When Jane Doyle started teaching online to her kindergarten students in the early days of the pandemic, never did she think it would result in seeing intimate shots of the insides of their noses and throats as they became curious with webcam technology. “I never thought I might need to be an ear, nose and throat specialist!” Educator leadership was never an ambition of Jane’s either, but it came via chance and opportunity at every school she’s worked in across her 33 years in the Catholic primary education sector. Her current leadership role is as Coordinator of Training and Leadership for K-2 at Dominic College, in Glenorchy, Tasmania, where she oversees curriculum implementation and initiatives, resourcing and professional learning for teachers and students.
Jane is one of two award winning teachers speaking at the Educational Publisher Awards this year. She will share learnings as a teacher leader for Kinder to Year 2 educators and her thoughts on where educational publishers could position their offerings for “the new normal.” Below is a quick Q and A with Jane to get you acquainted prior to the EPAA event on 3 September.
Jane, how did things change for you when schools began closing down and transitioning to teaching online?
The biggest change for me was the realisation we needed to send all of our student’s stationery, books, and devices home so that we could continue to learn in the new term. I oversaw this for all of the K-2 classes. The immediate impact of the closing down of the school was a shock for us all because we actually didn’t think it would happen. Packing up our own resources and our classrooms for extra cleaning was surreal and hectic. Our parents were just as affected as we were.
The teaching staff worked onsite for the last four days of term, organising online lessons, timetables, resource packs to be photocopied and mailed home in case we didn’t have enough devices available. Then our thoughts turned to how we would need to recreate our classrooms while working from our homes.
During this time I was supervising the children of Essential workers and helped set up our Teacher Assistants to continue individual speech lessons, small group literacy and numeracy support lessons and ensure access to all of the online lessons.
This also was a time for improving teacher IT skills to ensure they were comfortable and competent in the online forum. Setting up my own learning space at home was not a focus at this point but I quickly realised I would need to do this to ensure I was ready for both of my roles at the beginning of Term 2!
You’ve said your greatest resource is your teachers, can you explain what that means to you?
This is a personal view, but it also correlates with the view of our College leadership. If our students have dynamic, skilled and happy teachers, learning will automatically occur. One of our founders, Don Bosco’s, greatest sayings is one we keep in the forefront of our minds: “It is not enough to love the young; they must know that they are loved.” This influences the way we engage with our students and flows into our approach to teaching and pastoral care at Dominic College.
How did you see your teachers respond to having to teach online all of a sudden? What did they most need from you?
The most important thing I could give my teachers in the lead up to remote learning was the confidence and reassurance that they could do it. We had a two week “holiday break” before the Term started, and I was available to them whenever they needed as I felt that a problem shared, is a problem halved. Most of my team continued to work throughout the holidays to ensure they were ready for the new term.
Towards the end of the first week of term, one of my most experienced team members suggested that we needed to meet for a social occasion. This made me aware that some teachers lived on their own and they were actually on their own while teaching and in downtime. This made me consider their health – mental and physical – and how we could connect to highlight they were not alone and that I was available for them if they needed me.
This became a valuable time because we shared as much as possible – especially resources found through our social platforms and networks.
I also supported them in becoming leaders within our team as well. Some of my team have more experience with online planning and with shortcuts that we could take, so our meetings became a collegiate approach to planning and problem solving when needed.
What aspects and features of teacher and student resources did you find really useful when transitioning to a digital classroom?
Some of the most useful resources needed to be accessible online. We now have an online reading program for Prep (Foundation) to Year Two. We also sourced an overseas Maths program because we were concerned that some of our students were missing out on vital practise time, which occurs naturally in the classroom.
Most of the classroom teachers took home hands-on resources from their classrooms to use in online lessons. We sent home small packs of resources with the children that included handwriting, alphabet and high frequency word charts; 10 frames, counters and dice and number cards; basic cards and resources that we could use for a variety of different games and activities in the home environment.
We already have some online resources for reading in Maths in Year 2 and have had these for several years. We introduced a couple of programs for Prep (Foundation) and Kinder to see if these would work in an online environment.
The main thing that teachers wanted with the activities was the ability for children to work at an instructional level and then at an enjoyment or practise level. The ability to use our online resources for guided reading was important to us but we had varying degrees of success. The main thing that we found useful was the ability to differentiate for our students using the same resource.
What did you find in transitioning to an online teaching that you were missing from resources available to you?
Apart from everyone having the same internet strength and connection! The main thing we found missing was the ability to give feedback straightaway and to examine everything that the students were doing as we normally do in the classroom; we needed to wait until they finished the activity before we could actually give feedback. There was also a large element of parent help in some of the activities and this meant that some work samples were not true indicators of student knowledge and understanding.
Video responses certainly helped but again some leading questions were often used to get the “right” answers. Parental understanding was sometimes different. To cater for this many teachers made videos of the same lesson with the children so the parents and students could watch it again. Some teachers also added extra instructions for the parents and other options for activities. The responses we viewed did not always show true evidence of understanding and needed to be repeated when we returned to face-to-face teaching at school. Many of our online and physical resources did not support the introduction of new learning.
How do you see the classroom changing in the long term, based on what you have learned in the Covid period?
There have been a large number of my teachers saying that they are now able to fully integrate technology in our classrooms because we have individual one-to-one devices for every student from Kinder to Year 10 (that’s nearly 1000 devices). Previously in the Early Years, we had 15 devices for each class, but these could be combined so everybody could have a one-to-one opportunity.
This now also provides an added dimension to our classroom planning and learning opportunities, where technology is can be a part of every lesson. We can continue to have small groups and provide the direct instruction needed. Early Years programs are enhanced because our students’ digital skills have improved. They are now able to create responses to activities instead of just using devices for play or practise.
A really positive result is the increased interaction we now have with our parents. For the first time our parents were tasked with actively “teaching” their children and keeping them engaged and up to date with classroom work.
What suggestions do you have for Australian educational publishers to prepare for the new opportunities in teaching?
The biggest change I foresee for Australian educational publishers is the storage, access 24/7 on each device and the variety available in this format.
It is a much cheaper option for us than buying large numbers of published book sets to use for guided reading, for individual writing, for home reading and for use in all curriculum areas. I think this is an area where publishers can consider focusing on.
Having a range of fiction and nonfiction stories available across all curriculum areas would be advantageous, particularly for the early years. I feel this is something that will be embraced by many teachers in all year levels.
I also think the addition of e-books and picture books based on the varying nationalities and cultures we now have in all Australian schools, would be well supported and a wonderful addition to our classroom libraries. We have many nationalities in our school and one of the greatest things that we can do is offer our children and their family’s opportunities to read in their first language and share these with children in our class.
Our LOTE language is Japanese and we recently purchased a large number of picture books from Japan during our annual visit to our sister school. These help our children learn to read and speak more fluently in Japanese purely for enjoyment and to extend our program from oral language experience to encompass all aspects of language in familiar picture books.
I think having technology as a resource in our classrooms means that there are many different ways that we can use the same book / resource because we can read it alone with a friend or as a whole group; we can listen to it and interact with the story as it is being read to us. I think the most important thing is having an interactive aspect to any of the books that are published in the future because encouraging our children to respond using technology is the best way that we can move forward especially now that we have such amazing technological capacity available to us.
To hear more insights from Jane Doyle, be sure to sign up for the online EPAA ceremony. Learn about the winners when they’re announced as a bonus!
Jane Doyle was recognised as the Australian Teacher of the Year by The Educator in 2018.