For St Joseph’s College Director of Teaching and Learning, Mr Matt Bookallil, March 2020 will be forever remembered for the many late night meetings with his colleagues, as well as the ever growing Google Docs and daily briefings needed to develop a functional program for the more than 1100 Joeys boys to continue their learning from home.
One month on and that plan is in full swing, as students, parents and teachers across Australia embark on Term Two. Under the watchful gaze of a kookaburra, Mr Bookallil opens his laptop, logs into Zoom and waits for his Year 12 class to join him for his period 1 Economics lesson, which he will be conducting from his dining room table.
For Mr Bookallil, there is an immense sense of pride in his fellow teaching staff for the way they continue to guide students day to day, and for the way in which the community as a whole has embraced the Off-Site Learning Plan. “I think our Off-Site Learning plan has really presented an opportunity to do things differently, and to potentially offer something additional for Joeys students,” he says.
“It is a credit to all of the teachers who have gone above and beyond to provide really high quality educational services to all of their students, no matter where they are continuing their lessons from.
“I believe this period of off-site learning has shown that as teachers we are capable of adapting and maximising our offering to students.”
“I know for many of our staff, it has been a very significant undertaking and I have been incredibly impressed with the way that they continue to be prepared and adapt”.MR MATTHEW BOOKALLIL
In this lesson alone, Mr Bookallil’s class consists of four boys who are currently learning from home in regional areas, two or three boys continuing to take their classes in their rooms on-site at school, and the remaining boys learning from their homes across Sydney.
As one of the Joeys staff who was instrumental in the development of the plan, Mr Bookallil says the length of time that students would possibly be learning from home was not the primary focus of the plan. Rather, the focus was on the quality of teaching that would be provided, along with the continuation of learning that students would receive.
Now with a number of weeks in practice, the Off-Site Learning Plan was bound to test not only the students, but also the teachers who were adjusting their way of delivering their lessons and facilitating the guidance that they provide to students both in and outside of class.
Mr Bookallil makes mention of these additional hurdles. “I think the biggest hurdle for many teachers moving from face-to-face to online teaching has been the rapid upskilling. Whilst our staff are phenomenal professionals and work really hard, it’s meant that in a very short space of time they’ve had to upskill on a variety of online platforms that they may not have used before.
“Just the sustainability and preparation time needed for teachers is a lot more significant. The days are longer, and it can be incredibly intense sitting in front of a computer screen for long stretches throughout the day.”
For many of the teaching staff, including Mr Bookallil, the positives that come from the experience of digital learning far outweigh any negatives, whether it be students’ increased engagement with learning, or the uptake of new technologies used in the learning process. “Look, there is no way we can replace all of the wonderful things that take place in the classroom and the engagement that happens there, but I’ve really enjoyed the classes over the past month,” Mr Bookallil says.
Their contributions to questions and answers have been outstanding, and their questions have really made it quite an interesting environment.Mr MattHEW BOOKALLIL
“Personally, in relation to my own economics classes, I have been able to work through PowerPoints and discuss a lot of the current things that are happening in the world as part of my lesson, and I am getting really good insights from the boys. Their contributions to questions and answers have been outstanding, and their questions have really made it quite an interesting environment.”
The coming together of current real-world economic news and the teaching of his class has been made even more evident in the additional 10-minute collaborative conversation between Mr Bookallil and his students before class. Their inquisitive nature, and the passion to connect their learning to real-world scenarios, is a thrill that continues to inspire Mr Bookallil as an educator.
“In my role as Director of Teaching and Learning, I oversee and work with all of the teachers at Joeys. I think being at home you can be more efficient in some ways. We are able to have really targeted conversations and continue our collaboration with students through programs like Zoom. I know for many of our staff, it has been a very significant undertaking and I have been incredibly impressed with the way that they continue to be prepared and adapt.
“Our teachers have responded to the feedback from students and parents alike, and have put this feedback into action. I know the majority of our teachers are now doing more face-to-face video conferencing with individual boys, which was specifically requested in the feedback from our parents and students.”
As schools across Australia begin the process of recommencing face-to-face on-site learning, there are going to be many conversations between teachers, students and parents nationwide about how to continue the many wonderful initiatives that off-site learning has brought to fruition.
Mr Bookallil is very much looking forward to this next phase of planning. “When we return to face-to-face on-site teaching, there will definitely be time to reflect on the many positives that came to light throughout the implementation and facilitation of the Off-Site Learning Plan.
“One significant thing in particular is the necessary focus on the learning process, and not just the outcomes. I think what teachers have done really well throughout this moment in time is to think about the necessary steps in learning and the engagement in each of those steps. I think we have utilised a number of additional learning tools, technologies and methods that will help personalise our teaching.
“Well before COVID-19 and the implementation of the Off-Site Learning Plan, there was a lot of conversation in education about catering for each of the different types of learners, the upskilling of teachers and the uptake of new technologies. The personalisation of learning off-site has put us in a better position to cater for those different types of learners, and begin to address the questions about education from a unique perspective.”
With Year 12 preparing to recommence their learning onsite from week 3, followed by Years 7 and 11 in week 4, Mr Bookallil is savouring the small things that have come from working from home. One of the unexpected highlights of conducting his classes from home has been the additional time with his family.
“I’ve enjoyed spending more time with my family. Whilst with my boys in primary school it has been a juggling act at times, we have had the opportunity to do a lot more things together either side of the day. Whether it is as simple as going for a walk down to the park, it has been such a wonderful addition to my work-life balance. It has probably been the personal highlight of the past two months, and I am very much going to miss it.”