The post-pandemic teacher: Five lessons from lockdown learning

Written by: Ben Antell | Published:
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The lessons learned from remote education have led to a range of new skills and expertise in the classroom. Ben Antell reports on some of the approaches and pedagogies he is seeing so far this year


As we move further into the autumn term it is becoming clear that the experiences of the pandemic are leading to some innovative new trends in the classroom.

Skills and approaches honed through remote education are now appearing in face-to-face teaching. It is good to see that there are some positives to come after the last 20 months. So I would like to share some of the good practices I have spotted through my work with 45 secondary academies.


1, Student questioning

Pre-pandemic, the use of questioning in classrooms was well understood by teachers as an effective formative assessment strategy. Remote education made this much harder. Trying to get children to engage online and respond to the level of questioning typical in the secondary classroom was a huge challenge.

This forced teachers to interrogate their questioning techniques to look at how they could increase engagement in the virtual classroom. Questioning was put under the microscope – structure, sequencing or simply staying quiet – to understand what might have an impact.

This experience is really paying off now we are back in the classroom and questioning in real life is changing and improving. In lessons I have seen, teachers are now more comfortable with silence and are giving more “wait time” before following up through a verbal or written response.

The use of mini-whiteboards – which were used increasingly well online –has moved into many more classrooms and their effectiveness is clear to see.


2, Greater critical understanding of edtech

In the past, edtech was one of those Marmite things, you either loved it or hated it. From edtech enthusiast to sceptic, there was a huge diversity of opinion and for the vast majority of teachers it was peripheral to their practice.

The pandemic changed this and now it is firmly embedded into teaching practice for us all. No-one is wasting time arguing about the pros and cons of edtech.

This doesn’t mean that teachers are simply “edtech cheerleaders”, instead they have a sharper critical understanding which allows them to engage their professional judgement.

Peer-to-peer discussions about different tools and strategies abound, as does a focus on how, and most importantly if, an edtech tool will enable children to learn more. Teachers are thinking more deeply about the benefits of edtech and are more comfortable sharing thought and opinion with colleagues. Previously this was left to self-identified experts or enthusiasts.

This has been highlighted in a recent report from edtech company Sparx Learning (2021), which brought together a small group of experts to discuss how teachers’ skills had developed during the pandemic. A key point was the importance of enabling teachers’ professional judgement around edtech, and that it was only with this that we could make good use of edtech in classroom.

Another perspective that is now being felt in the classroom is “less is more”. Many now tell me they want to reduce the number of apps and tools and “use less tech but better tech”. At a school or trust level, this is also an important consideration and I would recommend auditing what software and apps are used regularly by teachers.


3, Homework

A common claim from edtech suppliers is that technology saves teachers’ time. The pandemic, and particularly the lockdowns, gave teachers a chance to test this.

Interestingly, Ofsted’s research into remote education (2021) suggested that the experience of lockdown learning could lead to future improvements in homework delivery once schools re-opened to all students.

A key area for us is maths homework where we found some potential for saving teachers’ time. Now we are back in school, we have switched all key stage 3 maths homework to be set and marked online. We are finding that it is helping to free-up the time teachers would have had to have spent handing out worksheets, collecting homework and marking it, all without losing the benefits of that marking (e.g. knowledge of class and individual weaknesses/misconceptions) due to the way the technology reports back to the teacher.

Ultimately, what is important is to ensure that any edtech tool used allows you to set individual homework for each student based on their ability and linked to their previous progress and learning.


4, Adaptability and agility

The pandemic forced all teachers to adapt quickly to new forms of teaching. The fear of failure was less of an influence because we were all trying (and sometimes failing) as we worked out the best ways to help our students to continue to learn and progress.

In the schools I visit, I can see that this has changed teachers’ attitudes to risk-taking and that this is reflected within subject departments across the school. It is an exciting and positive development. Teachers are more receptive to new ideas and to trying things out.


5, Building on what we have learnt

The skills and expertise teachers have gained during the pandemic are extensive, but we need to maintain the momentum. In the past three to five years there has been a real focus (and rightly so) on subject knowledge and delivering a knowledge-rich curriculum to all students.

Now we should really turn our focus to edtech and how staff are supported so that they can build on their new-found expertise enabling students to know more and remember more through the knowledge-rich curriculum they are taught.

New technical skills can quickly slip or become outdated if they are not regularly updated and consolidated. In turn, this can reduce confidence and mean that a teacher who has tried an edtech tool may well revert back to methods where they feel more secure. It is completely understandable, and why I feel we need to support our teachers to continue to feel able and ready to embrace edtech where they can see it can make a difference.

A commitment to edtech CPD requires a whole-school or trust approach and, to be effective, it needs to be embedded into your wider school improvement plans.

It also communicates to staff that the school sees edtech as strategically important. This is why the critical application of edtech to address the underlying processes of teaching and learning should be regarded as a key strategic activity for school leaders.

There are lots of CPD resources available online that can be used by individuals or within small group learning. United Learning, for example, is responsible for the delivery of the EdTech Demonstrator Programme, which is a free peer-led network that helps schools and colleges across England to develop and improve their digital strategy. We have also recently launched a new hub providing a number of resources to support edtech CPD (see further information).


Conclusion

During the pandemic there has been much talk of “rethinking education” and radical change, but I don’t think that is what I see on the ground. The changes are smaller. They are more important because of their impact on teaching and learning every day. I am enormously encouraged by these developments which I feel signal real, lasting change.

  • Ben Antell is regional director at United Learning, a large multi-academy trust supporting a range of state and Independent schools throughout England.


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