As a nation, Australia has shifted to online learning. At Toorak College, our remote and online learning program has not only reminded us of the power of technology, the need for connection, and the importance of a continuous education, it has also presented us with opportunities to grow and be more resourceful than ever.
Here’s a little more about our program, and what we learnt along the way:
A program designed for all users
At the core of our program is the desire to deliver the best experience possible for our students, our staff and our families. Having trialled a week-long remote and online program at the end of Term 1, we sought feedback from all parties. At Toorak, we take feedback seriously so when key themes emerged, our staff worked tirelessly through the holiday period to fine-tune the program for Term 2.
We continuously seek to use technological advancements and develop new and exciting ways to engage students and teach. Already familiar with Google Classroom, Docs, Sites, and other GSuite tools, our staff and students were able to transition to online learning quickly. It was easy to pick up Meet as they were so familiar with other GSuite tools. Behind the scenes, a number of workshops were facilitated in order to train and upskill anyone who needed it, including parents.
Our aim to stream as many live lessons as possible was enabled by the skills of our staff and students, and that we provided devices to all Prep - Year 4 students. While parents juggled ‘homeschool’ and ‘working from home’, they could take comfort in the fact their child was being guided in their learning in real-time and staying connected with their teachers and peers.
The need for connection
We know that our online program can’t replicate the same on-campus experience. But, as much as possible, we wanted to ensure our program was holistic and not only focused on the classroom.
One of the biggest changes to our program was the adaptation of our timetable. Classes were shortened in order to allow students to have a ‘brain break’ away from their screens multiple times each day. Classes were also broken into chunks to allow for explicit group teaching, 1:1 discussion and feedback, and independent offline work.
Every day, time is scheduled for students to take part in a range of wellbeing activities. Year levels connect with each other and complete tasks that have been created by both staff and students.
The continuation of our co-curricular program has also been an area of focus. Music lessons continue, as do virtual rehearsals and jam sessions. Live-streamed workouts are the new normal in our Sport department, and each week our student House Captains are running #housefromyourhouse challenges and competitions.
Connection is also critical for our staff. A virtual staff room is open at recess and lunch, staff meetings are occuring online, and staff across different departments are working together to share their expertise and resources.
The opportunity for personal growth
We have spent years raising our children to believe that anything is possible, to know that they are empowered to make decisions and to take considered risks. In an instant, those rules changed. With no real-world reference point for how they 'should' behave or be coping during these times, we focused our efforts on keeping their world as ‘normal’ as possible.
With guidance from their teachers, working from home has helped students learn how to study independently, helped develop their resilience, and helped them appreciate all they have. They have quickly adapted to the ‘new normal’, and we have seen them take ownership of their learning journey and personal growth.
We are incredibly proud of how our community has embraced online learning. Our hard-working staff, our enthusiastic students, and of course, our supportive parents have come together to ensure each of our students' development and growth continues in these challenging circumstances.
Although different, and often challenging, learning online has strengthened us and should be remembered for what we have gained rather than what we lost.
Mr Phil Carew is the Head of Digital Technologies and eLearning at Toorak College
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