The future has not been cancelled

Jo Sale, Vice Principal, Impington International College

As we find ourselves in the midst of another national lockdown and another period of home learning, it’s easy for us to reflect and compare, as we try and find an end point for when things will return to ‘normal’. Despite initial worries and concerns, during the first month of home learning for our students at Impington International College (IIC), all feedback has been hugely positive. The difference is that this time around we know what to expect. With this in mind, prior to going into lockdown, we were able to spend a long time thinking about our online provision, planning lesson content and putting all of the necessary procedures in place to run the transition smoothly. It was because of this, that all of our online learning provision was live within 24 hours of the Prime Minister’s announcement.

While the lack of face-to-face contact time may be detrimental for some students, it is important that during this time, we focus on ensuring that students stay engaged in their learning and are motivated to achieve what they would if they were physically in the classroom. At IIC, we have made a number of changes so that this is our key focus. All of our lessons are now live, something that we have found particularly beneficial for students, which has also meant that the focus is placed on the teachers, rather than the parents, to motivate their classes. We are closely monitoring daily attendance of lessons, ensuring that everyone is online and ready to learn and that it is consistent throughout the school day. We have also shortened our lessons; we realised that back-to-back, hour long lessons aren’t sustainable when staring at a screen. All of our lessons are now 45 minutes and in the short gap between lessons we encourage our students to get some time away from their screen, stretch their legs, or even get outside.

We know that variety is key to keeping students engaged. During this period of home learning, our lessons across the sixth form have become much more interactive and the range of tools that our teachers are using is amazing. Our lessons focus on conversation, which allows our students to bounce their ideas off one another and to share their work. During my International Baccalaureate (IB) Theory of Knowledge (TOK) lessons, I have been making the most of the different video functionalities; initially meeting as a full class and then putting everyone into a break out room and calling each student back in one by one, so that we can explore in depth their personal ideas.

Alongside the development of the in-class elements, we are also paying an equal amount of focus to everything else around the academic curriculum. This term, we have tutors who are running group online meditation sessions for our students to unwind and relax, fitness classes to encourage students to keep fit and a virtual ‘next steps’ launch with students and our Progressions Coordinator. Over the past few weeks, we have also placed particular emphasis on our assemblies. They now have a much higher attendance, are more uniformed and are run live. It is these co-curricular initiatives that continue to bring the college community together.

As a whole, both staff and students have gone into this period of home learning with a much more positive state of mind. Of course, there are still individuals who are struggling and we have been working closely to support these students; including regular drop-in sessions throughout the school day. Members of our sixth form leadership team often post a Zoom link in our MS Teams channel for students to drop in and have a chat, this gives a similar feel to walking into someone’s office for a quick catch up. We want to maintain the community and family feel of our College, and we want our students to know that our office doors – virtual or not – are always open.

During these sessions, and in fact across all of our teaching, I have found that an important phrase has been: the future has not been cancelled. In order to keep our students engaged and motivated, with our Year 13 cohort in particular, we have been trying to keep them focused on an end point. Exams or no exams, it’s extremely important for our students to still keep their end goal in sight. Many of our students are looking to go on to study at university this year and we remind them that they still have to work hard, so that they can achieve the results that they want and importantly, that they deserve.

When I look back over the last year of lockdowns, the following three words spring to mind: resilience, adaptability and community. If there is one lesson that we have learnt throughout this process of remote learning, it is that we will all come out the other side, together.