Adults don’t call what we’re doing “homeworking,” we call it “working from home.” Consider not calling it “homeschooling.” Consider thinking about it as “learning from home.” Austin Kleon

As the cases of the coronavirus in Victoria continue to grow and the possibility of a return to learning at home becomes a possibility, I thought I should really stop and reflect upon my experience as a parent supporting our daughter as she learnt from home. I had intended to submit this to the governments review, but time got away from me.

Structure and Rigidity of Online Learning

The learning was very methodical. In many respects, it followed the same structure of the schools day with a block of literacy, numeracy, integrated and personal/social learning. This was supplemented by weekly activities provided by the specialist teachers. Students were encouraged to submit tasks each day, however the only aspect that seemed to be explicitly required was logging into the daily video conference.

A few weeks in, students were given an additional option to pursue a passion project. For my daughter this became Minecraft. This choice came as a breath of fresh air and became a focus for the rest of the time. Sadly, there was little guidance provided and this often led to hours of tinkering and never actually produced any sort of question or problem. It was a reminder that even passions need to be cultivated.

Communication with School

In regards to communication, the parent portal was used to broadcast information via the news feed. This included links to things like daily learning, weekly assembly and any other updates. For those wanting to contact the school, the platform provides a module for messaging a student’s teachers.

The problem with this is that the expectations associated with communication were unclear. Although solutions were put in place, there were no protocols about what would be appropriate. Was it appropriate to provide updates on the struggles that I was seeing at home or were these actually being picked up in the daily conferences? These were things we may have written in the school diary, however for fear of coming across as a helicopter parent, I often stayed silent.

Play and Social Spaces

Each day there was an hourly class video conference. This session usually had a particular focus, such as writing or numeracy. There was also opportunity to connect with other students. However, this space was managed by the teacher. This was the same with the use of Google Classroom. Although there is a space for writing posts, students were encouraged to use this for questions and conversations about learning task.

Although so many of the structures were carried online, one that was absent was a deliberate social space encapsulated in the yard. A part of me understands why. Some may abuse such an opportunity. There is no means of putting in place clear habits and policies before moving online. Also, it would become another thing for teachers to manage. Maybe such a space is the responsibility of home, I still think that this social side is one of the limitations to moving online, a place for play and experimentation.

As Kathleen Morris touched upon in her post on Facebook Messenger for Kids:

One thing that instantly annoyed me about Messenger Kids is that there are so many distractions from the core features of messaging and video calls. There are filters, stickers, and mini games (like spinning to choose a llama head during a video chat… go figure… kids love it!).

My 6 year old is SO drawn to these features as are her friends. So far, this is their main interest during video calls. They don’t talk very much. They just play.

Initially, I kept prompting in the background, “ask them what they’ve been doing”, “stop playing with the effects and talk!”

Then I took a step back and thought, this is what they want to do. This is play. They’re only 6/7 and if they were playing together in the same room, they probably wouldn’t be sitting chatting about what they’ve been up to. They’d probably be playing in a way that’s sometimes hard for adults to understand.

So my way of thinking now is that it’s okay. Maybe the novelty won’t last. However, when my daughter is talking to her grandparents, for example, I’m insisting that she talks rather than simply playing with the effects. It’s about changing your interactions to suit who you are communicating with; a vital lesson for both online and offline encounters.

The Role of the Parent

I found it hard to know my place within the learning process. Maybe this is because I myself am a teacher, but I actually think this made it even harder. Although information was sent home about the expectations of where, when and how students would learn, it was not clear the place I served as an aide within all of this.

In some ways, I felt more akin to being a relief teacher with little agency. Although I was happy to help my daughter unpack various tasks, she regularly made clear, “but you are not my teacher.” Even with a planner provided each day, this did not necessarily elaborate on the intricacies of the various steps and strategies the school or teacher uses.


If schools are forced to work remotely again, it will be interesting to see what stays the same and whether any lessons are learnt. Simon Breakspeare talks about the importance of recognising the effort put in, my fear is that that for many there has not been enough time for such reflection.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

In our bid to have happy kids, I wonder what we might be robbing from them later in life?

This is another reflection on the lessons learnt about education from being a parent. This time it is the importance of trust.


At the swimming centre where my daughters have lessons there are two instructors who walk around while the lessons are on. They serve a number of roles. Whether it be providing suggestions to support the development of the swimmers, coordinating lessons and overseeing the safety of those in the pool.

During a recent lesson, one of the instructors came and spoke with me about my youngest daughter. She said that she wanted to move her up to the next class. Out of interest, I asked her why. She explained that she felt my daughter would benefit from being with older students and no longer needed the shallow pool. She then asked if that was ok with that?

I was a little taken aback by the question. I was fine with my daughter moving up. I was also fine if she stayed in the group she was currently in. The reality is that in this situation, I can only trust those in and out of the pool. Although I may ask where my daughter’s development is at and whether there is anything my wife and I could do to support her, I do not feel there is anything achieved in questioning the decision of the educators at hand.

