The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Helen Morgan

What can we learn from international schools about remote learning?

With many international schools some weeks ahead of the UK in terms of remote learning, Helen Morgan explores how they have coped and what can be learned. 

In the UK and across the world, teachers and pupils are getting used to being away from the classroom and learning remotely. Teachers are adapting to ensure that children continue to learn effectively and platforms such as Google Classroom are being optimised.

Across social media platforms such as Twitter, there are many examples of children engaging with new ways of learning. They are using the resources they have at home, such as Lego, to support their learning and, at the same time, parental involvement in learning has taken a front seat. I have seen parents working in partnership with schools to educate their children at home including:

  • learning new languages together
  • reading together
  • exercising together
  • following lesson plans and guidance provided by teachers. 

Many colleagues in international schools are two to three weeks ahead of schools in the UK in terms of remote learning. If you talk to them and listen to their experiences, they will tell you that they have learned a lot. Not least that this is a long game and we need to think about what is sustainable for schools, parents and children.

So, from a UK perspective, what can we learn from our colleagues in international schools that might help us with the next stage of the journey?

Think about the bigger picture

We need to focus on the wellbeing of staff, children, and their families. Websites such as Minds Ahead and Place2Be offer advice and guidance to help families during this time.

The Mindfulness in Schools Project offer the opportunity for parents and children to ‘Sit Together’ at 11.00am each day. The sessions aim to nourish, support, and connect people with each other during these unprecedented times and are conducted using Zoom.

What this perhaps tells us is that although the core purpose of schools is to focus on learning, it’s OK to step off the accelerator with regard to the normal educational agenda and trust that when everyone returns to school, life and education will continue. Things may be different now, but different can be good.

Angela Smith, Primary Principal at the English Modern School Doha explains ‘We are all in this together. If we don’t work together as a team of empathetic people with strong awareness of ourselves and others, we risk leaving some people behind. Let’s not do that.’ 

Safeguarding remains our top priority

There have been extraordinary efforts from UK schools to put in place effective provision for vulnerable children and vulnerable families. This ranges from learning resources and delivering food parcels to daily welfare phone calls to check in with children (and much, much more). 

Our international colleagues echo the importance of this and three weeks on, remind us of the need to ensure that we safeguard teachers and children, advocating that use of technology needs to be safe and teachers should follow their school safeguarding policy when working remotely. 

As always, if there is any uncertainty or ambiguity, they should speak to the designated safeguarding lead and seek clarity in line with normal procedures.

We need to focus on the wellbeing of staff, children, and their families

Great learning looks like lots of different things

If we can take one thing from the work our colleagues in international schools are doing, it is that great learning looks like lots of different things. Too much screen time isn’t good for anyone and international colleagues report that it can be draining for teachers, children and parents. 

Finding ways to enable learning away from a screen is something that teachers are focusing on and are using cooking, art, drama, music, design, and technology to facilitate learning, even in core subjects such as English, maths and science. Examples include:

  • food re-creations of key scenes in literature and history
  • writing science songs and raps
  • hands on approaches to maths using tortilla wraps to teach fractions.

Creativity is very much at the forefront of remote teaching and learning and soft skills have increased in value. Maybe one of the things we will take away from all of this is the need to invest in nurturing and developing soft skills and learning behaviours so that children become happy and successful adults. 

The deliberate development of learning behaviours such as empathy and resilience alongside cognitive skills is something we need to pay more attention to if we are to teach children to be able to cope with the complex and changing world in which we live. 

Organisations such as High Performance Learning provide a framework for developing learner Values, Attitudes and Attributes (VAAs) alongside Advanced Cognitive Performance indicators (ACPS). 

The principal at Harrow Bangkok explains the importance of developing VAAs and ACPs together: ‘While grades are important, producing students who are intellectually and socially confident, work-place and life-ready with a global outlook and concern for others is our true aim.’ 

Working with parents and carers

Giving parents and carers advice through school websites and mailed materials about how to structure the day, organise home learning and help children has been an integral part of making it work. 

However, international schools are keen to point out that they have had to ‘relax’ and allow for different approaches and different levels of support dependent on home circumstances.

Final thought

As remote learning becomes the new normal for the time being, it is clear from our colleagues in international schools that we need to approach it with humanity, humility, and honesty. Things will change and they won’t be perfect but that is OK. By sharing our experiences, we can support each other and focus on the things that matter.

Stay safe and well. 

With thanks to Angela Smith, an internationally experienced teacher and leader. She has 23 years in education across the UK, Malaysia, India and the Middle East as a teacher, leader, trainer and mentor. Her knowledge and experience is underpinned by her cultural awareness, empathy and innovation. She currently works as a Principal in Doha and is a Programme Leader for the Teaching & Learning Certification for Cambridge International Education.

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