As the world races to find a cure for COVID-19, Victorian teachers are fighting a battle of their own.
The ever-evolving phases of the pandemic meant that educators are continuously changing their pedagogy. Teachers had to transition from face-to-face teaching to remote instruction in Term 2. We thought it was over by the school holidays. We thought we could sustain the new normal routine. The virus misled us. Its deceitful nature drove our health authorities and education ministers to plan a more flexible and safer online approach to learning during the Stage 4 lockdown. Thus, Remote Learning (RL) 2.0 was born.
On the surface, it seemed easy. Yes, teachers are resilient and students are highly adaptable to changes. But reshaping the curriculum and making it work in the digital world is proving to be a challenge. While teachers know that catering for the academic and well-being needs of the students is paramount to effective education, building stronger relationships with the students and their families is what will help us survive the next few months.
Four Filipino-Australian Victorian teachers from independent, government and specialist schools discuss the reality of being at the forefront of this battle. Catherine Yap, Glenn Gallego, Joan Ocampo and Charisse Garcia give us a glimpse of what it is to be Victorian teachers of 2020.
Can you compare Remote Learning 1 (RL 1) to Remote Learning 2 (RL 2)?
Catherine: RL 1 was “learn as you go” while RL 2 was “now I know what to do and I’m prepared this time, let’s do this kind of circumstance’’. Flexibility was important to adapt to significant changes.
Glenn: Both R1 and R2 had their positives and challenges. Everyone was new to online learning and teaching. However, there was an enthusiasm to work or learn from home. During R2, the excitement was gone and monotony kicked in.
Joan: RL 1 in our school setting was more of a learning opportunity for both teachers and students. RL 2, I should say, was more of reassuring families and students that this set up is temporary and we will go back to face-to-face learning. Participation of students and families in remote learning this term was lesser compared to term 2. I think the parents of my students were more concerned about keeping their child’s well-being.
Charisse: Everyone was thrown in at a deep end during R1. Although I am equipped with the digital skills to transform direct instruction to remote teaching, R1 was overwhelming. The first two lessons made me realise that I should settle to the ‘less is more’ approach to deal with the background and abilities of my students. With R2, I was more prepared and more creative with my lesson delivery.
What were the demands of both situations? How were you able to cope with the challenges of remote teaching?
Catherine: In both settings, it was difficult for my students and myself to adjust to a new kind of learning with insufficient materials at home. I had to keep in mind the family dynamics. There were families who needed to share gadgets at home because they have siblings who also had to complete online tasks. During R2, I was more organised and knew which students had to have their works sent to their homes.
I missed being in the classroom setting where I can see if my lessons were effective based on my student’s immediate feedback and their facial expressions. The sleepless nights and the random moments when I posted an online module and it randomly disappeared; these were some of the challenges I had in both contexts. I was able to cope with the challenges through establishing a good routine at home.
Glenn: The fact that I wasn’t able to see my students directly to assist them was challenging. Sometimes, having to follow up unsubmitted works online and to virtually collaborate with my colleagues had their own challenges. For me to be able to deal with the challenges, I had a good routine. I set aside time for my family and work. I followed the 8-8-8 rule of work, sleep and leisure—having a good sleep at night, good food and proper exercise in between work.
Joan: Being new to the Victorian system this year, I had no option but to fast track my learning. I was fortunate to adjust to the new curriculum, routines and procedures before we went to lockdown.
Coping with remote learning added another layer to the new challenges I faced this year. Creativity and innovation were essential tools to make RL effective. Scaffolding and structured planning to make the lessons not just visually motivating but more importantly tailor fit to students’ needs across all abilities were huge tasks. Although I received professional learning opportunities and team support, it was still up to me how I can modify and differentiate my lessons.
Having empathy with the students helped me cope with RL 1 and 2 and putting myself into their shoes served as my guide on how to make this type of learning authentic and beneficial for them.
Charisse: Because I wanted my lessons to be delivered explicitly and interactively, sometimes I had sleepless nights editing my mini-lessons. Having high expectations for my students demanded better engagement during live conferences. Although I planned ahead, there were technical issues I had to troubleshoot myself. Spontaneity, creativity and flexibility were my friends during remote teaching.
It was also challenging to do Zoom sessions every day. I also had to follow up on incomplete work through phone calls and at the same time modify my lessons to adjust to my students’ needs. I was able to cope with the demands of working from home by doing simple leisures for my well-being.
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Which teaching strategies have worked well during your online teaching? What were the digital apps that you used to make your instruction more effective?
Catherine: For my lesson plans, I always put in KUBA (Knowledge, Understand, Be able to) so the students knew what to expect to learn in the lesson and how to practice it.
In primary school, we used Languagenut, Matific and Essential Assessments. I also used Loom, Kahootz and YouTube. I uploaded some of my instructional videos on YouTubes for my students. We used Microsoft Teams to teach from Year 3 onwards but posted our work on Seesaw.
Glenn: I set goals, learning outcomes and success criteria so all students know the expected result from them. I planned lessons with my colleagues.
However, I also consulted with my students; hence they took ownership of their learning. I injected lots of thinking routines and collaborative activities. I ensured I gave regular feedback for accountability.
We used Microsoft (MS) Teams for our virtual classroom but SEQTA as our teaching and learning platform. We also used Google Products for collaboration and submitting tasks.
As with the digital apps, I mainly used Mathletics and Oxford Maths and Stile for Science. I also used Youtube and Clickview, To Know Worship and Love Digital for RE.
Joan: I used the HITS (High Impact Teaching Strategies) through scaffolding the lesson by sequencing and linking what they know with what they will learn. New contents were explicitly introduced and explained either through a video presentation/recording/conference or examples. High-level students were given extension activities and individualised interventions were given for low-level students through video.
