Let’s set the record straight. Despite what ill-informed parts of the media portrayed as ‘home learning’ being the norm at the end of Term 1 and beginning of Term 2 in most states and territories, it was most certainly not the case. Schools were still open in most cases, some students of both essential workers and other parents were still in attendance, and ‘online learning’ was in fact the norm. Although some parents were able to play a more active role in the learning of their children, behind the scenes, teachers and diversity supports were hard at work maintaining relationships to ensure the continued learning of the students in their care.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how important relationships are in ensuring learning occurs. It confirmed what we have known all along as educators, as well as what has been reinforced through data analysis and effect sizes. Positive relationships yield the best student learning gains, whether that be through teacher credibility (0.9 effect size) gained through teacher efficacy (1.57), or teacher clarity (.75). Classroom discussion (.82), feedback (.70), and teacher expectations (1.62) all relate to the relationships we build with our students and within our staff. When educational institutions were operating in online capacities, relationships were sustained through phone calls, online conferences, contact with parents, home visits, wellbeing lessons and challenges. Ensuring learning was occurring was paramount. Online surveys, challenges, Zoom meetings and other conference methods, and changes to assessment task formats were adopted to attain measurement of learning. Relationship was at the centre of how effectively this was achieved. Educational offices and individual institutions have surveyed students and parents in order to gauge the effectiveness of strategies employed.
Effective parent communication has been essential in alleviating the pressure that families are under during this time of pandemic. Many parents expressed concerns for the learning of their children due to the challenges associated with online learning such as connectivity and understanding. Connectivity issues were met with offers of USB internet connections to families in need while student understanding challenges were managed through videos and webinars developed collaboratively by teaching staff. Through regular and precise parent communication, educational bodies have ensured relationships continue to grow to ensure student learning. Strong relationships and effective communication enhance trust, which leads to greater acceptance of action. We need our parents to trust our decisions.
Staff collaboration has reached new and exciting levels with the challenges faced by the pandemic. Educational leaders have marvelled at the way staff are reimagining their roles as educators and support staff. Our thinking has been broadened during the pandemic. Greater diversity of ideas have been employed to give our communities the best opportunity to thrive. Ensuring staff were kept updated was a daily priority as there was, and still is, so much information, and misinformation, being circulated surrounding the pandemic. Staff trusting the approaches taken by leadership, and following the direction chosen, was an imperative if strategies taken during online learning were to be successful while schools continued to be open. Strong relationships and effective communication enhance trust, which leads to greater acceptance of action. Our staff have come on board with our approaches due to the time spent on developing relationships.
Staff were understandably edgy when they were required to supervise students of essential workers and families who chose to send their children to school in New South Wales. We can assume this was the case in any State or Territory who had a ‘school open’ policy. Schools struggled to acquire adequate resources such as sanitizers and antibacterial gel during the initial phases of online learning and schools remaining open. This didn’t help the apprehension of staff, especially those in the vulnerable category, or those caring for family in this category. Schools implemented social distancing protocols and hygiene procedures with staff and students, as well as relying on online methods of communications for staff meetings and professional learning to ensure these protocols and procedures were being met. Some administration and support staff were unsure if they had a position due to the change in operation during the pandemic. Ensuring lines of communication and certainty were maintained, reassured staff in this predicament. Engaging with administration and support staff regarding tasks they could do required timely communication and developed relationships. Strong relationships and effective communication enhance trust, which leads to greater acceptance of action.
Relationships with central offices, NESA and TAA’s all posed challenges for educational institutions. Implications for work placements in vocational education, teacher accreditation and certification, child protection clearances, employment of relief staff, assessment and reporting requirements, major works, and compliance and registration requirements were some of the issues being addressed by leaders within our schools. From a personal perspective, relationships have been enhanced during this time of pandemic through greater effort in engagement and communication from governing bodies as a whole as well as a willingness to take up this invitation to dialogue from leaders and teachers within education. Strong relationships and effective communication enhance trust, which leads to greater acceptance of action. We need to retain the dialogue with our governing bodies into the future to ensure greater educational outcomes for all.
The pandemic also provided the opportunity to develop relationships with our contractors and suppliers through works that could be completed. Many educational institutions took the opportunity to address plant issues that may have otherwise been delayed until the holiday break.
The situation we are in has provided all educational institutions the opportunity to rethink how we operate to ensure the best opportunity for learning. At the centre of learning is relationship. Positive relationships not only have a major impact on learning but also on wellbeing . If the wellbeing of educational communities are a focus, better learning environments are enabled.
Stephen Kennaugh is Principal of St Andrew’s College Marayong located in Western Sydney. The College is a 7-12 co-educational dual campus College in the Diocese of Parramatta.
Stephen is the Sydney/Parramatta Principal Representative and Treasurer of the Association of Catholic School Principals (ACSP) and the NSW Director on the Catholic Secondary Principals Association (CaSPA) Board of Directors.
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