We were saddened to return to a hybrid model of learning after the October half term break, but realised that this was the best way for us to protect students, staff and the wider community from further risk of infection as positive cases continued to grow across the region.
The three-hour ‘live’ lesson in the mornings offers a number of benefits in terms of the amount of coverage of subject content, the intensity of the pace of learning, opportunities for students to work together and for teachers to give feedback, whilst at the same time creating a daily ‘bubble’ and thereby minimising close contacts.
A whole new vocabulary has grown up since the pandemic hit and it makes me wonder how long it will be until phrases such as “social distancing” and “self-isolation” are no longer in use. Hope is being held out in the form of a vaccine shortly being approved but what will be possible and permissible this Christmas remains greatly uncertain. My son works as an English teacher in Fujian province in China where after five months of strict lockdown (and no pay!) life has now returned to normal – at least for now.
One of the most difficult things about being a leader at this time is the lack of certainty about what is the best thing to do and the variety of opinions that are being expressed by staff, students, parents and residents. It has become an ordinary occurrence for the college’s senior leaders to receive consecutive messages with views which are diametrically opposed. For every person who thinks we should close the college for the safety of the wider community there is another person who thinks that to stop full-time classroom teaching would be a disgrace. It is hardly surprising that feelings are running high, but we will continue to act with integrity, doing what we believe is in the best interests of our students, staff and stakeholders.
Something that hasn’t changed in 2020 is the calibre of our students, their dedication to learning, appreciation of their teachers and enjoyment of socialising with one another. It has been extremely gratifying to see how thrilled the students were to come back to college and resume learning in the classroom. In the summer we asked students to complete a survey about their experience of learning during lockdown – what they liked and what they missed. Many students reported that the thing they missed most was interacting with their teachers, receiving feedback and guidance about their work there and then in the classroom. Microsoft Teams was frankly a godsend during the past months, but we are under no illusions that it can replace the richly textured experience that takes place in a ‘live’ lesson.
Believe me when I say that we look forward with great anticipation to getting back to full-time classroom learning as soon as ever is safely possible.