Lessons learnt during COVID-19

By Andrew Ayliffe

My first term as a teacher is one I’ll never forget…  

I had always envisaged teaching to be a social and collaborative profession involving meaningful relationships between staff and students and I imagined these interactions to be face to face and within the walls of a classroom, office or school environment. The recent times have opened my eyes to the myriad of learning and teaching options available through a variety of platforms and in different environments.

Although universities are pushing toward online capabilities and pre-recorded information delivery, I never envisaged that I would be faced with this so early in my teaching career, in the current school system. Prior to this, I had spent a lot of time thinking about the future of education and what it will look like – will students leave their house for school or will they learn from the comfort of their own home?

It was almost a ‘calm before the storm’ feeling, uncertain of when, or if, the COVID-19 pandemic would develop into the situation we were observing overseas. Alongside this uncertainty, was a variety of questions regarding common classroom practices and how they would be managed online. How would we manage the simple things such as delivering tasks to students or reading body language and visual cues to gauge how students are tracking or if they are enjoying and keeping up with the lesson?

Moving to an online teaching and learning platform was always going to be a challenging time as our profession relies heavily upon interaction and face to face communication. The collaboration between the staff was excellent. Even if it was as simple as sharing a tip for screensharing or recording a meeting, you could always count on one another to work through the challenge together.

Being well informed and prepared by our leadership enabled the testing of various online delivery methods and training days to ensure the best possible outcomes for the students and staff in the online environment. This testing and development enabled us to finetune and prepare our online capabilities in advance enabling us to gain confidence in the use of technology in our teaching.

Regardless of whether you are new to the profession or an experienced teacher, the recent months have been a major challenge for us all, however we have all become much more adaptable. It will shape the way we teach, the way students will learn and the way schools deliver education; we will be more multimodal and responsive to changes in technology. If students are absent for periods of time, we now have a variety of tried and tested methods for content delivery, in the absence of face to face. Another major gain has been the far greater appreciation we now have for being in a classroom with our wonderful students.

There are certainly some positives that have emerged during this time. Connecting with parents via Zoom for Parent Teacher Interviews was very successful and may remain an approach we adopt moving forward. Being able to touch base with our rural families in this way, really increased the connection of these families in learning how their daughter was progressing.

For me personally, I never realised how many simple things in life I had overlooked or taken for granted.  Something as simple as being able to walk to another classroom between lessons or to chat with a passing staff member or student. I think it has demonstrated how instinctively social and active we are as human beings.

It also increased my appreciation, as a teacher, to see how the girls interact and enjoy their moments of friendship; to watch that “aha!” moment as a student finds a breakthrough in what you are teaching them; the enthusiasm displayed by students when they discover something they are truly interested in and hadn’t known it beforehand; and, hearing the girls walk, talk and be active during recess and lunch.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaped us as a community into becoming more resilient, caring and kind to others.

I feel most of us will have waved and conversed more with our neighbours during this time. The sense of ‘we are in this together’ has certainly been evident. I also feel it has pushed the students and community to become more independent, while at the same time, more collaborative.

We have all tried new apps and technologies to stay connected, which opens our eyes to new possibilities and uses.

I believe if we look at the COVID-19 pandemic, and some of the positives that have resulted, while remaining very vigilant, we can learn lessons from this hurdle.

If anything, I am grateful for this time. We have built our skills, strengthened our community and walked side by side (socially distanced) through a significant time in history.

Andrew Ayliffe
Middle School STEM teacher and Senior School Science teacher