Silver lining to COVID cloud

Learning from home has irrevocably changed Warilla North Public School, its students and the school’s relationship with its community.

Image: Warilla North Public School students show off their new laptops with principal Nicole Riley.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close their physical classrooms, Warilla North Public School principal Nicole Riley quickly realised she had a problem.

With many students facing issues around internet and device access at home, Mrs Riley decided to provide every one of the school’s 165 students with a school-owned laptop.

"I did this because we want equality in education. I wanted everyone to have exactly the same,” Mrs Riley said at the time.

Fast track three months and that decision has paid off in terms of academic engagement, community outreach and rethinking learning and teaching at the school.

“Throughout the at-home learning time we were able to create a strong connection with not just students but family members," Ms Riley said.

Teachers created explicit video lessons that were uploaded and expectations around behaviour were maintained during the Zoom classes.

Mrs Riley said this gave parents and carers the opportunity to learn along with their children and supported parents to be consistent at home with the school’s behaviour procedures and language.

“Teachers have raised their expectations of students as we found more work being submitted than we ever had before,” she said.

“Technology has given us a chance to get ‘back in the game’ and we are experiencing real success in student growth across literacy and numeracy which is giving the whole school community a real boost.”

Teacher Lyndal Hayward said she was now using technology in the classroom on a daily basis.

“Students as young as Kindergarten have learned to log in and navigate webpages such as Reading Eggs plus they are able to record their own reading, writing and speaking and submit it directly to the teacher for feedback,” she said.

“Remote teaching and learning changed my practice by forcing me to be more direct with instruction and inventive in setting independent tasks that students could complete with very little materials at home,” Ms Hayward said.

“It has shown me that we need very little in the way of resources and materials for students to learn.”

An added benefit of online learning was that parents and families of Warilla North Public students were able to gain insight into the teaching and learning process and learn ideas to support their children at home.

“For many of our families this was the first time they had been involved in a hands-on way in schooling and it has very much become a team effort for our students,” Ms Hayward said.

Fellow teacher Rebecca Gavin agreed that learning from home had brought the school community together.

“The connection with our kids at home was fantastic,” she said.

“I think that we really solidified the school's relationship with our community. Parents were able to be involved in lessons and we were able to provide support to both parents and kids.”

Ms Gavin said teachers had also noticed strong improvements in students’ problem solving and independent work ethic since they had returned to the classrooms.

The availability of laptops for every student meant teachers could set individualised work for students and give them instant feedback.

“We've also seen a positive impact on behaviour, with continuity between remote learning and the return to school,” she said.

Ms Riley said the school had also utilised the technology to help transition students back to the school by doing whole-school virtual mindfulness, reading and fitness lessons in classrooms.

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