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• On October 19, the government decided to close secondary schools and universities and introduce compulsory remote learning there.
• On October 26, a shift was made to remote learning in upper primary school (Grades 4 to 8).
• On November 9, students in Grades 1-3 of primary schools transitioned to online learning.
So, after less than two months of in-person work after summer holidays, schools had to move to remote teaching again.
How do schools evaluate their most recent experience? What was their work like and how did they teach when it was time to return to the classroom? How were they prepared? And what will happen now when distance learning has been reintroduced?
Many of our Our Kids member schools have provided us with detailed information about their work, what they have provided to students (and parents), and how it worked in practice.
In the first article of this series, we described innovative forms of adaptation of learning/teaching to the conditions of a pandemic, non-academic aspects of the schools’ work during this period, and safety issues.
In this article, we’ll focus on technology and the schools’ communication with their communities. And we’ll offer some conclusions.
Private schools felt prepared for the second wave of COVID-19, having acquired valuable experience in the spring and having spent a busy summer preparing for the possible closure of schools and switching to online learning again.
New technologies played a major role in the success of this difficult mission. Private schools are technologically advanced and have extensive resources in this area. Here's what we heard from Our Kids member schools.
Anna Kozicka, principal of Open School, says: “We use two communication channels. Discord is our first meeting place. Each class has separate text channels for each subject on its server. During every lesson, the teacher writes there: topic, key issues, attaches materials, files, links to films, and information about tasks to be done. It's all easy to find. Some of the staff conduct classes on Discord and some send a link to meetings at Zoom. Discord's strong point is that each lesson is recorded, as the chats are saved. So you can come back to the lesson history if you forget something. Interestingly, it was the students who showed us this application. Young people know it very well from the world of computer games. Thus, in our school, adults learned from children. Zoom is our second platform. Some prefer it as a teaching tool. Its limitation is that it is not possible to record the lessons, so it is not possible to go back to what was discussed in class. That's why Discord is our "command centre." And some additional attractions: “In our online activities we include activating tools: www.genial.ly, www.quizlet.com, www.kahoot.it, www.wordwall.net, www.twinkl.pl, which allow quizzes, guessing games, and interactive summaries."
PRIMUS reports: “In both our Primus Foundation schools, we use the MS Teams Platform to work with students and lessons are conducted according to the in-person timetable. What is also important is that our teachers are great at dealing with new technologies and feel very comfortable in the online reality."
The Polish British Academy of Warsaw uses the Google Classroom platform, which has many advantages and has turned out to be a very good choice. It can be used on mobile devices, which allows easy access. All active tasks can be found by students and parents in one tab, which is very convenient, and it allows parents to keep informed about their kids’ learning progress. All this, according to the school, has increased the effectiveness of learning and motivated students to communicate on an ongoing basis.
Wroclaw Cosmopolitan School Principal Graham Lewis talks about the solutions used in his school. The students have live video lessons with their teachers and classmates using GoogleMeet, a simple video conferencing tool. Google for Education tools are used throughout the school, and every student and employee has their own email address—@cosmo.edu.pl—to easily access their lesson schedules and calls, as well as the collaboration tools available in Google Docs. Communication on the Google platform is also a matter of security, as it’s used only by the school community. “The backbone of our online experience is Seesaw—every student has their own digital learning journal which looks a lot like Instagram but does so much more. Students can post videos, voice recordings, live drawings, documents, explainer videos, and much more using an ever-growing range of intuitive tools that allow even our youngest students to be independent in their online learning.” Moreover, all parents are connected to Seesaw through the family version of the app, so they can see what is going on at school and comment."
The British School Warsaw, as we wrote in the previous article, at a time when students could still attend school, used its Classroom Connect for students in quarantine or who weren’t able to participate in classes for any reason. Classroom Connect (for Years 1-13) is live streaming from specially-purchased wide-angle cameras, allowing students to participate in the lesson remotely. Now that in-person learning has stopped, the school has switched to Virtual School Experience (VSE)—when the teacher is online and all students are at their homes too. The school uses MS Teams, Firefly, and SeeSaw for remote work.
