International Day 2020 at SVSFebruary 16, 2020
Evidencing its commitment to do whatever is necessary to minimise the impact of COVID-19, the UAE responsibly took the decision to close schools a little over a week ago. Whilst the immediate need to ensure that quality distance learning is in place has caused some anxiety to school leaders in Dubai, our digital platform at Smart Vision School in Al Barsha, Dubai and the support of our existing digital education providers has resulted in a marked sigh of relief. It is important in this unprecedented time in education that we continue with what is known. Having spoken at length with others already months into their distance learning journey, consistency is the key!
As a leadership team of a British Curriculum School in the UAE, we have closely monitored the situation in China and Hong Kong and as the virus more recently took a hold in Iran (significantly closer to home). We immediately prioritised the development and communication of a clear distance learning policy and action plan. Like many fully inclusive British schools, our students and staff are already using platforms such as Seesaw and Class Dojo to submit, review and feedback on progress and next steps. Additionally, we have implemented many high-quality digital tools which support the specific needs of our cohort of students. These tools will be invaluable in the weeks ahead. Our digital assessment tracking tool ‘Learning Ladders’ has the added function of a bilingual parent portal; ensuring parents have the opportunity to improve their own understanding of the what and how is being taught. ‘Times Table Rock Stars’ has options to challenge peers or staff members in the development of mental mathematics. Pobble has and will continue to be invaluable as a platform to encourage and support our students’ writing in English and Arabic. Pobble is core to our English toolkit for distance learning; allowing students the opportunity to access exemplars, publish and peer evaluate their writing. Our students regularly WAGOLL hunt as part of a prewriting lesson and this won’t change now that the learning will be taking place at home instead of the classroom.
Teachers are by nature flexible and embracing of change. This period of only highlights the dedication off all those to their vocation. As we embark on what is perhaps the beginning or ‘test phase’ of education in the future, It is remarkable to witness so many companies coming forward in this time of need, to offer their services free of charge in support of continuation (and perhaps in some contexts even improvement of) learning in this time of uncertainty. The skills that this move will develop in students globally will benefit them and result in personal and academic development for many that may not have otherwise been possible. As an inclusive British school, we are giving clear guidance to parents as to how long students should be using devices and what they should do to balance this with physical and personal activity. We are finding creative ways to ensure that all areas of learning are given relevant planned focus in our e-school timetable.
Ensuring safeguarding is critical as we move forward. Whilst we and most schools with 1:1 device programmes have these very effectively managed and safeguarded within the context of onsite learning, the management and monitoring of students’ use of their devices at home lies with the parents. Education and on-going support for our parents is therefore vital at this time. Pre-recorded personal videos for all lessons from all teachers will be uploaded at the same time every day prior to the commencement of the e-learning day. Attendance will be taken retrospectively using our usual MIS and will be based upon a student’s involvement in the learning on the previous day. Collaborate meetings have been tested on google hangouts so we feel ready to tackle the first week. Clearly the challenge will be encouraging all students and parents to be equally dedicated to and involved in the e-school programme. Key to this is personal contact with all. Fortunately, as a smaller primary school, we are in a position to maintain this with all families. If students fail to log in to distance learning, part of our action plan is to find out why and how we can provide further support for them.
We will continue to encourage creativity, collaboration and critical thinking through a personal approach. In this distance learning situation, our aim is to promote optimum motivation and involvement, we are aware of how isolating this may feel for students and their families. A daily ‘drop it challenge’ where students will be encouraged to drop in their best joke, song, hand-washing TikTok or drawing item for example to achieve house points, will hopefully ensure the continuity of our strong house system and British school community. Each morning a combination video will be uploaded to start the day of with a bit of fun! Camaraderie and team strengthening often results from crisis. We are so looking forward to witnessing the unpredicted gems that we know will arise from these tricky times. With the support of our regulators KHDA #InThisTogetherDubai, the networking of schools in the UAE, and vast community on social media (#EduTwitter, #CollabUAE) isolation and uncertainty for teachers in this time has diminished. As educators, we will all continue to push forward with the best interests of our students first and foremost. We will be back in the classrooms soon and will be stronger, more resilient and undoubtably upskilled as a community due to this experience.