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Martini Style Schooling – Anytime, Any Place, Anywhere…

10 Apr 2020   |   Sarah Horsbrough   |   Elements Primary School

If you’re of a certain age like me, you’ll remember this slightly amended advert tagline well.

It has always been the vision and aim at Elements to function as a ‘school in the cloud’. We took the decision, before we opened our doors for the first time, to commit to working completely cloud based. Previously, I have shared how this decision impacted on how our school runs operationally and how our systems allow for an efficient, cost-effective way of working.

To be fair – this is less difficult than some think it is. We are fully embedded in the use of online systems, not least the complete suite of Google tools. We have seen many benefits and have enjoyed this way of working. It really hasn’t been hard.

The outbreak and impact of the Coronavirus has meant that all our good intentions and boasts about our model of working were about to be put to the test. Like all school leaders, I had a new set of hows and whys to consider – and not much time to consider them. How were we going to deliver quality teaching when we closed? How were our children going to learn? These two were the most obvious considerations and would have been pretty straightforward to deal with if we were planning for a short term situation. However, as Mark put it, we were preparing for a marathon, not a sprint – and our solution needed to be deliverable over and over again.

My list of hows and whys began to grow…. How are we to deliver quality teaching consistently, repeatedly and mirror what would happen in school? How were our children going to not just learn but progress and develop? How were they going to access renewed resources and structured timetables every day? How was our school going to stay connected? How were we going to safeguard our children? How were our staff going to maintain a sense of team? How were our parents going to feel supported and be able to communicate with us as readily as usual? I have no doubt – all questions being considered by every school leader throughout the land….

Thank goodness for Google! Thank goodness for WAT! Thank goodness for cloud based tools and platforms – and Primary ICT Support!

Never have I been more grateful for a decision I’ve made in school. Our virtual classrooms were created and ready to be populated within about an hour of learning that we would be closing to the majority of our children. Our content began to develop from then on and by the time we closed on the Friday, lessons for the following week were complete and scheduled online. The staff did an amazing job and we were ready to go. Nervous – but ready.

It is not lost on us as a school, or on me as a school leader, how lucky we are to have been able to send our children home with a chromebook each. To have been able to do this was a bonus – but in order to deliver our vision it wasn’t a necessity. The beauty of cloud based delivery is that it is truly an ‘anytime, any place, anywhere’ model. Google is completely device agnostic and so if there is an internet connection and a device of any kind present then learning can happen.

Through the use of screencastify particularly, our staff have been able to create lesson inputs almost identical to those the children see everyday in school. They hear and see their own teachers using tools and methods they are familiar with. They have been able to read together, Dough Disco together and even sing together. It has been a beautiful thing to see and it’s developing and growing everyday. By the end of this week we will be able to share our reading scheme books electronically with the children in order for them to keep progressing. Small changes and mindset changes are all that’s needed and we can usually find a way.

But what of those other hows and whys? Connections? Community? Safeguarding? For us again the Google tools have come into their own. Daily staff briefings, chats and planning sessions are easy and everyone can stay in touch. We can still see each other, chat and laugh. Never has the need for us to do that together felt more necessary. Email, texts and social media have always been strong modes of communication for us but these too have lifted to a whole new level and I believe our school community has been strengthened as a result. The addition of the Classroom stream has allowed our children to be included in these communications which is an unplanned but welcome benefit. We are now seeing parents offering the creation of resources that can be shared across the school for the benefit of all. This development of our provision is something we might never have seen if it hadn’t been for this unusual situation we find ourselves in, and it is such a positive by-product that we aim to continue when ‘normality’ resumes.

Maintaining a connection with our most vulnerable children is obviously a concern for us all and again this has been made less difficult because of the nature of our online provision.

An online daily register, records of engagement with activities and lessons posted, and an array of current photographs and videos have all served as a fantastic window into what our children are up to and whether or not they are safe.

The very small number of children who haven’t been as present as we would have liked have been very easily identified and the lack of use of the online classroom has given us a fantastic ‘in’ when communicating with parents. We have been able to apply our normal school policy to our attendance which has meant another aspect of school and working that hasn’t had to be adapted. Brilliant.

Already functioning as a school online has meant far less changes to our provision than we anticipated and actually, some positives and advantages being discovered instead.

Staff are enjoying the creativity and challenge of teaching virtually and are able to maintain a sensible work life balance by just doing what they’d normally do but with a twist or two.

Being able to relinquish the time consuming duties of handwritten marking for voice notes or text comments is just one example of how the efficiency of Google and cloud based learning can benefit not only the children but the staff too: more sharing of resources, faster production of activities and more collaboration. Of course nothing replaces the physicality of being together in the same space nor the tactile nature of books and provision. Until then – we will enjoy the Martini approach instead and see where it leads us….


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