The British International School of the University of Łódź reports: “We started trying different solutions during the summer holidays. Like our patron—the University of Lodz, we provided free access to Microsoft 365 for all students and teachers. Thanks to this, they can use the Teams application, the wide range of Office 365, and other products supporting distance learning. In addition, children in kindergarten and primary school got access to the SeeSaw platform, where all homework is posted. Due to the ease of navigation, even the youngest children are able to do the exercises without their parents' help. Last school year, we also started using the free exam.net platform, where our students remotely completed all the credits. This system offers not only modern security measures, but also examination resources such as dictionaries, calculators, drawing tools, etc."
At Monnet International School, lessons, meetings with parents, and teachers’ meetings are held on the Microsoft Teams platform.
British Primary School of Wilanów has developed a special Distance Learning Program. “The school uses the SeeSaw online platform from nursery to Year 5 and Google Classroom for Upper Primary Year 6-9 students. Our lessons are held live via Zoom, while other lessons are pre-recorded."
As of September, the International American School of Warsaw used the Online Merge Offline (OMO) platform mentioned in the previous article, which “allowed for our students to rotate between in-school and at-home learning environments, and to be in the classroom even when they are not. The students are able to view the physical classroom, interact directly with their teachers, all in a merged environment with their physically present peers. This option represents a major innovation in education and we are prepared to be pioneers in the field.”
High school Liceum Niepubliczne nr 43 im. Lotników Amerykańskich Polskiego Stowarzyszenia Promocji Oświatowych reports: “We do a lot of group work, using Zoom or Sutori—a tool for joint creation of presentations on a timeline; we also encourage relations between students and their parents and friends (e.g., to use their help in creating some mini-projects)." There are also other technical solutions: "We also shoot culinary videos (such creative forms allow us to get away a bit from the computer and activate the right hemisphere of the brain; then we throw it all on Padlet.com and create useful materials, for example, for younger students). We remember about some fun interludes—there are a lot of games and quizzes in our classes, e.g., from the Bamboozle, Kahoot, Quizlet or Learning Apps applications—it is very important to get a break during online lessons."
The schools have not forgotten about those who do not have the equipment to make use of all these technological teaching options. The Polish British Academy of Warsaw purchased over 20 new computers, “Partly for teachers, to further improve their work, but also for students. There is a possibility of renting equipment by families if they do not have the technological resources for online lessons and parents need support in this area.”
Of course, the spring lockdown was a kind of a rehearsal of what was to happen in the fall, providing invaluable experience. Agnieszka Behnam from the Polish British Academy of Warsaw says: “The forms of work in the spring and now are similar. Certainly, after so many months of gathering experience, the teaching is very smooth. The only difference is that we changed the Zoom platform to Google Meet, which has been working very well so far. "
And above all, the earlier, "pre-pandemic" implementation and use of new technologies have proved very useful and have helped schools a lot—then, in spring, and now, after summer holidays.
Agnieszka Olszewska, principal of Polish-English Primary School Edison, emphasizes that both in the spring and now, the school could do so well because it had focused on using new technologies much earlier. “Technologies in our school are a tool for the creative work of the teacher, and our students perceive them as something normal, like a natural element of education. (...) We have developed a strategy for instruction digitization in our school with the following key goals and procedures: • individualization of the teaching process - strengthening the motivation, involvement, and interest of students in the educational process and active learning, • equipping students with digital tools. • training our teaching staff in the creative implementation and use of new technologies. The teachers at the Polish-English Edison School are equipped with competences that they have been learning for several years."
Żaneta Cornily sums up the experience of the Pro Futuro school in the same way, talking about “modern technologies we have used for a long time. It was not new to our students and teachers."
But all this requires constant effort and work—that's why schools train their teachers and staff on an ongoing basis. Graham Lewis, principal of Wrocław Cosmopolitan School, talks about a number of training initiatives, including the so-called "Tech Tuesdays" with Deputy Headmaster Mr. Colbourne, “in which teachers have weekly drop-in sessions to learn some new skills or seek advice on integrating tech into their lessons”. Also, the school has run “a series of workshops on our online learning platforms and pedagogical shifts in using Seesaw which have been very well received and the adaptability of our teaching teams has been incredibly fast.”
Pro Futuro offers its teachers ongoing support. Principal Żaneta Cornily says that the school's work is so good thanks to the methodological and pedagogical support system for teachers. “I’ve created groups of teachers for work, meetings, and exchange of ideas,” she says, emphasizing that everything can be done if you have a good team. Hence, they have regular online lesson observations, evaluations, and discussions.
