It is definitely an odd feeling walking into the Year 12 block at the moment. Usually it is packed to the rafters with boys rushing to and from their rooms, hurriedly making their way to their next lesson or heading off to their afternoon sport. Groups of boys would be making the most of the handball courts, whilst others would be deep in conversation with one another, sitting atop the outdoor seating scattered across the yard.
While the handball courts are now empty, and the halls between bedrooms are quieter, there are still a few Year 12 boys occupying the study rooms, sitting at their desks with their Zoom class in front of them, or involved in a game of ping pong, the tables providing more than reasonable distance between players.
One thing remains the same: Year 12 Boarding Co-ordinator Mr Danny Sidgreaves is hunkered down in his office, switching on screens and tablets, preparing his notes and giving his office a general tidy up ahead of his Year 9 Mathematics class. Outside of teaching and assisting the Year 12 boys, Mr Sidgreaves’ daily rituals have hit the pause button at the moment, with the filming of additional class assets, study material, liturgical videos as well as filming himself running through the same tasks that he sets his students’ for homework taking up much of the day.
“There is a clear and obvious challenge to the Off-Site Learning Plan, however one of the huge benefits for me as a Mathematics teacher, is that I can teach a class and run through a concept on the video, and the boys can stop and start the video whenever they choose. If they miss something, or want to review a specific part of the class again, they can watch it as many times as they like.”
“To be honest with you, I am considering actually implementing some of the techniques we are using in my face-to-face teaching when the boys return”.MR DANNY SIDGREAVES
It is this strategic way of tackling technology that Mr Sidgreaves envisages being brought into day-to-day teaching and learning at Joeys long after the boys have returned. “Going through this process, it has helped develop skills that we can use in our regular face-to-face teaching. To be honest with you, I am considering actually implementing some of the techniques we are using in my face-to-face teaching when the boys return. I could continue with my normal classes and record them, or pre-record additional short recordings for the boys that they can watch at night when they are studying. I can only imagine the benefit of having a bank of lessons and video resources for many of my students come time to study for exams. I am sure that all of the boys would like to go back to a lesson and say ‘what did Sir say about this, or what did Miss say about that’; to actually be able to go back and review what was said and further absorb the explanation is really useful.”
Whilst conducting his lesson, Mr Sidgreaves moves between multiple screens and devices, talking to some boys through a mobile phone, whilst addressing others via the camera on his computer screen. In front of him, he jots down equations on his tablet, whilst a student verbally runs through his formula with him. It is this multitasking and digital presence in class that is assisting many of the boys with their continuation of learning.
“In terms of teaching content, it has definitely been great, and for some kids, particularly those who don’t pick up things as quickly, this method of learning has been more advantageous. It’s hard to sit in a classroom and rewind the teacher when they are teaching, but to be able to pause a lesson, even if that is to go to the bathroom or to have a drink of water, they haven’t missed anything. Even taking that moment to access my pre-recorded lessons to assist them with their work, has been hugely beneficial for some of the boys”.
With the sudden change in teaching and learning, it has been vital for teachers like Mr Sidgreaves to continue to provide all of the students the very basics that the boys need in their learning. With all the advantages that technology can bring, it is the one-to-one relationship with students and the additional assistance that is most important. “I have chosen to pre-record additional lessons for the boys to utilise as an additional resource of an evening, or closer to assessment and exam periods. I don’t want the technology to distract from the continued interaction between myself and the boys. The boys need to feel at ease, and have the ability to continue to ask questions throughout the lesson itself. It is important that as a teacher I continue to be flexible throughout the class to assist all the boys in front of me. At the end of the day, that is the most important aspect of the student-teacher relationship.”
Outside of his classes, Mr Sidgreaves is continuing to provide support to all of the Year 12 boys in his care. Although the ease of simply having a chat in the hall with the boys isn’t possible in the interim period, he is doing his best to reach out and continue to assist those boys who he feels are most vulnerable.
“Pastoral care is even more important at the moment. Recognising where boys are struggling or keeping an eye out and being aware of those boys who might struggle in the current circumstances is vital. I was talking with one of the country boys in my Div meetings this week, and he said it was so good just to see other faces, and to hear a couple of jokes; that alone shows there is a desperate need to get on the phone with the boys and their families, follow up with our community and continue to care for one another.
“You can see when the boys log onto Zoom, they are desperate to be around each other, they miss the normal everyday banter that takes place in a classroom. My Year 12 class is probably missing the school spirit at Joeys even more so. I have made well over 100 phone calls to boys in the past week alone, just checking to see how they are going, how they are adjusting, and seeing what further assistance I can provide.”
Many of the staff and parents are learning that there is a great amount of resilience and adaptability, on the part of the boys, parents and staff. And the boys particularly appreciate how good things actually were when they were on campus. “You will struggle to find any boy at Joeys, who now on reflection wouldn’t turn around and say how good things were, in their day to day life,” Mr Sidgreaves says.
With his Mathematics class completed, and each of the boys switching off, Mr Sidgreaves jumps up and makes his way to the Year 12 study rooms, where a handful of boys continue their lessons online. Coming up the stairwell you can already hear the laughs and jokes passing between each room, and that the Joeys spirit endures, even if boys are in smaller numbers. It is this very school spirit that Mr Sidgreaves says is of great importance to him, and something he is desperate to continue to share with the families so far away.
“Understandably there is a lot of anxiety amongst the parent group, and I am doing my best to help and assist parents at the moment. A simple phone call is going a long way. We tend to rely on email a lot these days when it comes to communicating with one another, but in times like these, it is important to pick up the phone and to hear a voice on the other end. There is no doubt that our parents, like the boys, are going to need a lot of support at the moment, and well into the future”.
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