Supporting learning at home - we're in it together

21 July, 2020 : 10:24
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PARENT

My name is Josephine Haughey. I am 37 years old and married with three children, two girls aged 17 and 10 and a boy aged six. I currently work as a vehicle administrator for a large car dealership in Northern Ireland. I am writing about my current experience of homeschooling during the Covid 19 experience.

A new experience for me

I have to admit that when I realised I had to homeschool my three children I was a bit apprehensive. I really didn't know what to expect. I have always put education at the foremost of my responsibility to my children as I want them to have a good set-up and I focus on this a great deal but I am not a teacher and have never worked with them on a full time basis to educate them, nor do I know anything about their curriculum apart from the meetings I attend once a year which to be completely honest I forget as soon as I leave. I focus on the things I can do at home to help the teachers in school but that's it. I was expecting a huge challenge of which I wasn't prepared for, especially considering I have three different age groups. I must admit that I was excited in some ways but afraid in others.

During my time homeschooling I have had different experiences with my children's teachers none of them bad, how could they be. We are all going through this together and every teacher has their own way of teaching during this unprecedented time. It has never been done before and I'm sure never will be in our lifetime again and I understand that greatly. My son is young enough to not need a lot of help but I know he needs structure otherwise I know going into the next school year would be a huge challenge for him and his school. My 17 year old is doing AS levels so I knew this would affect her greatly and my 10 year old daughter is in Primary 6 preparing for transfer in November. This is a challenging time especially for both my daughters.

Support from school

I have to say that my best experience of homeschooling and the one aspect that has made it so manageable for me is due to my 10 year old daughter’s teacher Miss Bradley.

Going into this situation I always knew that the best way to approach homeschooling was by adapting a good structured routine that would suit all my children whilst trying to make things fun for them as well (after all this is not how they planned their school year). Miss Bradley immediately and without question put my mind at ease by setting a timetable as to how to start each school day whilst also providing every girl with a school pack to enable them to complete the tasks she sets every day. Every evening she sets a new timetable and puts it up on Seesaw for the girls to see. She sets the task of PE with Joe Wicks every morning to get the children energised and uses the Seesaw app to set daily work and tutorial videos and work that lasts the day, all done by herself.

I initially thought that I would have to do the marking of work and setting tasks that I do with my son which although I feel I am capable of doing I knew it would be challenging and worried that my children wouldn't get the same level of education as children in previous years due to something that was out of our control. Miss Bradley however has been instrumental in providing the most amazing support so much so that I use her timetable with my son to establish a classroom setting for him and it works. She is constantly online engaging with the children in her class by answering their questions and marking all completed work as she would in the classroom. She is a real virtual teacher and is amazing at it as though she has always been doing things this way. How she has adapted to this new way of teaching so quickly is a testament to our education system in Northern Ireland. Each day a new timetable is set with new work making my job so easy by just ensuring my daughter does them which involves no work at all really. In my opinion whilst dealing with three different schools during this pandemic, Miss Bradley's approach to online teaching is unique and she is an inspiration to me with her relentless enthusiasm and passion. The children actually get excited to see what timetable she sets next with her wonderful ideas/challenges and creative flare she never disappoints and it is exciting for me to be part of it. I also feel that because of this I get the most from them and because of Miss Bradley's attitude towards helping parents I have the confidence to ask for help from my 17 year old daughter’s teachers as well to suggest work she could be receiving also.

Whilst adopting Miss Bradley's teaching routine with my six year old I have become a more confident parent in this new role as a make-shift teacher using his teacher’s resources and adding a few of my own with Miss Bradley's structure. I understand that not every teacher can implement this teaching style but I feel blessed to experience it with Miss Bradley.

Positive outcomes

I will be honest in saying that I definitely do not have the perfect run family and there have most certainly been dramatic outbursts and tantrums as we are a normal family but I will say that my overall experience to homeschooling has been a positive one and very different to how I expected due to the help and support I have received from my daughter’s school.

For the first time ever I have got to be part of my daughter’s classroom and see all her wonderful work, challenges and interactions due to this unique experience and I will always see the positive in that. I am lucky to have the opportunity to see things this way as both myself and my husband are at home due to this pandemic so he can help with housework and meals while I concentrate on our children's schooling in which I have the amazing support from the school who also support parents with free family counselling if it is needed and help with food from the community. I feel that Our Lady's Primary School show a real sense of community spirit and help where they can with all the pupils and families. I understand this is not the same for everyone as they may not have the same support but I feel thankful and optimistic in these challenging times.

CHILD

My name is Sophie Haughey and I am 10 years old. I attend Our Lady’s Primary School in Northern Ireland, Belfast and live with a family of five. At first, I was very nervous but excited to be homeschooled. I really missed all of my friends and still do, but now I’ve started to get used to it, it’s actually quite enjoyable. I can’t wait to go back to school and see all of my classmates, teachers, and all of the staff, but I personally feel very fortunate that I am not in a worse state. My teacher, Miss Bradley gave everyone in our class a large pack of work to complete over the coming months. With that work she has very kindly given us to get through times like this, she sets a timetable for each day including these activities so that we can get the day over and done with while getting a fair amount of work therefore still preparing us all for Transfer. In the mornings, we do our PE by doing Joe Wicks also known as ‘The Body Coach’ every day to get us fit and ready to take on the day’s work. We usually do our morning work first, including Spelling Activity Book and our Mental Maths worksheets, labelled for that certain day. Then, we do our literacy which changes depending on the day. Next, we have our break which sadly has to be healthy foods such as a piece of fruit, yoghurt or bread. After break, we do some more maths or literacy, again, depending on the day, and some chores such as tidying our rooms or doing the dishes. Next, we do our World Around Us topic, which is based on the Rainforest. It’s also a bit strange having an entirely different teacher halfway through term but not having a classroom. It definitely changes the mood a lot because you feel more like you’re at home and can relax but in a classroom you feel like you have to do work (even though you’re exhausted and really don’t want to) but you eventually get used to it and feel that old classroom feeling back and I feel it makes me more alert - even in different atmospheres - I like having my mummy as a teacher though. It’s definitely a change but it’s still fun and enjoyable just like it is in my classroom with my own teacher.