Dialogue and feedback
How to choose the best practices? Schools have IT specialists, but they don't rely only on experts. A characteristic feature of private schools is that they ask students and parents for their opinions and take this feedback into account in planning further activities. The schools are engaged in a dialogue with those most affected—their students, seeking their feedback via surveys, evaluations, comments, and discussions.
Liceum Niepubliczne nr 43 im. Lotników Amerykańskich Polskiego Stowarzyszenia Promocji Oświatowych high school reports: "During and outside the lessons, we do not forget that the most important thing is a sense of security, so we ask our students what they need, we conduct regular surveys, and the tutoring system that we have introduced in our school ensures that every student has support of an individual advisor. We are constantly monitoring the situation, we conduct surveys to better adapt the organization of the school's work to the remote reality, and above all, to follow the needs of our students."
The British School Warsaw: “The issue of contact with parents is also interesting—we moved everything online with great success. I think that even after the pandemic, some online solutions will remain with us because they have been very well received by parents."
Contact and communication with parents is considered very important in private schools.
Anna Kozicka, principal of the Open School, says: “We have scheduled online meetings with parents every two weeks. Parents are a very important part of our community. We want to know how they are doing and, from their perspective, how the education in our school is going."
Wroclaw Cosmopolitan School keeps parents informed and up to date about their kids' learning through the "family app," says Principal Graham Lewis.
Schools also provide advice, support, information, and knowledge about the coronavirus itself and the fight against it. Akademeia High School organized internal webinars for parents and students on the coronavirus pandemic and the viruses as such.
The families’ pandemic experiences have increased the interest in private schools even more than before. In Warsaw, private schools already have almost 35,000 students, over 10,000 more than five years ago.
The private secondary schools have grown the most in recent times. A year ago, they had 8,100 students and now they have almost 12,500. Last year, 12 new private high schools were opened in Warsaw, and this year four high schools, one technical high school, and one vocational school have been registered.
The number of private primary schools also increases every year, and there are already 22,000 students there. Five years ago, about 24,500 families enrolled their children in private schools at all levels. Today, private schools in Warsaw offer education to over 16.3 percent of all the students. “It is an equivalent of quite a sizable town, with 34,860 kids." (Parents take children out of public schools. Boom on home education and private schools)
Small classes, individualized teaching, focusing not on rankings and the rat race, but on emotional safety and development, project-based learning, a multidisciplinary approach, focusing on relationships, education without violence and tolerance, good resources, new technologies, openness and dialogue, close communication with parents, instilling values rather than just imparting knowledge—these are the main reasons why parents decide that it’s worth investing in their children's education and choose a private school for them.
Finally, here are a few quotes from the representatives of the schools—members of the Our Kids community—which reflect the philosophy of private schools. Such an approach to education explains the success of these schools in the most difficult situation they’ve ever experienced in their history.
Anna Kozicka, Open School:
We are all learning to function in the new reality. We are still “on the road,” ready to make changes and search for solutions, we experience failures. What works for us is being in constant dialogue with our students, parents, and our team.
Agnieszka Olszewska, Polish-English Primary School Edison, speaking about the digitization and implementation of new technologies that have been implemented in her school for years:
As time has shown, this was the best decision to make e-education an evolution, not a revolution for us.
Joanna Hermaniuk, British International School:
We try to think not in terms of difficulties but challenges.
Żaneta Cornily, Pro Futuro:
You have to constantly motivate, maintain the good will, energize, support, and just be. This goes for the entire school community. Everyone needs it today: the students, the teachers, and the parents.
And two more statements about what modern education is all about:
Graham Lewis, Wroclaw Cosmopolitan School:
I have repeated the John Dewey quote: “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”
Agnieszka Olszewska, Polish-English Primary School Edison:
In our opinion, a school's task is to prepare its students for living in a world that does not exist yet, but will appear shortly after the students leave its walls.
Our Kids recommends
We encourage you to read about:
• the experiences of private schools, students and parents, and lessons learned from the spring lockdown—a four-part series of articles Learning during the pandemic.
• Our Kids own study (survey conducted among parents of private school students) on the reasons for their choice of private schools for their children and the report on the condition of private education in Poland 2019: Reasons for choosing private schools—Our Kids survey report.
• Our Kids' member schools' innovative ideas, best practices and events can be found not only on each school's profile, but also in the News & Events section on Our Kids' website.
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