Transcript of Learning from home – one school's journey

Donna Deehan – Welcome to the Early Learning Matters podcast series. My name is Donna Deehan and I am the Transition Advisor in the Early Learning team. Today I’m chatting with the Rosehill Public School preschool team, and we are going to have a look at how the team have moved into a remote teaching space and kept their connections and learning strong with their preschool children and community.

So today we welcome today Tony, the school principal; Jennifer, the preschool supervisor; and Emily and Maria, the preschool teachers. So thanks so much for joining me today - I’ve been really impressed with your posts on Twitter and the resources that you’ve been uploading to the statewide staffroom. You seem to be adapting quite well to the remote teaching situation.

So Emily and Maria, I’ll just start with you – when the situation changed, what was one of the first things you considered, or put into place, as the next move forward?

Emily Crews – We were so lucky to already have had our parents on SeeSaw as a means of communication, for sharing of daily learning. We sent out access codes for the add on of Seesaw class so the children could share their learning directly to us. We sent out a matrix of learning experience ideas so the children could develop in the areas of creative arts, construction, literacy, numeracy, dramatic play and fine motor and gross motor development. We suggested learning experiences that were play-based and at a capacity to be completed in a home environment, such as baking in the kitchen, hanging washing on the line and dressing up in mum or dad’s old clothes.

Maria Lazarro – We also sent a guide for a daily routine for the children to follow while learning from home. We advised a mix of play-based learning and matrix activities which we will talk about soon. We also encouraged things like maintaining healthy food choices and even asked children to share photos with us of their healthy food choices at home so we could keep consistency at home to what we do at preschool.

Donna Deehan – Oh that’s great thanks, I’ve seen some of your matrix’s and learning experiences up on the resources in the statewide staffroom. They’re great.

Thanks girls, so Jennifer and Tony, what was your role in those beginning days? How did you adjust your staff to support the preschool with remote teaching?

Tony D’Amore – So we met with stakeholders P-6 to develop a whole school plan which involved a short term plan and a medium-term plan. The short term plan involving Term 1 and the medium-term plan was for Term 2. In terms of a long term plan, we hope the long term plan is in Term 2 returning to school, but we’ll see how we are going.

We identified the two main home learning platforms that we wanted to use, that being Seesaw for P-2 and Google Classroom 3-6 as well as zoom and Adobe Connect when applicable as well across the school. The Preschool team then worked together on what that would look like for them. For example, Seesaw was already being used but a plan was formed to take the use of this platform by the educators to a whole new level. The team commenced making videos immediately which consisted of stories and songs and it has rapidly evolved from there. I’ve been particularly impressed with the way the educators have been able to connect with their students and provide consistent and regular feedback on their learning and we have received some excellent feedback from our families on this.

As a whole school we communicated to our parents thoroughly through the school eNews app and seesaw on what our learning would look for the children and quickly identified the staff P-6 who might have been maybe at risk and needed to work from home, and this then evolved into a rotating work from home roster indeed for all staff after implementation. Distance learning protocols were created for parents, students and staff and this has been shared with the whole school community. In addition to this, we have developed a detailed roles and responsibilities document for staff, to ensure a consistent approach across P-6.

Jennifer Cenk – So after we developed the Whole School Plan, together with the preschool team, we developed a specific preschool plan, a short term plan to take us through to the end of Term 1 and then our medium-term plan moving into Term 2.

Look we all worked hard on writing the plans and sharing and gathering resources, we participated in professional learning, while some of us were working from home and some working on-site at school. The use of Google Docs was vital I think in working together to develop our plans.

In the first week, we communicated with our parents with the information they needed on how they were going to continue preschool learning remotely.

We developed a roster, as Tony was saying about the different staff working on-site and working from home, but we developed the protocols that we sent home to the parents about the distant learning and the use of technology which we thought was very important, so they are all understanding the different protocols.

Educator’s expectations of what it’s like to work from and home and what it’s like to work on site, because things are very different with less children. We developed that and we are currently working on a preschool expectation document in regards to programming, communicating with parents and providing feedback, so we know specifically what everyone’s exact role is.

We are also collaborating at the moment to develop a Planning and assessing learning remotely local procedure.

