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We are Wellington [Online] | Learning wherever we are

28 February 2020
The Wellington community is drawn from more than 40 nationalities, so it is no surprise that we now find ourselves spread all over the world. It’s equally unsurprising that our community of parents, teachers and, most importantly, pupils have risen to the occasion with their usual determination and innovative spirit. As we continue Wellington Online – literally taking learning beyond the physical space and into the virtual classroom – we will be sharing our community’s stories to help bring us together. Who knows, maybe you will find there are Wellingtonians closer to you than you realised. [caption id="attachment_44582" align="alignnone" width="240"] Andrew Willis[/caption] Head of Prep School “There is no education like adversity.”  – Benjamin Disraeli When the COVID-19 virus outbreak hit international news during the Chinese New Year break, the Chinese Government took the decision to mandate school closures. At this point, Wellington teachers holidaying across the world put down their kindles and beach gear, and started planning to deliver effective learning. At the time of writing there is still no firm indication of when schools will reopen as March approaches. The past weeks have carried with them plenty of challenges, which makes the response made by every member of the Wellington community all the more impressive. Wellington spirit What has been so heartening and inspiring for me during this time is seeing how quickly and successfully everyone has adapted to difficulties of the ongoing situation. Most of our teaching staff are currently outside of China; they are sleeping in spare beds and on sofas with families and friends where possible, or if not, they are otherwise finding affordable hotels and AirBnBs in unfamiliar places. Some have access to their laptops and reliable WiFi, others don’t. Some are simply having to make do with their smartphone for planning, prepping and delivering entire lessons. Many are having to fit the demands of their working day around the needs of looking after their own children, again without the comforting rhythms and resources of home. Regardless of their situation, they are almost without exception having to work without the same level of resources that they enjoy at home and on our campus. All of these challenges (and plenty more besides) have had to be considered and overcome, often while accounting for time zone differences that make previously simple coordination tasks tricky.  Putting together a full curriculum when both teachers and pupils are spread across China, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US, the UK, France, Italy and many more places besides is not for the fainthearted! These differing time zones also mean that, practically speaking, our teachers are working much longer days. More often than not, they’re waking up in the morning to deal with a deluge of emails from the night before, delivering their own lessons with pupils, often during difficult hours, all the while answering another round of communications as further emails come in from colleagues across the world. Regardless of the challenge involved, teachers from every department have outdone themselves by making best of the situation with the tools they have to hand, combined with their own innate abilities and drive to give their pupils the best educational experience possible. From utilising various EdTech platforms and tools, to creating incentive schemes and original and engaging digital content themselves, our teachers have shown that they are determined not to let the virus stop our pupils’ learning. Pupils step up their game  (ably supported by their families) Of course, all these challenges and obstacles apply just as much to our pupils and their families. Again, the majority of Wellington’s pupils are outside of China and away from their home, having to study (or in the parents’ case, support their children’s studies, often while conducting remote working of their own) in unfamiliar and often inconvenient setups. No doubt there will be parents and pupils reading this who have for weeks on end been crowding around a borrowed computer in a spare corner of a friend or family member’s home, or perhaps ducking out to a coffee shop in search of reliable WiFi. Those of us in China certainly have our difficulties as well, in the form of transport restrictions, close confinement and very slow internet speeds. In short, the quality and reliability of hardware, software and internet connectivity varies massively from family to family and teacher to teacher as we all make the best of this very tricky situation. In the Prep School we talk a lot about metacognition (learning to learn), and this is a real-life situation where parents, pupils and teachers have had to draw on their own resources, their own skills, their ingenuity, innovation, creativity, imagination and deal with the situation they find themselves. Wonderfully (yet unsurprisingly) individual pupils of all different levels of ability have shone and embraced the challenge. In recent weeks we have seen pupils who typically get distracted easily in classrooms actually improve their attainment through sustained independent learning. Likewise, some pupils find self-organisation very difficult, but this situation has essentially forced them to become better at it, as there is no other recourse open to them. Even with their teachers’ long-distance support, they still have to conduct much of their own research, scheduling, preparation and follow-up work independently. You might liken this to the kind of training situation carried out by the armed forces – thankfully without the sense of impending danger! Civilians being trained into soldiers are routinely dropped into unfamiliar territory without warning and have to rely on their own wits, skills and experience to complete their objectives. This might sound like quite a dramatic parallel to draw, but our pupils really are experiencing real-life adversity without the kind of hands-on support they normally enjoy, and I’m pleased beyond words to see them thriving despite the inherent difficulties. Another silver lining to this looming virus cloud is that, once again, Wellington parents have shown the depth of their commitment to supporting their children in their studies. Communication from parents has told me how rewarding some are finding this unexpected opportunity to connect with their children’s learning in a way that previously had not been possible. Here are three of the messages I and other teachers have received from parents outlining how they are enjoying being part of the learning themselves:
  • My son loves the one-to-one online classes with you. He says he is learning a lot and now he has it in his notes and won’t forget. I am laughing with my other son because he wants to be the Gold Medal winner every day and he is competing with his friend! That is keeping him super motivated!
  • In this difficult time, I found the project-based homework fun and calming. I personally enjoyed doing research and work with my son as well. I’m learning again with my kids, which is great.
  • It was amazing to see how much time, effort and passion my daughter reserved for this work. It is so obvious to me art is where her passion lies. It’s probably the time when I am closest to my kids to see their passion, to understand what they are good at and what they dislike.
We continue to learn, wherever we are Perhaps the main lesson that has been reinforced for me during the past month is that the best sustained learning takes place when people are physically in each other’s presence. While Wellington’s teachers have been diligent and creative in keeping lessons fun and interesting, we must remember that we are all social creatures; we thrive when we can talk face-to-face, interpret body language and pick up on social cues, collaborate, work through problems and share ideas. While communications technology is an indisputable marvel, all these things work best when we are in the same place at the same time. Learning is generally at its best when pupils can come to school, join their peers who are just as eager to learn as they are, and receive the full attention from their teachers who are working with all the tools at their disposal. While this is the ideal setup, I think Wellington’s pupils, parents and teachers should be extremely proud of their efforts to create the best possible learning environment wherever they happen to be. So, wherever you are in the world, please stay safe, be proud of your achievements so far and we all look forward to being together again. More relevant articles : We are Wellington | From the beginning We are Wellington | Anna Varina, a dual perspective We are Wellington | From Tianjin to Shanghai