3rd April 2020
Firstly, we acknowledge and commend the trojan work of teachers across the country and the professional way you have responded swiftly to the current crisis. The high calibre of our teachers is renowned worldwide, and the creativity and dedication of our educators has come to the fore over the last number of weeks.
Continuity of the education of the children in our care is critical and schools are obliged to ensure that all their teachers continue to support their pupils’ learning in whatever way they can during this period. Testament to the caring, compassionate, innovative nature of teachers, schools have risen to the challenge and continue to provide educational support to their pupils, in line with instruction from the Minister for Education which stated that schools are required to “continue lesson plans and provide online lessons where (they) are equipped to do so in order to minimise the impact on teaching and learning”. Teachers remain committed to affording opportunities for learning, work in conjunction with their colleagues and ensure that all relevant, reasonable supports are provided to parents with the education of their children.
Further to this statement on March 12th, the Department of Education and Skills issued correspondence on March 25th reiterating that
all schools are expected to proactively ensure that all of their staff contribute to the continuation of educational provision for their students during this period.
Is fearr an tsláinte ná an táinte
- The most important thing to remember through this crisis is that first and foremost, the health and well-being of yourself and your family is paramount.
- The expectations of all concerned should be reflective of this. There are many articles available on managing mental health and physical wellbeing, and INTO has also published guidelines for teachers (which can be accessed via the links below).
- Be sure to take breaktimes as normal during the course of the working day, factor in some time outdoors / exercise (adhering to social distance guidelines), try to eat healthy, nutritious food and get enough sleep. As well as daily break time and lunchtime, take your Easter holiday. Whilst pupils should be encouraged to continue with reading and other learning activities, teachers should not provide formal lessons or instruction for the 2-week period.
- Personal / family situations will vary. Most households are adjusting to a very new, unheralded concept of parents supporting their children’s education at home in addition to working remotely and are finding it difficult to achieve a balance in this regard.
- Personal circumstances will dictate the amount of time that a teacher can reasonably be expected to be engaged in preparation and support of remote learning.
- Principals should consider the personal situation and unique needs of their staff in devising plans. Many teachers have young children at home or may be caring for sick relatives or family members.
Setting realistic goals
- The provision by schools of general guidelines to teachers are more realistic in the current situation rather than schools seeking to be prescriptive or precise in their requests of teachers.
- Similarly, schools and teachers should be sensitive to potential difficulties faced by parents in trying to ensure that their children are engaged in the work that is provided by schools. What is sent home should be an offer of work that might be useful if circumstances allow for its completion to be done rather than a demand for completion.
- Teachers are advised to be prudent and practical in preparing work for pupils that they do not place unrealistic demands upon themselves or generate an excessive workload for their pupils. It is important to bear in mind that activities aimed at consolidating and re-enforcing previous learning are the most meaningful in the current circumstances.
- Principals and teachers are best placed to make decisions that best meet the needs of their pupils and families, therefore do not feel under pressure to replicate work that is being done in other schools or any “fast-track” approach that will exacerbate stress amongst staff, parents and the wider school community. Each school environment is different and methodologies will reflect this. Uaireanta “is glas iad na cnoic i bhfad uainn”.
- We are in unchartered territory and in general teachers are adapting well. Teachers are not expected to replicate their full normal teaching day. Teachers will provide realistic, manageable content and for those who are not familiar with online resources, they will work at their own pace and this message will be communicated to parents. In their communications with parents, teachers should be clear about they can do. This will differ from school to school and from teacher to teacher depending on personal circumstances and capacities.
- Likewise, there is no expectation on parents to teach all that might have been taught in the classroom environment. Parents are feeling under immense pressure at the present time, but should be reassured that they are not compelled to complete tasks and activities with an academic focus, but should do their best to ensure that their child(ren) are exposed to learning opportunities in their home and surrounding area.
*Remember that at the core of the current primary school curriculum (published in 1999) is a child-centred approach to teaching and learning with pupils encouraged to engage in “active learning” through “guided discovery” and a huge emphasis on children in infant class “learning through play”.
- Digital learning is a key element of many subject schemes at primary level and teachers utilise online activities during various lessons daily. There is a wide range of effective, online resources that can be used in the home setting, but we are aware that access to internet or the required devices is not a prerequisite for teachers and parents who find themselves working from home.
- When providing suggested learning activities, be mindful of parents who are working remotely or those with infant children and include tasks that children can do independently without constant supervision. Every day is a school day, and learning is not confined to what is contained within school textbooks.
- There are countless opportunities for learning in the home environment. This is also a time to revert to basic, life skills. For example,
- reading / storytelling
- writing letters and notes
- cooking (boil an egg, make a tray bake, weigh ingredients)
- setting a table for dinner
- INTO have published an article on our website with a range of tips and tricks for home learning that incorporates both online and offline activities.
- This is a temporary measure and remote learning can never be a fully effective substitute for face-to-face teaching and learning. Teachers can only do their best under the current circumstances.
Teamwork – giorraíonn beirt bóthar
- Teachers will have their own unique skillsets and level of digital literacy. In this regard, teachers are encouraged to collaborate with fellow staff members in providing content and assist each other by combining your strengths. In some cases, teachers who are not confident working online or have poor broadband may seek assistance from their colleagues uploading any tasks they may choose to create.
- Staff members who feel very at home with the use of technology may volunteer to assist their colleagues on how to carry out basic functions using online education fora.
- Teachers work cooperatively and collaboratively regularly to deliver the best, well-rounded education to the pupils in their school, sharing their own individual expertise and subjects of personal interest. Keeping up a team effort in these challenging times, will help to sustain teachers in their efforts to support their pupils’ learning.
Supports for teachers engaging with online learning.
- Teachers may wish to spend some time engaged in professional development. Both PDST and NCSE websites may be useful. It can be an opportunity to explore and learn more about the potential of technology.
- Members of the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST) Digital Technology team are available to offer guidance and has developed a new dedicated webpage of curated content to support schools and teachers engaged in distance learning in order to provide continuity to pupils/students. The page can be accessed at: www.pdst.ie/distancelearning
- Hundreds of teachers and third level lecturers with teaching experience are moderating useful online pages and blogs (which are straightforward to use) on which teachers can share ideas and resources and you may choose to bring some of these to the attention of your staff.
Communications, ICT, Online Lessons, Conference Calls:
- The current situation prevents teachers from holding normal round-table staff meetings in our schools or face-to-face meetings with parents.
- Individual privacy of teachers, online security, GDPR and safeguarding must all be considered before delivering online tutorials, materials, sharing of files, emails and other communications. (Should members have any concerns in this regard, they should raise the issue(s) with their school principal and with their INTO CEC Rep.).
- Methods of communication between teacher, pupils and parents/carers should only be through secure platforms already established as safe and agreed methods used by each school.
- Staff conference calls – with the agreement of the staff involved – may be facilitated during school hours. Such calls should be treated as a meeting and have an agenda provided in advance of the call. (Again, the availability of the required devices and broadband access of staff members must be taken into account).
As we journey through unprecedented territory, we praise teachers’ tireless work and unfaltering effort in endeavouring to maintain structure and create calm amidst a prevailing sense of worry. The school is the heart of the local community, and the efforts of so many school leaders in supporting families and vulnerable members of the community at this difficult time is remarkable.
Once again, the INTO acknowledges the incredible work you have been doing since the current pandemic began and your continued efforts at this testing juncture. Be safe, keep up the great work, embrace the opportunities to learn about and use and digital technologies and remember that this is a learning process for all – mar a deirtear “De réir a chéile a thógtar na caisleáin”.