I coach a group of enthusiastic part-time painters. We have been meeting up one evening a week for years, except of course in 2020. In mid-March this year our painting sessions, like so many other things came to an abrupt halt. We were temporarily able to restart for a period of four weeks in the autumn, before once again having to stop again.
I’ve done what has been possible to keep the group active (at least for those who wish to carry on at home), and the group themselves have retained contact via our app group, sharing what they are up to in the area of creativity and artistic interests. It has, all-in all, worked well. The group does still feel like a group and the stream of creative output certainly hasn’t dried up.
In terms of “going online”, like my other area of work in mainstream education, it hasn’t been quite the same. The commitment to an online lesson at a specific time didn’t feel like the way to go. Instead, what seems to have worked best has been a series of group paintings/projects. Anyone who wanted to, could easily contribute, and I worked on grouping things together. Some have been very loose, and in a way, not much more than a collection of paintings and drawings around a theme, while others have been quite structured in their approach.
Looking back complete 2020 set, it is surprising just how productive the group has been, and how well this loose online approach has worked. We are all of course hoping for better things in 2021, but as a record of 2020 it certainly shouldn’t be a year best forgotten by the group as the results below show.
The normal working week for me had a regular pattern. There was the time at home at the start of the week preparing for my teaching role in the middle and later part of the week. School days were long with lengthy travel time at the beginning and end of the teaching day. There were the weekends where the very best was done to make them feel, well, like a weekend.
The last four weeks, like for just about everyone else, has felt very different. I’ve just been reading an article, I think in the Guardian, that said that the education world has been rising to the Corona challenge. I have a daughter studying at art school in the Netherlands, a brother teaching in the UK and another teaching at a university in Malaysia. Added to this my wife teaches at a university of applied science her in the Netherlands and then there is me, a secondary school teacher. Maybe, just maybe, I’m better placed than most to offer an opinion on the efforts going on in the educational world.
I would certainly feel a large amount of agreement with that newspaper article, education is rising to the challenge. The urgency of the situation was rapidly clear. The online possibilities were ready, although for most, a little unexplored, to have a serious go at engaging and serving the stay at home pupils.
A learning curve of dizzying steepness was leapt at. Teams, Skype, Zoom, Moodles and any number of other online learning opportunities and facilities have been thrown into place. A process of teacher education that under normal circumstances that would have been spread out over numerous after school sessions spread over months has been picked up and run with.
Have I ever had so many emails, apps, chats and video meetings? And we really are only at the start of actually providing a form of online teaching of our numerous classes. This week I am starting with classes of up to 33 pupils online together in a Teams group together. I’m curious to see how it goes. I have to say, that although I’m missing the personal contact, I’m not sure how the online classroom might measure up in filling this gap.
Teachers the world over are undoubtedly putting in plenty of extra time and effort. I’m also curious to see whether this is being matched by our pupils. At this stage that is rather the great unknown factor. Can they work effectively with us only digitally standing over them. Time will tell. What will be the payback for a one, two, three-month dip in the educational service that we normally provide?
Amongst all this my weekly rhythm has changed, I’m starting to recognize something of a vague pattern. It is hours in front of the computer screen, apping on my phone, writing new material adjusted for the online context, marking, guiding colleagues, liaising with the school leadership, following online teaching courses and so on.
It’s starting early, finishing late. Technically my job is only 60% full-time. Educational hours always tend to run out of control, now more than ever. But I try to intersperse the screen time with other things to break it up and create rhythm in the days rather than lapsing into a sort of even continuum. For me that means a walk or going out running in the nearby woods. Thank goodness that these things are still an option for me. Family time and fragmented through it all when the moment presents itself, some painting and drawing.
A future blog post will dive into the theme of online appropriate and stimulating assignments that might work the best.
Education has been thrown to the bottom of a learning curve in online distance learning that few were prepared for. Teachers across the globe are looking for new ways to teach, to communicate and to continue and extend their educational practices. It’s a serious business of course, but we are going to have to make compromises and adjustments in expectations. This is all rather unknown territory, but education is doing its best, in what are difficult and challenging situations.
One of the things I am missing in my educational experience of the past couple of weeks is the social encounters with my pupils, the humour, the messing about and simply laughing together. It is an important part of my daily routine. The distant learning contact with the pupils and the classes just isn’t the same as it was. The look on my face when I say something in class that I don’t actually seriously mean, or the social banter about a tv programme, football match or someone’s birthday are largely lost and with it the richness that is the background to the classroom learning situation.
I like many teachers are in the process of rebuilding and repackaging lesson plans and material to work in a digital environment. That is the key business of course. But I and colleagues are also busy with trying to keep an informal and playful contact with our pupils that offer a more relaxed engagement through the digital route.
There are various examples going round on social media that play into this area. A few that I have been involved with can be seen below.
The missing emojis in WhatsApp – the need for other emojis than are what are on offer in the app, now that is that the hairdressers and barbers in the Netherlands are going to be shut for two months or more.
The views out of pupils’ and teachers’ windows where they are sitting behind their computers
Online/Instagram quizzes relating to school, such as the emoji quiz based on the names of teachers
A missing you film from teachers to their pupils
They are all fringe activities to the main educational one of course. But let us not forget that play and fun are also crucial elements to education at all levels.