioned; for parents to join classes and meet the teachers]. School ran as normal every day and teachers and students settled into the new routines.
In September, when the school reopened, we decided that we wanted to hold onto this expertise and ran a training day in November to prepare for any future closures that might happen. We trained all new teachers and students into our system and now we are perfectly placed as a school to deal with the new school closure happening in January. The staff at ETSS Wicklow will run a fully functional virtual school during this school closure – the entire timetable, online! Of course, there are challenges to think about such as how we can work best with practical subjects, but teachers are showing great creativity in this regard and students have brought plenty of resources home to help improve the quality of their practical classes.
The core points of our online learning plan are:
- provide training for teachers so that they are comfortable delivering online classes and are up to date with the best apps
- provide training for students so that they know how to work with the platforms and apps and get the best out of them
- think through methodology carefully – plans can include practical off-screen activities for sections of the class
- develop protocols for teachers and students on best practice for online learning
- develop protocols to help improve situations where students are not engaging
- take elements of the online school back into practice when the school reopens (e.g. the use of Microsoft Teams assists real life classroom management perfectly)
We are proud to be pioneers in this new and challenging era and to be able keep everyone’s routine as close to normal in an extraordinary time. Everyone at ETSS Wicklow is committed to making the most of this opportunity to work with an emerging educational model and it may well be that what is happening now will lead to changes in the way education works in years to come – ETSS Wicklow students will be ready!
*Wicklow Educate Together Secondary School
Visit the school website: www.etsswicklow.ie
Find Wicklow ETSS on Twitter: @ETSSWicklow
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