When schools in Victoria started Term 2 on April 14 with a focus on remote education, Nola Barber Kindergarten was well prepared. In March, the centre formed two separate teams – one for remote and one for onsite learning. When it came to choosing who would be in each team, health and wellbeing were the overriding factors.
“We have six teaching staff and three of those staff are unable to teach on-site,” explains Educational Leader Denise D’Rozario. “Two have underlying medical issues and one has a child with medical issues.”
In this week’s Amplify we speak with Denise to find out how the programs differ, and how she keeps both teams inspired. We also find out how Wakool Preschool in NSW are keeping play and connectedness at the centre of their remote learning plans for Term 2.
The delivery may differ, but the focus remains the same
The Nola Barber remote teaching program has by necessity had to differ from the in-school program. This is because most families don’t have the physical resources at home that are available to teachers on-site, as well as the fact that most activities are delivered via an online format. However, the planning focus remains the same.
“We always plan our program according to the children’s interests, and the remote program is no different,” says Denise. “Our online interaction (especially Facebook) allows the children to show us photos of things they have found at home, or what they are currently doing with their families. We will then use this information to aid in planning activities and creating video content that extends this interest.”
Nola Barber’s remote learning content has been incredibly varied so far, including the creation of cooking videos, story times, dancing, and activity videos along with explanations so that children know how to get involved. The team also delivers Auslan education videos (songs, books and games), accompanied by their Auslan educator signing.
This video from hey de ho educational services teaches children how to sing a rainbow using Auslan signs
Learning packs with printouts and activities have been delivered to all families choosing to engage remotely. Families are invited to communicate with the team via a private Facebook group and email.
“Facebook is proving to be a great tool, as it allows us an almost instant way to respond,” shares Denise. “We are looking into being able to do live FaceTime sessions with the children and their families. We are hoping the live FaceTimes will also provide the children with time to chat directly with their remote learning teachers.”
Challenging but incredibly rewarding
Denise believes that keeping in touch with children and continuing their learning is incredibly important during this challenging time.
Routine is so important for children at any time, but during a time like this, maintaining some sense of normalcy is vital. By offering remote learning, we are continuing to provide some normalcy and community. Being able to interact and see their teachers and share photos and drawings with their peers fosters that sense of community that they had physically at preschool.
Like everyone across the sector, the Nola Barber team are on a steep but rewarding learning curve. Creating, editing and producing videos has been incredibly time intensive. The team’s biggest challenge has been setting boundaries and switching off.
Feedback and response from families has been very positive, with videos engaging the children in dance and story times proving most popular.
“We have reflected that we can’t have a normal weekly plan like we do when we are onsite as so much of our learning is dependent on parents having the time to help their children.
“We need to be able to provide more activities and videos that the children can do on their own, with minimal help. We have also reflected that it is difficult to keep contact with all parents and to monitor who is engaging and who isn’t. We want to make sure all children are involved and engaged, but being remote, this is proving difficult.”
Wakool Preschool keeps the focus on play
Wakool Preschool in the western Riverina region of NSW run a combined 3 and 4 year old session two days a week. They are a small service, with 12 children in total, but by the end of Term 1, there were no children attending. Educator Kirsty Wilson and the team are assuming that this will not change as we move into Term 2, and are planning for remote teaching, with three educators staying on site and one working from home.
To kick off the term, the team will run a half hour Zoom session on both days of the program, initially to re-engage the children and find out what they have been doing over the break. They will be asking the families what time is best for the Zoom session, to ensure it suits as many as possible.
We sent home some basic activities to their homes last week, including reusable fine motor templates, craft resources, individual letters, and an ongoing seed planting project,” says Kirsty. “We have put the call out to parents to let us know what they need and want, as we realise this may be very different from one family to the next.
Kirsty and the team have started to record themselves reading stories and singing some of the preschool’s usual songs and action rhymes. These will be sent to families via story park to give children the opportunity to engage with the familiarity of their preschool routine if they choose to.
