For Hampstead-based St. Anthony’s School for Boys, the past year has presented its unique challenges, but the response from pupils has consistently exceeded expectations, says Chris Kearns, Deputy Head, Academic.
One thing that the last year, with its extended periods of remote learning, has taught us, is just how adaptable young people are. In the first lockdown, schools immediately focused on continuing to deliver the usual standard of curriculum, incorporating the stretch, challenge and support that pupils were accustomed to finding in the physical classroom. The challenges presented by this are well documented, and Chris Kearns, Deputy Head, Academic at St. Anthony’s School for Boys agrees that it was tough at times. “Keeping boys engaged and motivated was no mean feat, but our excellent teaching and support staff were able to rise to the challenge with a great deal of creativity, flexibility and, crucially, lots of empathy.”
As adults we are all too well aware of the difficulties that sitting behind a screen and remaining focused for prolonged periods of time can present; it is a challenge that is amplified for youngsters, who need to channel a mentality of self-discipline and routine, which can be both daunting and, at times, rather draining. “We were delighted at how well the boys rose to the challenge,” Chris says. “Their resilience and determination shone through in all that they did. Their admirable work ethic and good humour meant that we were able to deliver a successful remote programme, with both academic progress and pastoral wellbeing at its heart – the key principles underpinning our approach at St. Anthony’s.”
Furthermore, he explains, the transition into remote learning mark two was seamless, and it quickly became evident that the boys’ digital literacy skills had improved exponentially. Skills which many adults employ in the world of work became the new normal. Boys were clearly adept in utilising a range of platforms to collaborate and communicate with each other and their teachers. “Things like screen sharing, presenting on TEAMs and ‘version control’ had become second nature to St. Anthony’s pupils. Work which pupils turned in demonstrated their improved ability to manipulate documents and co-edit in a creative and collaborative manner. Their communication was deliberate and concise and ‘break out rooms’ became a popular option for learning,” Chris tells us. Indeed, feedback from class teachers, work scrutiny and conversations with the boys themselves have indicated that far from slowing down, several aspects of learning and progress actually accelerated during remote teaching. The important thing now of course is to maintain this momentum.
The big take-away for senior leaders overseeing pupils’ learning is that remote learning has unearthed a wealth of opportunities which must not be forgotten as a semblance of normality resumes. Indeed, many elements of learning were enhanced, rather than denigrated by moving online. Learnings the team at St. Anthony’s are determined to translate into the normal day-to-day delivery of the curriculum. Incorporating the use of platforms such as One-Note into daily teaching is just one example of this. “We are steadfast in our determination that the lessons of online learning, and the enhancements to be gained will form one of our school’s key priorities moving forward. We take this so seriously that we have already procured personal Surface Gos for all boys in Years 7 and 8, as a means of integrating digital and traditional methods both in the classroom and for prep,” Chris explains.
Preparing boys for the next stage, senior school and beyond, is a responsibility that the school takes extremely seriously, not least because many of the digitally-based careers the boys will likely enter are yet to be created! “The prolonged period of remote learning has had a positive impact in many respects, and it is this legacy which we will be incorporating into our ‘new educational normal’ as face-to-face teaching resumes, albeit not as we knew it!” Chris concludes.
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