As boys and staff approach their fourth week of delivering lessons remotely (and seventh week of lockdown) our remote schooling, ‘Bedford @home’, is starting to become the ‘new normal’. As with any new challenge, remote learning has proved a learning curve – albeit a very rapid one – with hurdles along the way for all. However, thanks to the commitment, enthusiasm and determination of all, these challenges have been largely overcome. It is testament to the school’s investment in technology, commitment to training and our staff’s adaptability and skills, that this unique way of learning has so quickly become the new normal.
While we may be apart, Bedford School endures. As Head Master, James Hodgson, explains, “The interactions, the emotions, the hopes, fears and expectations will all be human; and one thing that studying Classics has taught me is that humanity does not change much. Our school values will continue to ring true, and to some extent become even more important, in this accelerated digital burst.”
Feedback from parents has been invaluable and right from the start we have listened to ways in which we can improve. It has also been particularly motivating to receive many wonderful comments; one parent told us, “The school has demonstrated such a strong, cohesive and supportive approach to both pupils and parents throughout such a difficult time. I appreciate that this is a huge team effort so an extended thanks to all the amazing teachers at Bedford School, who must have worked day and night to manage their online classrooms. The virtual learning seems incredibly well organised and must have been very challenging to deliver in such a short time.”
Early on, we spoke with two teachers who shared their experiences with us after their first week of delivering our timetables remotely. Ms Emma Goodman, Head of Geography in our Prep School explained that she believed that being part of such a strong and supportive department, and school, were key to making her remote lessons a success.
Emma explained that pre-lockdown training sessions as part of the school’s preparation plans were invaluable, as were the follow up one-to-one sessions she had with colleagues to help her get used to the technology, and uploading teaching material to the system so that boys would be able to access this online.
Emma told us, “I felt everyone was willing and happy to seek advice from other staff, and ask for help. We were ‘all in this together’ after all. When you become a teacher, you have the children’s best interests at heart and this was evident for everyone. What is going to work for our boys? What are they going to be able to access? What can we do to help parents?”
All of this preparation proved vital for when the first school day in lockdown came about. Emma explained, “When teaching remotely you don’t have the boys’ facial expressions, which in the classroom give away so much! I started searching for other ways to do this. Asking one boy to turn his microphone on and repeat the instructions or questions and answers to as many boys as possible.”
Mr Keelan Peters, Teacher of Physics in the Upper School, had some initial concerns about teaching remotely. He originally visualised delivering lessons from his lab, using the camera on his computer on his desk and writing on the board as normal. Of course, this then changed when the schools were closed and we went into lockdown, and he had to deliver lessons from his four-year-old daughter’s unicorn-adorned bedroom!
Mr Peters told us, “Thankfully, we started to teach remotely, and my lessons have been very well received. I’ve even had to insist that the boys living in Asia who are present in the afternoon lessons go to bed (as it’s past their bedtime in their time zone) and I’ll set them some work to do when they wake up. The boys have also been very mature in their approach to this new way of learning and are continuing to make good progress. Some boys have even claimed that they’re getting more work done than usual!
Like many teachers and workers adjusting to working from home, Mr Peters has had to balance looking after his two young daughters in between lessons. “I’m quite mentally and physically exhausted. Between lessons, where I’d usually be doing some marking and drinking a decaf green tea, I’m now jumping on a trampoline with my kids and working out with Joe Wicks. I also miss having face-to-face interaction with the boys, particularly my tutor group. That said, I still get to speak with my tutees once or twice a day, some of whom are just up the road, one is in India, two are in Hong Kong and one is in Japan, but it’s not quite the same as seeing them together in one place.”
As remote learning continues, as in ‘normal’ times, we are committed to ongoing reflection and to continuously evaluating how we can improve our offering. Regular surveys of staff, pupils and parents continue to guide us and inform our teaching and support, both learning and pastoral. Our ‘Bedford @home’ booklet offers further information on our approach to remote learning.