Glam Adelaide caught up with Westminster School’s Director of Learning, Andrea Sherwood and Pedagogy Coach, Angela Phillips to discuss how the school adapted to the new world of online learning in the wake of COVID-19.
For Westminster, the change from in-school learning to online wasn’t a difficult one. The school was quick to use technology to their advantage, and seamlessly shifted learning to an online model when COVID-19 caused schools to lockdown across the state in March, and later again in November.
In a strange twist of fate, Andrea explains to us that the school had unknowingly been preparing for something like this for the last nine years, with the rollout of its online management software, SEQTA, designed to bridge the gap between classroom and technology for students and teachers.
“SEQTA was introduced to allow an anytime-anywhere approach to learning for our community, and works to complement our clear, research-backed lesson structures,” Angela says.
With 2020 forcing students and staff to embrace technology more than ever before, this preparation ultimately allowed Westminster School to transfer their face-to-face learning to an online format without major disruptions to student’s learning, allowing the school to function at a relatively normal level.
“It is always in our best interest to stand by the quality of what we do, and we didn’t want the learning and support for our student’s development to stop, so had to make sure we were still able to deliver the curriculum albeit different circumstances,” Andrea explains.
The school days functioned as if students were physically in school. Students still wore their uniforms and headed to an online version of their morning tutorials.
“Our online classrooms worked because of its consistency, whether you were in the classroom or online, it was the same,” Andrea tells us.
“Learning was not lost, and that’s the most important thing.”
All of Westminster’s online sessions are modelled with engagement between students and teachers at the forefront in an effort to meet learning goals.
“What we have seen is that digital technologies have started to enable kids to do things in different ways; it’s helped kids learn, understand and overcome a variety of challenges,” she says.
As expected, during this shift to online learning, it wasn’t just students who needed to adapt, but the teaching staff also needed to overcome obstacles in how to present their coursework. Westminster teachers created YouTube videos to share course work, a stretch for those who hadn’t previously used this technology.
Teachers produced videos with content broken down into smaller manageable chunks, allowing students to see the work explained as it would be in class. The students were then encouraged to send back videos of themselves sharing their understanding of the concepts.
“We gave the staff quite a lot of say in what they wanted to do. People picked things based on their level of expertise and we helped them tailor that to their professional learning experiences.
“Every year group has benefited from our online resources, and the creativity we’ve seen online is quite inspirational; there have been positives in everything,” Andrea says.
2020 has been a true testament to the school’s resilience. It has seen an increase in the amount of planning and creativity teachers are using in their day-to-day approaches, and the resulting engagement with students.
“Seeing our teachers embrace these challenges, demonstrate their passion for learning, and continuously better themselves to support our students and school community, was amazing.
“We pride ourselves on our community, and the feedback from ours has been outstanding,” explains Andrea.
Andrea tells us that students do prefer to come into the classroom to learn, “if you ask any of our students their opinion, they prefer to physically be at school because of the connection made through face-to-face learning – it always trumps online learning.”
“The kids made the best of the situation. They responded well and continued to engage with online learning.”
Westminster’s lockdown response in November demonstrated how the school was prepared and ready to teach no matter the challenge, something it will continue to exceed at heading into 2021.
To the staff, the continual evolution of teaching is extremely important and will be pivotal moving forwards in the ever-changing world.
“Lots of the things we have done this year will continue regardless of COVID,” says Andrea, who is excited to see what else is in store for the future of Westminster.
Despite the challenges that have risen this year, the school has achieved some amazing milestones including the construction and completion of its world-class Inquiry & Innovation Hub as well as the new Thomas Sports Pavilion.
For more information about Westminster School, head to https://www.westminster.sa.edu.au/