She says that while the goals for the children will remain the same, the remote program will look quite different as the team feel it is unrealistic to expect families to have the time and understanding to replicate what is done in a preschool session. The emphasis will be on keeping connected. She also wants to make sure that families understand that play is the most important aspect to keep in focus.
“I feel quite strongly that whilst we can not replicate the face to face benefits of developing social relationships with other children, we can foster the continuation of social connectedness and belonging, and check in on families and children regularly, so when we do resume operations together, we are comfortable and secure with each other.
“I am aware of many families who are feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility of educating their children (mostly primary aged), and want to help families feel that the kids will be ok, and being flexible will help with that. Happy children are learning children.”
Tips for keeping teams engaged and inspired
The team at Nola Barber still have onsite team meetings, but they are now separated into two; one with the remote team and a separate meeting with the on-site team. They run a whole team chat and a remote team chat via Zoom to keep communication open.
“This is a whole new world for all of us,” Denise admits. “So much of this process is going to be trial and error. If something doesn’t work, we need to reflect and try again in a new way.”
Leading or working as part of a remote team for the first time can be challenging and confronting – the impact of how a leader leads and how employees respond can be magnified, and it can take time to find your new ‘normal’.
Stay in touch
When leading a remote team, Denise recommends talking and keeping in touch as much as possible, and ensuring that the team knows when they will hear from you. She also recommends that educators really focus on listening to the needs of families – focusing on how you can support them in this new environment, and the best way to engage.
Establish meeting practices and encourage questions
Because remote teams aren’t sharing physical spaces any more, and you can’t just step over and tap someone on the shoulder to ask a question, remote teams can end up feeling ‘set adrift’ and wondering what’s expected of them. It’s very important to establish meeting practices early on and ensure that everyone knows that there will be an opportunity to ask questions both at regular times and an open line of communication for unscheduled queries.
Outline goals and monitor progress
Employees need purpose and to know that they are ‘getting somewhere’. Make sure that your team knows what their goals are (both short term and long term) and provide a place for them to see where they are in the process, know what’s next and discuss how things are progressing. Trello is a great tool for this, but a Microsoft Sheets spreadsheet can also work well.
A final tip from Denise:
Set times for when you are working and when you aren’t because it is very easy to get stuck in the trap of continuing to work long past your normal hours because everything is right there at home.
More tips to share with your team for productive work from home practices:
- Keep regular hours – While working from home allows for more flexibility, it’s a good idea to create a schedule and stick to it. Once you’ve worked your designated hours, you can switch off properly and give your brain a much-needed rest.
- Make a morning routine – Having a routine can help us to prepare for the day ahead, and provide spacing between personal time and work time. Whether it’s doing a short yoga routine, going for a walk or having hot water with lemon, keeping a routine can really help to start the day in the best possible way.
- Give yourself a break (or three) – Just like any working environment, taking a break is incredibly important to give your brain and body the chance to relax and revive. Studies have shown that breaks can improve productivity levels and increase focus. Try to take a 15-minute break mid-morning and afternoon – stretch, take a short walk, have a snack or do some breathing exercises and make sure you take a decent amount of time off for a nourishing lunch.
- Stay connected with colleagues – Loneliness, disconnection and isolation can take their toll when working remotely. Set up a WhatsApp, closed Facebook or Microsoft Teams group to connect with colleagues on a daily basis. Share progress updates and talk about how you are feeling.
For more inspiration, read our recent Amplify! article: Maintaining a productive team when working remotely
New member resource
Staffing Arrangements during COVID-19
With reduced participation across all service types, it is likely that many educators may not be required to work at the service or may do so on a rotational basis. A number of educators may have health matters that prevent them from attending work. In the event of a prolonged forced closure, whole teams may be working from home. In our new member resource, we have compiled a list of considerations for staff arrangements during COVID-19. Members, you can download the resource here (you must be logged in to view).