You depend on every member of your school community
Kapiti College principal Tony Kane is proud of how his school community has stepped up to face the Covid-19 crisis.
“I have felt really proud of the way our teachers - and I think this is true across the profession as a whole - just got on with the job and managed the shift to online teaching,” he said.
“We learned about moving to level 4 on the Monday, then met as a staff on Tuesday morning and discussed what we needed to do. Our ICT experts led professional development sessions over the next couple of hours and we were into preparation. By first thing Wednesday, there were learning materials up for every student.”
Tony prefers the term ‘online teaching’ because he thinks it better expresses the school’s part in the experience. “We tried to remain the activators of learning, keeping in touch with the kids through online face-to-face meetings, as a class, in smaller groups and even individually.”
Surveys and discussions with students, as well as looking at what they were producing, suggested they had adapted very well, he said. “We have all been learning to balance our loads, whether teachers or students, and to let things go that are not important.”
Principals need to support the wider community
Tony says the key role for him as principal was to ensure there was accurate and timely information to whānau, students and teachers.
“In a situation such as this, you depend upon every member of the school community, so in that sense everyone has stepped up,” he said.
Tony stressed the importance of principals supporting the community good as well as providing support for their students. “Not all of us helped the profession by the response to the level 3 announcement. There was some anti-teacher backlash which was unfortunate. It is hard for people outside to see how hard teachers are working. They see a group still on full pay reluctant to help the community get back to work. Whether those fears were justified or not, it didn't play out well in public and I don't think it reflected what the vast majority of us were doing,” he said.
Ensuring safety at level 3
When it was announced that schools would reopen under level 3 for students who needed them the College immediately surveyed parents to find out whose needs it needed to meet.
“Again there was a balance between reassuring parents that we had safety systems in place and ensuring things would not be too draconian,” he said.
Community feedback had been very positive, he said. “We had a 99% response rate to the survey which is astonishingly good. The vast majority were keeping the kids home, but appreciative of the school’s efforts to make it easier for them to return if they needed to do so.”
To keep staff and students safe the school followed the Ministry of Education’s “very comprehensive” guidelines. “Separate groups, regular use of hand sanitiser, temperature testing, PPE available if any doubt etc.”
In terms of transport the two bus companies the school deals with were very responsive, he said. “In the end those coming were all local so transport was not required, but they had systems sorted so we would have been entirely comfortable were buses required,” he said.
Building the aircraft mid-flight
The rapidly evolving situation meant schools had to process a number of thorny issues they hadn’t necessarily dealt with before, Tony said.
“We all launched into this so quickly that we have really not had time to work through all the ethical issues. For example, if I am using a Meet or a Zoom, I am potentially in a child’s virtual bedroom. What is the risk here for both parties and how is this managed? What happens when kids go ‘silent’ online?
How do we know whether too much pressure is being placed on a student? Pastoral care is much more complicated when you can’t see the kids or don’t know who is listening in or whether anything is being recorded.
“It isn’t that a particular problem is emerging as a major issue, it just reflects the fact we are building the aircraft in mid-flight,” he said.