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June 2020

Let’s reboot home and classroom conversations to keep children safe in our increasingly digital world

COVID-19 has had a dramatic – and not always negative – impact on our lives, changing the way we go about our lives.

It will, hopefully, leave us better and more community-minded people.

It has certainly reinforced just how powerful digital technology can be and what a boon it has been to our lives. Technology is designed to be collaborative – and in our school community, it allowed us to continue to educate our students when the bricks and mortar classrooms were declared out of bounds.

It has also opened the world to our children, connecting them globally, transporting them to places they could only previously dream of, and providing them with a veritable fountain of information and knowledge.

Sadly, not everything about the power of digital technology is positive, which had me thinking that it is timely to reboot conversations, at home and in the classroom, that will help to ensure that the next generation stays safe in an increasingly digital world.

When tackling the potential pitfalls of digital technology among our young people, we at St Andrew’s School strongly believe the best results are achieved in partnership with the home. It is only when we are in sync that the desired outcome – stimulated, happy, informed, safe children – can be achieved.

I am thinking here of shared key policies and expectations, and offer a few pointers I trust will put us all on a shared path to these outcomes.

Let us start with what is probably the most vexing – privacy.

The first step is to update privacy settings on all platforms and devices. But that is not enough; we also need to impress upon our children that when they post something to a large audience, they cannot take it back. It is out there, forever – and for that reason alone, they need to take great care in what they post about themselves and others.

They need to think about what they are considering sharing and understand that once they hit the ‘send’, ‘publish’ or ‘post’ button, they will be leaving a lifelong digital footprint.

We need to remind them, too, that while they have a right to privacy, they also have a responsibility to respect others.

At home, families can further take several easy steps to enhance cyber safety. It’s a great idea to keep all hardware and devices in a public space where, without being a snoop, you enjoy an overview of what is going on.

It is also wise to have real cyber safety conversations with your children and to set realistic and age-appropriate boundaries and rules, daily limits and regular screen-free time. Avoid banning, though, as research has shown time and again that it is counterproductive.

And yes, it is okay to say ‘no’, especially when it comes to social media platforms that, quite frankly, are unsuitable for primary-aged children.

Remember, too, that you are not alone on this journey. We are here to assist, so don’t hesitate to speak to us about any concerns you may have. You can also tap into our regular articles from our School Counsellor in The Bell, attend presentations on cyber safety as they arise, and visit the St Andrew’s SchoolTV page, which has a raft of useful resources for parents on the safe use of digital technology.

Finally, there is a wealth of valuable information on the Office of the ESafety Commissioner’s website – www.esafety.gov.au – and the Stay Smart Online website at www.staysmartonline.gov.au.

 

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Student Perspectives on Distance Learning

There is currently intense discussion and debate within the international education community about how school leadership teams, teachers, families and students have responded to the challenges and opportunities that have arisen from the COVID-19 situation. While this has certainly been a time of ups and downs, positive discoveries and frustrations, we have seen some students show increased independence, discover new interests and enjoy increased family time. We have captured students’ perspectives on their experiences learning in a different way, which we are sharing with you here.

We have witnessed students use the IB Approaches to Learning (Thinking skills; Communication skills; Social skills; Research skills and Self-Management skills) as they embarked on learning at home. It has been important to capture the student perspective of learning in this different way.

I posed the following questions to students:

  • How would you feel if you had to do distance learning again?
  • Is there anything you would change?
  • Is there anything you would miss?
  • Was there anything you enjoyed about learning this way?
  • Are there any bits of distance learning you think we should keep and use in some way in school?
  • What did you notice about yourself as a learner through having to do distance learning?

Here are some of the typical responses:

“I would not be happy to do distance learning again because we don’t get to see our friends and our teachers and you don’t get into the mindset which you get at school.”

“If I had to do distance learning again, I wouldn’t be thrilled because being at school is definitely better, but I also wouldn’t be unhappy because it’s a good experience.”

“I felt calm because everything slowed down.”

“I will miss starting at nine because I could sleep in until 7am. It was the best!”

“I miss being free so you can choose what to do and at what time.”

“After spending time at home, I have learnt that spending time with your family is really important, and it’s really fun.”

“We should keep the recorded videos. If we don’t understand, or are absent, we can watch the video and catch up.”

“I noticed that I was becoming more independent with my work and that I didn’t need to ask the teacher about tasks that often.”

“I have learnt that I am very responsible when online.”

As we would expect, the responses from the Year 7 students acknowledged, in a more sophisticated manner, both the advantages and disadvantages of distance learning…

“My experience with distance learning was exhausting. Distance learning has stretched me as a learner. It wasn’t bad, however I found it challenging.  I mean, you can have breaks pretty much whenever you want and you get a lot of work done. However, the one hard thing for me was socialising. I LOVE TO TALK. It is my specialty. I found everything about distance learning fine except for the fact that my friends/peers weren’t there for me to talk to. I am a kinaesthetic learner. I learn best from talking and being hands on. That is where distance learning was a struggle for me. Most of it was digital and there were no group tasks. Overall distance learning has helped me develop lots of skills; organisation, time management and independence. It was a great experience however I would struggle to do it again.”

At St Andrew’s teachers will continue to reflect on their experiences as learners using the guiding questions:

  • How can we use our experiences of distance learning as we move forwards?
  • Have you considered how your role as an educator may have shifted?
  • What did you notice about yourself as an educator when delivering distance learning?
  • Is there anything you would like to ‘keep’ from your experience with distance learning when it comes to face to face teaching?

The staff at St Andrew’s will continue to explore how blended learning (a combination of face-to-face and online learning where the student has some element of control over the time, place, pathway and pace of learning) can be utilised to enhance the learning experience and have a positive effect on student outcomes.

We extend our thanks to the teachers for all the extra hours to transfer the curriculum to a distance learning model, and to our parent and caregiver community for their ongoing support.

Heather Wood
Deputy Principal – Learning and Teaching

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  • St Andrew’s School is a South Australian independent, co-educational specialist primary school providing excellence in education from playgroup through to early years and on to Year 7. Principal Jackie Becher – an International Baccalaureate School – UNESCO Associated School.