We regularly communicate through Zoom or Adobe Connect – within these connections we check up on the teachers and educators’ wellbeing, which is really important to be making sure that we are all on the same page and how everyone is feeling through this process is really important to be supportive, and we’ve been very supportive of each other.

Donna Deehan – Yeah, that’s wonderful Jennifer. It’s so important isn’t it, to keep everyone well and organised and keep checking in.

Tony, as the principal and nominated supervisor, how did you support and guide this process of moving to online for the preschool?

Tony D’Amore – Jennifer and I and indeed the whole preschool team have been able to continue to work closely together even though we haven’t been on-site together. Clear transparent communication is so important at all times but even more during these times. We meet daily through forums such as phone, FaceTime, Zoom and Adobe Connect, where we connect and touching base on where we are at as a team, how we’re are going with things, we discuss issues and brainstorm solutions together.

I find the educators have been extremely proactive at keeping Jennifer and I in the loop and giving us the opportunity to add extra value to their work. In addition to this, team meetings are still being held at least once a week and actually even more regularly when required during this unprecedented time. We regularly visit the team in person and connect down there at the preschool too, as we normally would when we are both working on site, even though there has been no or very little children present in person on-site, we still make sure we get down there in person and connect with the educators so they don’t feel isolated. I have also included the educators in a lot of the information that has been sent out to Principals as well, from Murat and Mark Scott. They’ve sent a lot of information out to principals. I have made sure that I’ve shared this information so educators can access this firsthand as well. I have also ensured that Jennifer and the executive time, and our school technology coordinator are present at the webinars as well, that Mark Scott and Murat have coordinated.

Donna Deehan – Thanks Tony.

So Emily and Maria, can you tell us what is happening right now within your program? You have got such amazing tools and your weekly matrix with choice for parents. So what would yesterday or today look like in your situation for preschool now?

Emily Crews – We start our daily educational program by sending the children a good morning video via seesaw. We film these videos whether we are working on-site or working from home, so the children are aware of where we are when we are not at preschool. We usually discuss the weather with the children, we sing our usual day of the week song. We also ask the children a question.

For example, this week as a part of our Harmony Day celebrations, I asked my class how they count to 5 in their home language. Both my SLSO and myself gave an example of counting to 5 in our home languages. After watching the morning message, the children respond with a voice comment to the video saying good morning and answering the question that’s been asked for that day. So this week they’ve been sending them counting to 5 in their home language.

We’ve noticed that this exercise has increased their confidence to speak, especially for our children who are reluctant to speak at preschool or are from a non-English speaking background.

We use a feature on Seesaw that allows us to send out learning experiences as tasks to the children. We usually post 3-4 learning experiences a day for the children to complete and these include fundamental movement skill games, art and craft ideas and videos of us reading stories to the children.

I’m sure Maria can speak about more specific examples of learning experiences we have shared, also our distance learning matrix and our modified preschool routine for distance learning.

Maria Lazzaro – Thanks Emily. We sent out a matrix of learning experiences ideas so children could continue to develop at home in areas of creative arts, construction, literacy, numeracy, dramatic play, fine motor and gross motor development. It is all choice based to give the families a range of ways to support learning at home. For areas like fine motor we are encouraging peg activities, threading pasta or small objects, using tongs to pick up objects. We sent some playdough home in our take-home pack, so we promoted using that with safe kitchen tools. For creative arts we’re encouraging construction from recycled packaging they might have at home or any Lego or blocks, any building materials. We’re promoting gross motor, sending munch and move tutorials on developing fundamental movement skills, and then the children can send us a video back of themselves practicing those fundamental movement skills. And we’re just trying to set activities based on what we think the children can access in the home environment.

Donna Deehan – So how are you receiving and recording that feedback from families, against the outcomes?

Emily Crews – So our families can send us photos and videos of their children engaging in the learning experiences that we share with them as part of the program, as well as other spontaneous experiences they have engaged in. These items that they send us are categorised on the SeeSaw app, into an individual folder for each child.

We are currently working on utilising a feature on SeeSaw that allows us to classify children’s work samples against the outcomes from the Early Years Learning Framework.

We are also engaging in some critical reflection on how we can prepare questions for parents to answer via seesaw in regards to their child’s participation in a learning experience. So for example, how their child is developing their pencil control and ability to write their name.

