Student-led connection activities were important at Carmel College during Covid.
Before the pandemic had seriously impacted schools in New Zealand, Carmel College principal Chris Allen had already started to look at how the school would cope in a lockdown situation. It was quickly decided that the normal learning at school timetable would not work well online and therefore it was redesigned to include half the number of periods per week, with a maximum of four one-hour periods per day, that were punctuated with good breaks between learning sessions.
30-minute Atawhai time
With the underlining principle of wellbeing and connection for both students and staff, every day started with a 30-minute Atawhai time (vertical form class). This time was when students and staff came together online for connection activities, where staff touched based with students, and everyone was involved in activities that were largely student-led. The student leadership group organised online activities and workshops such as learning to juggle, art lessons, knitting, and baking demonstrations that were very well received. It was important for students to connect with each other, have fun, remain active and continue to participate as much as possible.
Student leaders also created a Carmel Connect website which provided online support for all levels of students with learning and activities. Information and resources were produced, collated, moderated and posted online, covering academic, cultural and religious education.
A significant number of other school events and activities were also provided online which included house assemblies, counselling for students, welcome and orientation meetings, as well as meet the teacher for prospective students and parents.
Independent learning time
With a more streamlined timetable for learning at home, students liked the longer periods of learning and the increased amount of independent learning time. Chris said that what they found happening, was that the students were creating their own informal online learning groups to support each other during times there were no lessons.Teachers also set up additional tuition sessions as needed.
Focus on wellbeing
Focusing on wellbeing was a deliberate approach taken by Chris and her leadership team as they wanted to reduce the stress and pressure on staff as much as possible, given that it was a new and difficult experience for everyone, and often citing, “we don’t have to be perfect we just have to be good enough”.Staff appreciated that the priority was on wellbeing, and with areas such as professional learning and activities often being optional.
Measure of success
The measure of success for the focus on connection, was to gauge virtual attendance, which remained high throughout the times of learning from home. Chris is adamant the high virtual attendance resulted from staff being active in their teaching and connecting with students, adjusting the learning tasks for the online environment to meet student needs, and importantly, the student-led engagement and connection activities.
“This helped students feel connected to the school and not sitting at home alone in their bedroom,” she says. Students continued to feel a sense of belonging and part of the Carmel College community.
Chris is very pleased with the high level of student engagement, learning and achievement that was maintained throughout the times of online learning. What they have learnt, is that together they have been able to come up with innovative and effective solutions to problems, with many of the solutions still in use and influencing student learning at school.
Independent student learning time has now been extended to include all Year 11-13 students, and lengthening the learning periods is under consideration. With a staff that now has increased IT skills capability, there is a greater use of digital tools for learning, including a move to provide the option for conducting meetings with parents online.