by Steve McCracken
COVID-19 flipped our worlds in so many ways. Education took on a whole new meaning, for whanau and students alike. The Ministry of Education had to quickly react and provide resources for all students across the country, with over 90 000 requests for electronic devices. Whanau responded instantly, providing unique learning spaces for their teenagers and Kaipara College, like so many, was transformed from a lively, bubbly place of learning, to a facility that echoed silence.
Our Kaipara College community responded so well to the move to an online world, one that we were embarking on progressively, but for many, a whole new world. It was clear, that those with access to this world would be well provided for, through amazing lessons provided by teachers and well supported by their whanau. Our normal sources of communication and daily contact with the students was overturned instantly. With contact only available through phone calls for students without device accessibility, it was clear that their learning would be the most affected through COVID-19.
Using an asynchronous model of teaching (one where work was set for students and they could choose when they completed it) certainly had its advantages, with students choosing when they needed to complete their work and what they needed to complete. This meant they could tend to their whanau commitments whilst still completing their learning. Initial feedback from students was overwhelmingly positive with many taking the opportunity to self-direct their pace of work. Whanau also fed back that they appreciated the flexibility in this approach, allowing them to help guide their young person through their needs whilst maintaining the balance of learning that was required.
As with any significant change, we had some challenges as students had to quickly learn to prioritise what had to be done, what should be done and what was nice to do, much like real life! With a ‘people first’ focus, our school also had challenges connecting with some of our students, much like every other school in the country. What did become apparent, very quickly though, was the students who were unable to access devices or the internet to continue their learning. The Ministry of Education did their best to provide fast access to these students and under Alert Level 3 we were able to distribute 70 of our own devices to those most in need.
The people who attend our school daily, staff and students, were exceptional over this pandemic. Staff took a sensible, caring and pragmatic approach to teaching though the fully online approach was new to many, so they too were learning. Throughout the lockdown there was a continual focus on ensuring connections and relationships with students were maintained and we know we will see benefits of this in the longer term. Our students continue to amaze me - their resilience, character and compassion have been exemplary. There were always going to be challenges but the vast majority were able to continue their academic learning, whilst developing and enhancing their ‘real-life’ skills and expertise.
Now, we have an amazing opportunity. We are using the learnings from the lockdown to accelerate the Kaipara way of doing things. Short term, our focus is on ensuring we achieve the best we can for and with our students in 2020. This may look different to when we were at school prior, but this pandemic has taught us all to be flexible, nimble, agile and ready to adapt. Long term, we have confirmation that our students are ready to engage with the real world. They want to be leading. They want to be successful. They want to learn the way they want to learn and our goal is to help them do just that.