The past few weeks have been an incredibly challenging time for the whole country, as the Coronavirus pandemic has seen us all have to dramatically adapt our daily lives. Schools have been forced to close to the vast majority of pupils and school leaders have needed to react quickly to find new ways of learning. At Durrington High School the past two weeks have proved a great success with students across all year groups engaged and motivated as they learn from their homes, thanks to our fantastic distance learning approach.
Shaun Allison, Head of School Improvement, explains, ‘During this period of closure we were determined to ensure that we maintained the high-quality learning experience that our students deserve – albeit from a distance.’ To achieve this the school has implemented Google Classroom which was set up by the school’s IT services team before the school closed. Alongside the technical set up, some very hasty training was put in place for all teachers, focusing on distance teaching using Google Classroom. Students were also given guidance on using the app during tutor time.
Despite the short time frame for preparation, thanks to hard work and a fantastic team approach the school was ready to launch on the first day of school closure. The great advantage of Google Classroom is that it replicates the normal school day; when students log in at home the classes and lessons that they would normally have on their timetables are shown. Teachers are online at the same time the physical lesson would be taking place, setting the work and asking and answering questions in a similar way to how they do during a normal lesson.
Shaun Allison says, ‘Rather than just simply setting work for students to complete, we are trying to fully embrace the idea of ‘distance teaching’. As one of only 32 research schools in the country, we have made sure that everything we know about effective teaching is still being implemented, just at a distance. A number of teachers are recording ‘Loom Videos’ to explain key ideas for students to use during lessons, to replace the traditional ‘teacher at the board.’ Executive Headteacher Sue Marooney adds, ‘We feel the best way to keep students learning and engaged with school is by keeping our routines, contact and communication as stable as possible. This is why we have adopted this approach. Our teachers are fully committed to supporting our children through a thorough programme of distance learning so that when we do return to school they are in the best possible position.’
Staff and students have responded to this new way of working brilliantly and parents/carers have been very supportive, with many praising the school via email and on social media with comments such as, ‘’Just a big thank you to the school for keeping our children in education. Keeping to the school timetable keeps the children with some familiarity.’, ‘Day 3 of home schooling and I haven’t had to do a thing at home. Google Classroom has been great. It is so reassuring knowing our children are still getting an education. Thank you Durrington for being so proactive. You’re not only supporting the children but taking the pressure off the parents as well.’ And ’Well done DHS – engaging learning and so good for them to have structure to their day in such crazy times. ‘
Alongside the distance learning there is a robust programme in place designed to support the wellbeing of all students during this period of prolonged isolation. The wellbeing team are available via email and telephone, including counselling sessions, alongside dedicated wellbeing and safeguarding Google Classrooms. There is regular communication with students via video message and letters to highlight key ways to look after their wellbeing, encouraging them to keep to a structure, explore breathing exercises/meditation, connect virtually with friends, be kind and take part in physical activity.
Each week a new mental and physical challenge is set for students and staff. The weekly challenge encourages all students to have a go at something different. The first week saw many students attempting to create an origami swan and complete as many ‘keepy uppies’ as they could with a toilet roll! The school’s social media channels are also helping to keep the school community alive; during the past two weeks they have been bursting with evidence of excellent distance learning and photos of home learning set ups – this can be viewed using the #DHSDistanceLearning hashtag. The weekly challenge attempts are also shared via Facebook and Twitter which helps the school community to ‘see’ each other and offer support and encouragement.
Chris Woodcock, Head of School, says, ‘It is so important to keep in touch with our school community during this uncertain time. As a school we are incredibly supportive of one another and very much have a ‘Team Durrington’ approach. We are very aware of how isolating this situation can be for our staff, students and their families and want to offer all the support we can to get through this difficult time. We do not know how long this period of closure will last for, but we do know that at Durrington High School we will continue to adapt as needed, putting our students first and focusing on our core values of kindness, aspiration, perseverance and pride. And of course, we very much look forward to when we can welcome our students back to the school building when it is safe to do so.’