As a team we are also continuing to critically reflect on how we can utilise all the data the parents are sending us and the work samples we receive to write learning stories and summative assessments on each child as a part of our medium-term plan.

Maria Lazzaro – We have also set up a weekly tracking sheet so we can monitor individual participation. If we see that a child is not participating we are sending an inbox to the parents on Seesaw first so we can contact them directly there. If that’s not really working, we’ve been following up with a phone call to the parents just to see how they are tracking at home or what their personal situation might be.

Donna Deehan – Are you able to log in, or access, the online teaching program?

Jennifer Cenk – Yes Donna, we have created a shared Google drive for the preschool team to upload our weekly plans and the matrix activities that Maria was talking about, as well as all the resources that we are using for our online learning, distance learning.

We do communicate through there, all our communication with parents go on there related to distance learning. I have access to the Seesaw class, which is really good to view the teacher’s videos, activity posts and see what the children have been sharing in response to them.

I also contribute some videos myself that the educators upload, which greetings, thanking the parents for their support, wishing them well and a safe holiday. I can also provide voice response feedback to the children about their learning.

Donna Deehan – Tony or Jennifer, have you thought about where this will go in your strengths in Quality Area 1 and 6 in your QIP?

Jennifer Cenk – Yeah, we believe that our distance learning teaching strategies that we’ve put in place would definitely be a strength in our Quality Area 1. We have really tried hard to continue the best of our ability to really follow our normal preschool program. For example, Emily mentioned before about response to Harmony Day.

We had already planned Harmony day activities and Easter activities and we continued these through SeeSaw. Our medium-term plan which goes into next term, will support even further the planning cycle with consistent documentation of observations and analysis of the learning to support children to achieve the outcomes of the EYLF. We will be seeking child interests to further implement learning plans and individual goals for children to work on while they are at home.

In relation to QA6, look our families are supported, respected and valued in their decision making for their child and ability to engage in remote learning. We believe that the journey we’ve taken so far and will continue to take has allowed us to engage meaningfully with families and we will be adding strengths to our quality improvement plan for areas 6.1 and 6.2.

Donna Deehan – So were there any issues or challenges with families accessing the internet or computers, or any challenges and if there were, what did you do as a school to overcome them?

Jennifer Cenk – We had a whole school strategy to overcome this. We began with a survey on what technology parents had available and if they had internet access at home. We have loaned a few devices to families in the big school. We haven’t had to that with our preschool families yet. Our educators in preschool have provided support to our families with the use of SeeSaw Class.

Tony D’Amaro –The preschool team also made up and distributed packs for the community which complements online component to take the pressure off in regards to the technology burden, or possible technology burden on parents. The packs included things such as playdough, coloured paper, craft activities, charts with letters and numbers, Easter activities, each child’s name in foundation print, just to name a few.

Donna Deehan – Emily and Maria, can you fill us in on some of your challenges or big learning curves you found? And perhaps what you did to overcome them?

Emily Crews – I had some challenges with families in my class that come from a non-English speaking background and may not be as confident in using technology, sort of similar to what Jennifer was saying. So I worked closely with these families through the phone conversations and meeting with them at preschool to provide step by step instructions of how to download and use seesaw. And we’ve also spoken with some critical reflection about potential getting an interpreter if they need some help long-term using SeeSaw. We understand that technology can be challenging and take that into consideration to ensure all of our families can support their child to learn from home.

Like we said with the art home learning packs, we also have provisions to provide offline learning for children if that’s required. We also have families that wish to protect their child’s digital profile. I had a couple of children in my class in that situation, so I spoke to each of these families personally over the phone to discuss how we can support their child and continue a relationship with them still. Most of the families were happy to post only audio messages and photos without the child’s face, just to continue their values and their wishes to support their child and not give their child that digital profile. We are just making sure that that’s in alignment with our philosophy and the code of ethics, we want to acknowledge that each family has a right to make decisions about their child we want to be sensitive to the vulnerabilities of children and their families and respond in ways that empower and maintain the dignity of all children and their families.

Maria Lazzaro – Another main challenge is us not being able to work together face to face. So Emily and I collaborate really closely together and now we are working on site on separate days so that’s quite difficult, so we are now face-timing a lot, we are on the phone a lot, online a lot, which is different to what we normally do. We have also started our own Watts app team chat just with our SLSOs and us just to check on each other's wellbeing and see how everyone is going. And we are also just continuing our regular team meetings over zoom with our executive, with Jennifer and Tony and with ort team, which is really good to stay in touch and so we are all on the same page.

