Our WE virtual meetings are designed to support you during this challenging time. They are an opportunity to learn with and from colleagues across the country during this fast-moving situation. Discover our WE ‘Summer Curriculum’ for Trusts, Primaries and Secondaries.
Ansford Academy’s context
This week’s secondary call had an input from Shonogh Pilgrim, Principal of Ansford Academy in Somerset. For four years Ansford has been on a journey to develop the independence and agency of their students, meaning they felt well prepared for a shift to online learning during this extraordinary crisis.
Learning together, as a network
During this extraordinary time, WE are trying to both support schools in the here and now, while also helping you to think about your next steps.
While every school’s response has rightly been differently and context specific, we thought that Ansford’s inspirational journey could provide useful ideas to schools. This is Ansford Academy’s specific solution but at its heart are good, whole education principles. These may well manifest themselves, in different ways, in different schools.
WE were so impressed by the quality of the discussion during this virtual meeting. We know teachers and leaders have never been busier, so the fact so many colleagues took the time to engage in the conversation was hugely inspirational. Below are some of the key things you discussed or asked about in the meeting
Providing effective online learning: how Ansford did it and tips from the network
1. Relationships are everything. “It was never Ansford’s intention to create a great online learning school”. The school focused on great relationships, building student agency, and creating a love of learning. This has been their priority for the past four years (you can read about that work here), and it has created the right climate for students and staff to respond successfully and proactively during the crisis.
2. Maintain the wider aspects of school life: culture and community. Ansford Academy didn’t view this as school closure but as a change of school environment. “We didn’t want to see our school as closing – it had just moved to a virtual model. Our school isn’t just about giving them work – so it’s important we keep interacting as a community.”
3. Ansford explored different ways to communicate effectively with their whole community. The school is releasing a daily newsletter that celebrates students’ work as well as including fun content- from staff desert island disks to a rock paper scissors tournament. Shonogh is releasing a daily video blog on Instagram, mixing personal reflections with shout outs to students and families. The school is also keeping the parent and staff forums going. Their communications aim to support children and families, as well as showing them teachers and leaders are in a similar position – that ‘we’re all in it together’. “It’s a big time commitment but it means we stay connected.”
4. The school’s approach is based on empowering staff – setting high, ambitious expectations, then trusting them to work flexibly to achieve them. The school knows that depending on their experience, home circumstances and confidence, some staff are more comfortable with live virtual teaching than others. Therefore they give them the flexibility to take the approach that works for them – but do expect them to be available to support students.
5. Trust students and staff to develop their own remote working ‘rhythm’. Students are given the flexibility to choose which remote lessons to attend. The school expects students to engage with learning (tracked by the school) and turn work in, but allows them to pick which lessons they engage with ‘live’. This means they can choose lessons that fit with the ‘rhythm’ and routine their family has during lockdown (e.g certain hours of access to shared tech, parents’ availability, or around family outdoor exercise time).
6. Safeguarding staff and students during remote learning. As well as giving staff the choice of how to engage with virtual teaching, the school is protecting staff wellbeing by setting a clear start and end to their working day. Similarly, students are told not to be in their bedrooms during lessons, but in a ‘public space’ in their house to create passive parental supervision
7. Rethinking pedagogy remotely “[Using online/technology] wasn’t meant to weaken relationships but strengthen them by giving us more time to focus on developing them.” Staff have been supported to think about the pedagogy behind using Google Classroom effectively to provide a whole education remotely. The school focused on getting teachers to work differently with students – not just spending the majority of the time delivering content, but engaging students to set the pace.
8.The school is keen to develop this remote pedagogy further. As a staff team they have discussed where the model could go next- for example using expert guests to deliver remote lectures, Ted Talk style, on a specialist topic. The school also feels this is the perfect time to explore alternatives to the ‘30 student, 1 teacher’ model. For some types of lesson, would a lecture with many more students work better? Could that create the capacity for more small group sessions, too?
9. Use feedback in the appropriate way for your context and learners – but don’t let it become a workload issue. Shonogh described Ansford as having “the most lenient marking policy in the world”. For the school, the most important thing is that students do the work, can tell how well it’s going, can ask for help if they’re struggling, and are celebrated for doing so. Staff are giving students feedback when they do well, and Shonogh is shouting out all the positive stories staff tell her in her video messages.
Another leader shared that she is using Google forms to capture comments from all students after a lesson, then anonymously sharing all of them in a group email with messages of affirmation – so students get feedback and see their ideas celebrated in a manageable way for teachers.
10. The school has always accepted students bringing their own devices and so when the partial school closures were announced, the school just focused on getting devices to students who didn’t have their own. This meant giving all the school’s devices away for students to bring home, and purchasing dongles for those who didn’t have internet access.
11. A sign of success: high student engagement with remote learning. The school has been delighted that, when they’ve had to relax control of students during the current extraordinary crisis, students have remotely engaged, stepped up and taken responsibility for their own learning. The school has been inundated with parents celebrating how much their children have engaged.
12. Continually seeking feedback on what they’re doing and how it’s working for their community. As the shift to virtual schooling has been so rapid, Ansford leaders are continually checking how their stakeholders are finding it – and how it can be improved.
13. The school’s next steps: to keep pushing the boundaries of student and staff agency and continue innovating with their pedagogy. When students contact the school to say they are running out of exercise book space, Shonogh has been telling them to design their own way of tracking and capturing their work – in whichever way works for them that they will be able to reference back to in the future.
+ Could more students and staff work from home in the future?
+ Could they engage with the home education community more, supporting them to engage with GCSE courses?
+ Could they continue to explore alternatives to the traditional class and teacher model?
14. The school wants to build on the success they’re having now when they return fully to school. As one of her team said “I’m really excited about what I’m learning about ways we can do things differently…and don’t want to lose some of these things when back in school.” Some children that are usually hard to engage are engaging with work better and creating higher-quality work.
Ansford Academy is using Google platforms for their remote learning. Alison Stott from Golborne shared their practice using Microsoft on the platforms. Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust also use Microsoft software – look out for Sir Mark Grundy’s top tips on using these platforms effectively – or tell us what platform you use and what help you would benefit from.
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