Wellington East Girls’ College principal Gael Ashworth says they took on board student feedback as the pandemic played out and strived to improve their approaches to teaching and learning accordingly.
When Wellington East Girls’ High School anticipated the first nationwide lockdown, they very quickly completed an evaluation of how ready students were with access to a digital device at home and with a suitable internet connection. Principal Gael Ashworth says that although they had an established BYOD environment that included a financial assistance package, what they found was that access to digital devices wasn’t as widespread as they had thought.
“We had a lot of families who had multiple students using one device, or there was one parental device at home… the reality was different to what we though the BYOD scenario was,” says Gael.
In response to this they immediately issued their school Chromebooks and computers to students. This included the Board supporting the purchase of additional computers so that before the lockdown began, all students had a digital device and internet connectivity.
“This was really important to us. Everyone was on a level playing field for access and that no one was sitting waiting for a device to arrive.” Because of this experience Gael says the school has a current policy of ensuring every student has access to a digital device for their learning.
Student learning during lockdown involved asynchronous programmes of work that would be completed throughout the week. For junior students, there was an expectation that they would work for three hours on each core subject and two hours on each option subject per week. Senior students were expected to work for three hours per subject per week.
The Google Classroom environment was used for teaching and learning, with Live Times being arranged by teachers for connecting with junior students on a needs basis and for senior students at scheduled and regular times.
To ensure that students knew what was required of them for each day and also for staff to monitor student well-being, Ako time (Learning Advisory) was held at the start of the day. Pastoral care staff followed up any students who were not engaging or those who required support.
The gathering of student voice about their experiences of learning from home enabled the school to make improvements for the future.
“For our Year 9 students who had only been at school for six weeks before that first lockdown, they found it really difficult… because they hadn’t yet built the relationships with their teachers, and so they would often find themselves in a situation where they wouldn’t know what to do, but they didn’t feel confident enough to reach out and ask for support,” says Gael. In response to this, the induction process now focuses on developing digital literacy skills for all new students.
Students also fed back that they “felt overburdened and that there was a lot of expectation” with the amount of work to complete during the lockdown. Therefore, for subsequent lockdowns the expectations for the amount of work to complete was pared back. Gael says that this was a challenge for some teachers who were initially prepared to digitise all aspects of their lessons. Teachers finally adopted an approach where “quality learning, key concepts and ideas, were more important than what you would expect to cover when face to face at school”.
Another lesson that the school learnt from student feedback was that they “really valued the ability to manage their time asynchronously”. This information was taken and developed into an approach to learning called Flexi Friday at school. For two Fridays within the term, the normal timetable is suspended and students are able to manage their own time with their learning. This could involve attending a tutorial, focusing on a subject that requires attention or approaching individual teachers for help. “It provides an opportunity for a student to exert autonomy with their learning,” says Gael. It has been positively received by students and teachers.
Navigating through Omicron has seen Gael and her staff once again modify their teaching practice by taking a digital first approach with a blend of synchronous and asynchronous student learning.
“Teachers are planning for the learning to be delivered digitally and to be accessible off site. They are planning for the students who are not here and then it is a real bonus if the students are here face to face,” she says. Google Meets operate at the beginning of every lesson for students who are not at school, to check in with their teacher and set themselves up for learning at home.
Ako time continues to be used to support students with their wellbeing, as well as subject teachers applying a weekly tracking and monitoring process that measures student engagement with their learning against specific and expected outcomes. This information is used to provide relevant support and interventions for those students that require it.
Gael is pleased with the continued development work that has occurred as it has provided rigour around their practices and has now meant that “students can continue to engage with their learning, whether they are isolating or if they are sick, and also for students who for other reasons who have not been able to engage with school”.
She acknowledges the “element of the face to face and the human relationship and the contact, is really critical for learning” but also recognises that “for some young people, they are thriving on being able to manage their own time and to manage their learning in a way that suits them”.
The overall approach Gael and her staff at Wellington East Girls’ High School have taken throughout the pandemic, is a good example of being committed to a process of continual improvement. Listening to their students and adapting their practices, is no doubt resulting in better learners.
About the school
Wellington East Girls’ College
Y9-13 Girls’ State Secondary School