Some of the digital apps I used were Book Creator, Freckle, Proloquo2go, Kodabl, iESLp, Padlet and even Minecraft. Our school used Microsoft Teams, Slack, Loom, Webex and Compass as the digital platform.
Charisse: Our school uses the ‘I do, we do, you do’ teaching approach. I used explicit and scaffolding teaching strategies when I explained the expected tasks to be completed for the day. I also differentiated my resources, texts and assessments to cater to the learning levels of my students.
Some of the digital apps I used were Jamboard, Word Work mat, Active Inspire, Kahoot, Imovie, Decodable readers and EPIC. I used Zoom, WebEx, Compass and Google Classroom as the digital platform.
How did you integrate mindfulness, values, and resilience to your daily lessons?
Catherine: As a specialist teacher, I often found myself splitting my lesson plan into two, depending on the activity. Students who had Individual Learning Plans completed activities that were achievable to complete at their own level, compared to the rest of the class. It’s very important to know my students well enough to make this judgement.
Glenn: For mindfulness, we did the Daily Examen. We reviewed the day and reflected on things we were grateful for and also explored how God has been present in our lives. For values and resilience, we had the Character Strengths Program focusing on our gifts and what we do best and how we can share them for the betterment of the community.
On top of these, I targeted well-being incidentally; during homeroom, class lunch and recess. Where it was necessary, I responded.
Joan: I had weekly lessons about the States of Regulation and provided students with coping strategies to keep themselves calm by being aware of their feelings and emotions. I embedded mindfulness activities weekly and encouraged the students to do activities with their families at home. I collaborated with our school’s Allied Health professionals to intensify well-being activities that helped improve students’ engagement, positive behaviour and resilience.
Charisse: I had three focus groups via Zoom sessions every day and these gave me more opportunity to discuss things with the students beyond the lesson. I integrated expressing one’s emotions and feelings as the central theme of the texts that we read.
To develop their mindfulness, I planned activities that took their time off the screen. I included Music, Physical activities, Arts, Numeracy and Science to my learning resources. During my daily Zoom sessions, I always began with short conversations (e.g. Grateful Mondays, Show and Tell Tuesdays and Celebrating Achievements Fridays).
For values integration, I always acknowledged the students’ works no matter how big or small. I ensured that I always apply the school values in my daily lessons.
How has RL 1 and 2 changed your teaching philosophy? What’s your take away from all of this? How has your 2020 teaching experience shaped your teaching career? What will you change and/or continue in the future?
Catherine: I empathised more with the students more than ever. Moving forward, it’s important to just have a conversation with the students before starting the lesson as the school will never be the same again.
Glenn: It strengthened my teaching philosophy; students learn best when they are happy, safe and valued. I listened to them and responded to their needs. It is pointless to teach the curriculum content if the students feel overwhelmed. It is important to listen to students.
Joan: Living the “moment”. I believe RL 1 and 2 made me realise the value of being with my students at this moment and to value and cherish what I have and who I have.
There have been lots of sad and negative things that I can think of as the result of this pandemic but as teachers, we are here to offer hope and encouragement that there is light at the end of the tunnel. R1 and 2 challenged me not just to think about my own stress or anxiety and how to deliver my lessons online but more importantly how can I be able to show more empathy, compassion and concern with my students and their families beyond the screen.
Being a teacher, I am not only after improving my students’ academic skills but also their social and emotional skills for them to learn how to cope with this pandemic and get them to the other side. As what we always hear, ‘We’re all in this together’.
Remote learning gave me this opportunity to allow my students to believe in this saying and I am just a screen away. I am here for them not just to make them learn but I do really care and value them.
Charisse: I learned that it is not the lesson design or the best apps that make learning effective. At the end of the day, the students felt my genuine concern for their learning and well-being just by being there for them through Zoom sessions, posting feedback or phone calls. By encouraging them and acknowledging even their tiniest accomplishments, they demonstrated their learning more than what was expected.
I also realised that collaboration between teachers, students and families played an integral role in the success of remote teaching across all schools. There is no single approach how to make it work.
Getting to know our teachers
Catherine has been teaching since 2013. Maths and Science are her fields of expertise. She worked at government schools. She has been teaching at an independent school since 2015. She also taught Filipino, Italian and RAVE (Religion and Values Education) in Primary and Secondary. She has a Certificate IV in Community Languages. This year, she is teaching at a Primary School.
Glenn has been teaching since 2012. He was a Year 6 homeroom teacher when he started teaching. The following year, he worked at a boarding house. He held a couple of key positions in the College as head of RE for Junior School and assistant head of the boarding house for Senior School. He is currently working as a Year 6 teacher while completing his M.Ed in Student Well-being.
Joan started teaching in 1998 as a private secondary school science teacher and was an Assistant Principal a year after. She moved to an international school in 2005 and worked as a School Principal then as a School Directress. She began her teaching in Australia as an ITAS (Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme) tutor at a Catholic boarding school in Darwin NT in 2008. She finished her Master’s degree (Education and Public Governance) and was offered to teach as a science specialist in a public middle school. For 10 years, she worked at special needs school for middle and senior students in Darwin. Currently, she is working in Melbourne at a special needs school at Hoppers Crossing.
Charisse has been an early childhood educator since 2011. She worked with different age groups up to kindergarten in several pre-school settings. She completed her post-graduate studies in Teaching EAL and finishing her Master’s Degree in Melbourne. She teaches English Intervention to primary school students. 2020 is her first year of teaching in a primary school setting.
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