The main reasons I enjoy homeschooling is because I can have more of a lie-in in the mornings because usually we have to wake up at 6:30 to 7:00am but now we are able to wake up at 8:00am and we have no homework. The main reasons I don’t really enjoy homeschooling is because I miss all of my friends and my teacher in the classroom and all of the noise in the classroom. This is one of the main reasons I was a little nervous of being homeschooled because the atmosphere was so different and I was going to miss all the noise.

This is my experience of homeschooling and I hoped you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.

TEACHER
Getting the balance right - a teacher's perspective

When the whispers in early March started circulating about the imminent lockdown and as a result school closures, our children could not believe their luck. However, teachers everywhere were plunged into panic mode. How can we continue to provide an education? How long will this last? How can we support our pupils?

Is this really happening?

We have all found ourselves thrown into a very strange and unknown situation and it all seems very surreal sometimes. I have found myself stopping at times and asking “is this really happening”. As part of human nature, we all take comfort in some sort of a routine, some more than others. However, we have all experienced an upset to this daily routine in so many aspects e.g. home life, careers, hobbies etc. It has at times felt like the week between Christmas and New Year, where nobody knows what day it is! As teachers, we pride ourselves on our organisational skills and having a routine within our classroom. The onset of Covid-19 has thrown this all into disarray and we have found ourselves becoming virtual teachers, something many of us may have dreamt of as children! However, as many of us have probably discovered, this is not a dream-like situation…

When school closures were being discussed, my school were quick off the mark to set about putting a plan in place for this closure. We started by compiling home learning packs and as a Primary 6 teacher, this involved me racing to the photocopier to get practice transfer papers photocopied! Following this, we investigated setting up home support for pupils in the long term while adhering to the lockdown procedures. We set up a ‘Home Learning Page’ on our school website whereby teachers could upload work, links to websites, activities etc. We also then decided to set up virtual classrooms on the app ‘Seesaw’, which we had used briefly in the past. We chose ‘Seesaw’ as it provides parents and children with a safe and child friendly way of learning and communicating with classmates and teacher. Pupils and in fact parents have the ability to access the learning at a time that suits them and their home life. They have direct access to their class teacher even though they may not physically see them. The app also provides parents with flexibility particularly in this situation, the class teacher provides all the guidance so parents (in particular with Key Stage 2 pupils) don’t need to sit with their children and work through every activity.

Remote learning

I am sure at this stage everyone appreciates the unforeseen worries and stresses that this global pandemic has caused. From a personal viewpoint as a teacher, there have been many challenges over the past weeks. At the beginning, this was trying to set up the remote learning platforms and ensuring it was accessible for all our pupils. For many of our pupils and families, Seesaw was new to them and it has been ‘a challenge’ for some. We recorded a short step-by-step video for our pupils and parents, demonstrating how to upload work, message the teacher etc. This proved to be a very valuable resource. Following this, the next challenge was trying to reach out to all pupils in an attempt to keep them motivated and interested in their learning. This can be a struggle at times even in the classroom never mind through a screen where the pupils can very easily switch off – both mentally and physically! To try and overcome this, I have spent time looking for and planning practical and exciting lessons, giving the children an opportunity not only to learn but also to develop and make the most of their resources at home.

Health and wellbeing

Another challenge faced is that of our children’s mental health. This is a key focus for all educators and we, as a ‘Nurturing School’, treat this with the utmost respect and relevance in all we do. As adults we are aware of the impacts this lockdown is having on everyone’s mental health and I can only begin to imagine what our children are dealing with. As a teacher, my role is not only to educate but also to nurture the children in my care and I feel remote learning has not affected this (but time will tell). It is widely known that having a routine has many benefits for children. Therefore, at the outset I encouraged my class to try and set up a routine similar to one we already had established in school. I have encouraged my pupils to find time every day for physical activity, silent reading, meditation, free time etc.

It is very easy to get ‘hung-up’ on the negatives that this pandemic is causing, however we must look for the positives. Yes, this has been and continues to be an extremely challenging time in education, however, I have seen many benefits. Over the past weeks, I have developed stronger relationships with not only my pupils but with their parents and my fellow teachers - there has been a real sense of community and togetherness. Many parents have commented about how much they are enjoying sharing this educational experience with us, as teachers. I also feel that our children are being given the opportunity to take ownership of their learning and to learn not only the curriculum but life skills as a whole! We are all in unchartered waters and no-one knows what the correct approach is, however, as the analogy of a seesaw suggests…we will continue to work hard at finding a balance!



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This blog includes contributions from the P6 teacher, Miss Bradley, parent Josephine Haughey and child Sophie Haughey from Our Lady's Girls' Primary School in North Belfast.

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