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Learning in and from lockdown

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By Fiona Reid
Learning in and from lockdown

IN this special article, Lockerbie Academy headteacher Brian Asher reflects on a year in education like no other.

“ONE year since the initial lockdown began. It’s hard to believe we’ve had a high level of restriction imposed on our lives for such a long time – something I’m sure we’d all have said couldn’t possibly happen beforehand, but we’re still living with lockdown.

There is a wide variety and strength of opinion in society, from those who feel all of the rules are a step too far, to those who feel we haven’t gone far enough, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. No area of society has been unaffected by Covid-19 and I can clearly see some of the effects in the Academy.

There’s an over-used phrase in education that “the only constant is change” which tries to describe the fact that we have to constantly adapt and move with the times, especially in terms of technology. Never before have we relied so heavily on the wi-fi at school and home and the gadgets which were maybe not specifically bought with school in mind, have been useful for that nonetheless.

Lockerbie Academy has helped to distribute over 270 devices but still, we are convinced that there will be those of our school community who need greater help or support than they have asked for. For me, it is very important that we find the equity gap in terms of access to technology and broadband and work to resolve those issues with the council.

As reliant as we’ve all been on digital learning, it was a joy last week to see what happened with pupils back in the building. They took their seats in strangely far-spaced areas (two metre distancing). The formality of returning to the building, added to the extra formality of the regiments of tables and chairs, meant an unfamiliar hush as they gathered. Not knowing what to expect, some tentative conversation began and, before long, that welcome hubbub broke out and filled the spaces, empty for too long. By the end of each day as they were collected, walked home or got the bus, it was plain to see the truth: what they’ve missed most is each other. As important as learning is, it is just as important that it’s something we do together. That’s what school is.

The staff have loved seeing the pupils again (some pupils may even admit they’ve enjoyed seeing us too!) – this, after all, is the job we applied for; working with pupils and teaching them our subject specialisms. None of us ever imagined trying to do so from behind a computer.

I do worry about mental health. For many of our staff, pupils and parents, this whole experience has been very difficult and lonely. All behaviour is communication. After the last lockdown, the whole of Scotland saw a rise in challenging behaviour in schools, as pupils took time to re-adjust.

As we gradually emerge from this lockdown, we will need to carefully monitor each other and offer the help we can where we see the need. I would be keen to stress to everyone that it’s ok not to be ok and it’s good to talk.

It can be hard to draw positives from such a difficult time. Not seeing friends and family, or worse, the loss of friends and family casts a shadow that will take time to fade.

We have learned to do things in new ways. Some of my older family members now use gadgets with FaceTime- there was never any need before. Many of us are looking forward with new enthusiasm to spending more time with friends and family – that will be a positive.

I hope we all remember the appreciation we have felt for those who risk their own health and safety for the rest of us – that would be a positive.

The extent to which our local businesses, pubs and restaurants are the heart of communities has never been more clear – surely we will support them more than before? That must be a positive.

Some aspects of education will never be the same. We can clearly see that much more can be done digitally than we had previously attempted. We already see new plans being drawn up across the region and the country to capitalise on working remotely. Hopefully, we will see more new opportunities emerge for pupils to study a wider range of options than any single school could offer. I think SQA and Government have the chance to learn new ways of operating the national exam system, so I will watch that develop with interest.

When it is finally over, we will be able to say we came through that time. I sometimes hear people talking about “getting back to normal”. I suspect that what we will find is that “normal” is not an old, familiar thing, but something new and a bit different from what we experienced before Covid-19.

The school values are Compassion, Respect, Equity, Ambition, Teamwork and Effort – I think these are especially appropriate now and as we re-open as a school. If we get the support right in school and society in general, help people talk through their experiences, then we might even forge a new resilience that will help us face whatever the future may hold.”

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