I feel the same way about the classroom. In today’s age of fear, we worry about the ‘best’ teacher and the effect size associated with the ‘right’ teacher. I remember working in country town a few years ago where parents would move their children to a different school if they got the ‘wrong’ teacher. The problem I have is that sometimes the best teacher is a supported teacher. My daughter’s classroom teacher will often spend more time with her than my wife and I. In my opinion hovering around a teacher or the school creates an situation of stress and anxiety for all involved. I love how Dan Haesler captures this in regards to protecting children from any sort of risk:

Dan Haesler's take on helicopter parenting

I think we need to trust teachers rather than moving students around the market. Maybe this is just me? Maybe in time I may change my mind? As always, thoughts welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

I was lucky enough to recently attend a session run by Claire Sutherland for the Alannah and Madeline Foundation around the topic of ‘safe schools‘. I have worked with AMF before in regards to eSmart. Today’s focus was on the trends, policies and resources to support schools around cybersafety. Personally, I have mixed feelings about cybersafety as a topic, as there are some who approach it from the perspective of fear. So here are some of my notes and observations on the presentation …

Issues

When it comes to children and technology, there are a number of issues to consider:

In regards to schools and liability, It is important to understand that if you are aware of an issue, you are responsible. In Victoria, this is covered in the PROTECT Guidelines.

3Cs

For the Alannah and Madeline Foundation cybersafety can be broken down into three aspects:

  • Contact: Do you appreciate who you are sharing with? There is a difference between a ‘friend’ and a ‘follower’, while many of our connections come via acquaintances. We may think that we are not providing much information online, however once we work across multiple platforms, people (and computers) can easily join the dots and develop quite an extensive profile.
  • Conduct: How do you act when you are online? Do you THINK before you post, that is do you consider if what you are sharing is ‘True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind’. Research says that 1:5 students have been involved in cyberbullying online. The challenge is to look out for one another, respecting the rights of others. One suggestion is to ask before tagging, especially in regards to changes in regards to auto-tagging within Google Photos.
  • Content: What information do you share online? Is it personal or private? How authentic is it? How positive is your digital footprint? What is your response to fake news and surreptitious advertising? To plagarism, is it constructive? This can all be challenging as we move into a world that no longer forgets. Something captured by Black Mirror where everyone’s experiences are captured all of the time or we are continually judged by everything that happens in our life.

Associated with the 3C’s, there are four different types of spaces: messaging app, social media, games and dating apps. What entices students is whether they are free, accessible, social and allow experimentation. Constantly changing, these spaces are a part of the yo-yo craze where students move when adults move in.

Challenges

Some of the challenges associated with cybersafety include: raising awareness with parents, teachers and students, monitor the use of technology, building online resilience and empathy, celebrating the positive, as well as empowering bystanders to stand up by providing anonymous reporting systems. To be proactive, schools need to be as explicit as possible when it comes to policy. This means it does not matter which teacher is consulted. Associated with all this, it is important to document issues when they arise.

Resources

Here are a collection of resources – both from the session and some links of my own – to go further in regards to cyber safety and digital citizenship:


So what about you? What are you doing to make school safer? Are there any tips, tricks or resources that you would share? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

In a recent post, Matt Esterman looked back on what he has learned this year. He touched on the lessons learned professionally, as an entrepreneur and personally. He ended with an invitation to share the lessons that you have learned this year.

For me, a lot has happened this year. I have watched in amazement as our youngest daughter has developed from a baby to a toddler. I remember being caught up by every stage with our eldest, but with two life seems to fly.

In addition to this, I changed jobs. After spending a quarter of my life at my previous school, I decided to completely change tact. Not only did I move sectors, but I also went from the role of a classroom teacher to being a technology implementation coach located in a central office.

The area in which I have learned the most though is as a parent of a school age child. It is not that our daughter had not been to kindergarten, but the step up into primary school has been steep. Going from a center with fifty students to a school with near on a thousand has brought about its own set of challenges. I think that there has been three distinct lessons:

  • Dual Roll: I am so glad that my daughter did not start at the school I taught at. I have found the balance between teacher and parent really interesting, in particular online. It is not that I haven’t had a dual roll before, being both a member of the community, as well as a local educator. This was especially the case in the country. What I have learned is that connections are always complicated.
  • Empathy: I have worked in Prep classes before and supported various teachers in a number of ways. However, there is something uncanny when it is your child and you live with them every day. I feel a deeper sense of appreciation for Prep teachers and the various challenges faced.
  • Communication: A few years ago I was lucky enough to attend Google Teachers Academy (now the Google Certified Innovator Program). I left with the question, how might we engage parents in a cultural shift to make relationships and connections the focus of learning? I had toyed with creating a website to communicate ideas with the community, but had always felt constrained in going further. My daughter’s school have seemingly taken up this challenge by maintaining a Facebook Page for every class. However, where have I been? Although my wife loves it, I barely get on it, refusing to go on Facebook on my phone, actually refusing to go on Facebook much at all. In addition to this, I am unsure of the expectations within this space. Am I meant to comment? Converse with others? Like? What this has taught me is that communication and connections involve more than just a website and at some point need to be made explicit.

So that is me and some of the lessons learned this year. I am not trying to suggest that those without children could not experience these things. They are my experiences and I would argue that they are unique to my situation.

So what about you? What have you learned this year? As always, feel free to share.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.