Donna Deehan – In that same vein, what were some things that worked, that you didn’t expect would work, what went a bit easier?

Emily Crews – So the morning messages that I spoke about earlier, I found that out from one of our kindergarten teachers at our school. She was filming a morning message and she just happened to show me that she was sending out a message everyone morning and I thought we’d give that a go so the children could just see us and maintain their relationship with us. I thought it was just a one-off thing, I didn’t think it would become an integral part of the day to promote that confidence and the language development for all our preschool children.

Upon further critical reflection, we also started giving feedback to our children via voice messages rather than text comments as they can hear our voices and receive feedback and praise verbally as they would in their preschool environment.

Maria Lazzaro – So we have found our families are really taking distance learning on board and they’re actively assisting their children to participate on their attendance days. The children are responding in my class as well to the morning videos. I also agree with Emily that it’s a great way for them to build their confidence and their language. I also have students that will not speak English at preschool, only their home language, but now at home through these voice messages, they’re actually speaking some English, just with the support of their parents.

Donna Deehan – Sounds like the families are reacting well, what about families that don’t engage, you have touched on that a bit, but what strategy are you using for any families that just don’t want to engage.

Emily Crews – Our families have been pretty flexible and have responded quite positively to the educational program we have provided. They regularly send us photos/videos of their children engaging in learning experiences and they thank us for the support that we provide.

Maria Lazzaro – For the families who aren’t engaging like we mentioned before, we’re tracking them and contacting them by phone and checking in. We also understand that families are juggling work responsibilities, other children, so we’re trying to be mindful of everyone’s individual situation as well, and we want to offer support where we can as well.

Donna Deehan – What has surprised you most about remote teaching from the preschool perspective?

Emily Crews – So when Tony announced to our staff that we were moving to online learning, bot Maria and I, we pondered on whether this would actually work and be possible for our preschoolers. But after some critical reflection as a team, we’ve discovered how talented our educators are and the skills they have to make this possible. We have educators creating gardening and cooking videos, singing songs, playing instruments and reading stories. I personally feel like we can deliver our educational program to make online learning experiences as authentic as they can be when the children are at preschool.

Maria Lazzaro – I have just found we have just been very flexible and adaptive and we are just posting out suitable activities to promote play-based learning. We are just making sure we have been mindful about what resources we send out and that the parents have access when they are planning at home, when they are working at home.

Tony D’Amaro – And I’ve just been so impressed with how seamless the transition to online learning has been for all stakeholders for me. And the positive feedback that we have received from our families has been absolutely overwhelming.

Jennifer Cenk – What surprised me mostly was - simply put ‘we could do it! I am so proud of our preschool team. We have achieved things in the last 3 weeks that would have usually taken us ages to learn and to put in place.

Donna Deehan – Do you think the parents/carers have an understanding (or some understanding) of the EYLF outcomes. We are all very new to this situation – but maybe it is something that can evolve over the coming term?

Emily Crews – We’re also going to include the EYLF outcomes as a refresher in our take-home pack for Term 2 and we are also going to put in links to the EYLF in home languages as well. We also discussed in our team meeting this morning that we will look at adding the outcomes to the activity tasks that we send out on seesaw and we hope that this will also consolidate parent understanding.

We thought we’d do a tutorial video for parents too about the importance of play-based learning as well and just educate them a bit more on that and how they can implement more play at home and how their child is still learning, even though they think it’s play, they’re actually learning. So that’s our next goal we are working on.

Donna Deehan – Well this unusual and unprecedented situation has certainly allowed us to continue to connect with families and perhaps even deepen that as you were just saying, working forward, and have a better chance of helping develop some shared understanding of the outcomes.

Jennifer and Tony, well done on leading such profound change in the way your preschool operates you’ve just embraced it beautifully and kept a really strong continuity of learning. And your school community has responded so positively, well done. And Emily and Maria- collaborative and reciprocal relationships all around. Thanks so much to you all, keep going, keep uploading and keep informing us all via Twitter and I really appreciate you sharing your journey with us today. Thanks

End of transcript

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