Lessons from the last year

Jo Sale, Vice Principal, Impington International College

The last 12 months of education have been a learning journey for us all. As students across the country have re-entered the classroom once more, there has certainly been a nervousness felt amongst both students and staff around this transition. However, with fingers firmly crossed, we are coming out the other side of a hard year and are in a position to be able to reflect on some of the positive outcomes, how these will impact our students and how we can continue to provide them with the best education possible.

During the transitional period back to the physical classroom, there were several layers to our preparation. A school environment and its aesthetic are extremely important, and, following such a long period of students not being on site, we wanted to make sure that our College looked inviting and purposeful, as well as safe and bright. So, alongside a series of deep cleans, we also re-vamped areas of our College so that we are setting expectations immediately. Of course, we still have plenty of hand sanitiser and disinfectant spray out, so that our students are aware we’re taking all of the necessary precautions to keep our environment clean and safe.

This period of adjustment has also meant that we can reflect on what has worked well during home learning, and what we would like to continue to implement in the classroom. Our entire college staff team has worked extremely hard over the last year to ensure that education for our students has been disrupted as little as possible. One positive that has come out of this is that we are now in a far better position to engage learners using new technology than we ever would have been before. So much so, we are going to continue to use Microsoft Teams, for sharing key resources for lessons and homework and allowing students to ask questions. As well as this, some of the interactive elements that have now become an integral part of our lessons – quizzes, team brainstorms and apps that allow quick fire tests – will all be firmly staying put as part of our day-to-day activities. We also have a large number of international students who, unfortunately, are unable to travel back to be with us for the remainder of the academic year. For these students, we will be live streaming our lessons, so that they can interact and join our college community from wherever they are in the world.

As well as the innovative technology discoveries, we have spent a huge amount of time working with our students on their wellbeing and their own personal development. Resilience has been so important over the last year, and developing key life skills is already something that is at the heart of all that we do. At the absolute core of the International Baccalaureate (IB) is ensuring our students develop these social and emotional skills through the teachings of the academic curriculum. These important life skills cannot be taught in a day and throughout the past year, our students have been put to the test and thrown into the deep end.

Looking ahead to the future of education, in what has been a challenging year, there have been a number of positives that we will continue to build on. There have been many news articles unnecessarily drilling it into our students and their parents that the amount of education that they have missed will be detrimental for their future. However, this is just not the case! A huge silver lining is that, through this period of independent learning, our students are now much more prepared for the learning style that is required at university; where there is much less structured teaching and more focus on self-motivation. What should be a focus now is how our students integrate themselves back into the ‘new normal’ of education; I have no doubt that they will be able get back on track, enhanced by the development of independent study and creative ways of learning, thanks to technology.

I also believe that we will see a rise in schools and colleges adopting blended learning as we move into post-lockdown life. It will become more acceptable to allow students time away from the physical classroom to work on a project, or to complete revision. This is because over the last year there has been a shift in trust between teachers and students. While logging on to our classes throughout lockdown was compulsory, we had to trust our students that they were active participants in the virtual classroom and that they had the motivation to complete the work outside of the classroom too. Now that we have developed our learning through online platforms, we can ensure that our whole college community can seamlessly integrate back together, regardless of where they are.

Compared to the aforementioned changes that I expect to stay firmly in place in this ‘new normal’, one thing that I am sure (and hope) will stay the same as pre-COVID is examinations and how assessments are approached within a school. Examinations remain the fairest way of assessing ability and ensuring that everyone gets the grades they deserve, and more importantly recognition for their hard work. In a previous piece I wrote, I likened examinations as an important ritual of closure for students. Something I hope won’t be taken away from them again in the future. If you had asked me 18 months ago “do students look forward to and enjoy examinations?”, it would be a resounding no! However, the shift in attitude to examinations has been huge. Ask me their opinions now and I know the overarching consensus at Impington International College is that students can’t wait for them to be back and for them to once again have the opportunity to put their hard work into practice.

As we look forward to what the next few months could bring, I can see a light at the end of the long tunnel. Although I have no doubt that they will be testing for us all, I can’t wait for us to all move forward, together.