Continuity of Teaching & Learning - an Education Centre perspective
When schools closed on March 12th, little did we realise that would be the last day the students would be in school for the 2019-2020 school year. The intervening period has brought change, uncertainty and anxiety to school leaders, teachers, students and their families. What has been most significant however about this period of change has been the extraordinary efforts made by teachers and school leaders to embrace technology and online digital solutions to connect with students and to provide for continuity of learning. Education centres have played their role in this. There was an immediate rush to collate resources, to source links and to communicate these to students to ensure that learning could continue. This initial period of time was transformative in the generosity of teachers to share their resources with each other, to collaborate with each other and to communicate these resources with their students. Education Support Centres provided training for teachers in platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, Seesaw, Edmodo etc. The most fundamental change however was the provision of training in the use of conferencing software such as Zoom. Thousands of teachers attended webinars on how to use them and subsequently webinars on how to use other platforms which were delivered on Zoom. Education Support Centres conducted needs analyses with teachers in their regions and a broad spectrum of professional development was organised in response to the prioritised needs. The demand from teachers for this professional development was insatiable with webinars repeatedly booking out and waiting lists becoming the norm. It is an extraordinary highlight of the response of Irish teachers to Covid19 that they embraced online learning so enthusiastically and invested their personal time so willingly in upskilling themselves to connect online, to deliver recorded lessons online and to engage in live teaching online. It is extremely unlikely that any school's Digital Learning Plan ever envisaged the extent to which teachers have now embraced and implemented online learning.
Our teachers are role models for their students, demonstrating that they are first and foremost learners, and through their level of care and concern that they have so enthusiastically embraced changes in their methodologies and upskilled themselves to meet the needs of their learners, rooted in the context of where their learners are at. History will reflect that this has been a transformative period in Irish education and that the teachers of Ireland significantly enhanced their rich reputations in responding to the challenges of COVID-19. From a personal perspective, this has been an extraordinarily busy few months but extremely rewarding in being able to meet the needs of teachers and schools, to be able to provide professional development opportunities for them and to appreciate at first hand the efforts they have made in their own personal and professional development.
Education is based on relationships and the success of online learning has been through those teachers who have endeavoured to connect with each other and connect with their students and with their school communities. Irrespective of the platforms and technologies used, the success of their use is dependent upon the quality of the relationship between teacher and student.
At a system level, school leaders need the connection with other leaders and with system leaders so that they can feel confident and empowered to be able to do their role to the best of their ability. This was very evident in the Principal WebMeets organised by Education Centres where the agenda was dictated by the needs of the participants and the predominant item on the agenda was that sense of connection with each other as principals sought the confidence to lead their staffs and school communities through the challenges posed by Covid19.
There continues to be uncertainty about the return to school. It can be said with confidence however that school leaders have learned to deal with adversity and lead through a crisis, that teachers have embraced new skills and experience in online learning, that school communities have worked together to provide for the needs of those who are disadvantaged. All these factors will stand to us and leave us in a much better position to face whatever challenges may come with the start of the new school year in September.
Ray McInerney is the current Director of Clare Education Centre and is on secondment as principal from Ennis National School in Ennis, Co. Clare.