Cranbrook School has a very long and chequered history, having been established 502 years ago in 1518 and consequently being granted the school charter by Queen Elizabeth I in 1574. We explore how Cranbrook School is currently using virtual teaching platforms like ClassIn to deliver as close to an in-classroom experience during this period. Our conversation with Chris Johnson, Assistant Headteacher with responsibility for remote learning at Cranbrook School, explores what the school’s approach was to school closures, the necessitation to remain agile in approach and what advice they gave to parents, students and teachers. Here is the summary of our conversation.
Q: What technologies does the School use and how have these helped with teaching?
A: In terms of digital support for education, there was a real influx of funding in the mid-2000s to support ICT infrastructure and systems for schools. Naturally, there was a real focus to equip classrooms with interactive whiteboards and other digital tools.
Further to this, due to the pandemic, our reliance on ICT as a community, our current provision and what it can do has been highlighted. As a result, our focus on ICT infrastructure has been renewed, with developments in wider school wifi connection, band strength and the provision of laptops for teachers being outcomes. We’re always looking at what digital teaching and learning tools we can support. We’re also recognising that capability and training for new tools coming along is a priority. ClassIn has been central to this, with numerous continued professional development opportunities engaging teaching and support staff. .
Q: What Were Cranbrook’s Plans for Teaching During the Lockdown?
A: During the lockdown, we don’t have a fixed, full timetable of teaching throughout the day. For most of our students, what we do have is access for them to attend to 2–3 live sessions a day in all their subjects, alongside a weekly pastoral session too, in whochy they meet within tutor or House groups. Additionally, students have weekly assemblies (led by senior leaders) as well as access to a range of co-curricular clubs and societies, such as Debating, Mine Craft, Creative Writing, Orchestra, Fem Soc, Med Soc, Student Listeners training, Oxbridge and UCAS preparations. Additionally, every other Friday has seen us ‘drop down’ our curriculum to enable a jam packed day of wider enriching personal and community development opportunities, such as bio-chemistry lectures, quixes, talewnt shows, chemistry kitchen experiments and wellbeing support groups. All provision is reviewed on a weekly basis in close collaboration with our teachers and we communicate with parents regularly.
Q: How Has ClassIn Complemented Your Plans?
A: ClassIn has been very valuable from a teaching and learning perspective, helping us deliver the educational outcomes we want to see. It’s also been instrumental in providing that interaction element for teachers and students — something we all craved and missed since the necessary school clsoures.. Since ClassIn is built for teaching there is a lot of power there in the user experience, the interface, the way speaking and video is setup and the tools that really help teachers interact with students. From the outset we saw that it was going to be as close to an in-classroom experience that could be provided online. Each subject has utlised the platform to best suit the needs of different year groups, topics or challenge. We have had to be mindful of the fact that not all of our students have consistent access to technology; therefore, sessions have often taken an evaluative and ‘q and a’ approach, complimenting the work set on Portal.
Q: How have you supported teachers and students with teaching online?
A: Following the set up and deployment of an initial ‘test’ group of teachers, who delivered some one off sessions to students (ranging from Year 7 English to Year 12 Economics), we worked closely in partnership with ClassIn’s traners and support team. We found their patience and communication skills comforting and of real value.
Essentially, we have succeeded in generating a snowball effect, with the momentum being seismic, with the overwhelmingly positive experiences from the first teachers’ experiences with ClassIn selling it to other colleagues. Continued professional development and support has been at the core of our success: offering an open door policy for lesson observation, setting up of support Whatsapp groups, training sessions set at different levels of ability and acknowledging different levels of need in classrooms — whether these be through practical applications or subject specific challenges.
Q: What will happen with online teaching when some students return, some don’t?
A: In June/July 2021, in line with government expectations, we had Year 10 and Year 12 students returning to school to participate in some in-school activities. In advance of this, we updated our school’s wifi provision and have invested in a stronger bandwidth. The in school provision allowed us to see what our IT systems can support on-site and trouble shoot in advance of a projected whole school return in September 2021. Undoubtedly, given experiences thus far with the pandemic and associated vulnerabilities with students, teachers and wider support staff, a blended approach to learning will be required. i.e. In school provision will also be supported by a continued form of remote provision — webinars, Portal and also ‘live’ learning opportunities, through the platform of ClassIn.We must ensure we can operate a blended learning environment that is inclusive for everyone — both onsite and offsite.
Q: What’s the feedback you’ve gotten about online teaching?
A: The feedback has been very positive overall. From our discussions with teachers, ClassIn has worked really well for smaller groups of a regular class size (30 students) for a more interactive experience, but has also been of value for the other extreme where circumstances have required all 165 students of one year group to attend one particular session. We’ve have found the video carousel very valuable, so that all students are being shown on screen over the course of a session, enabling a more active engagement, as they get to see themselves as part of the virtual classroom.
Q: How important are schools and your role as teachers right now?
A: Pivotal. We have a powerful and important role to play in all households. Schools must continue to provide a level of stability, consistency, routine, community and support to students. Challenges faced by our youth continue to be present, with learning and emotional needs requiring both support and encouragement — with a personalised approach being at its core. The current pandemic has undoubtedly thrust a further challenge on schools and their communities here and one we must rise to, supporting parents and wider families as part of this. Whether they be physically in school or remotely; we must continue to reach out, encourage and foster aspiratrion in all our school community.