Children are finally going back to school after months of remote lessons from home – as well as finally being able to see their friends, they are also, importantly, getting back to learning in a classroom.
Lockdown learning has been a challenge, especially for the teachers who had to adapt their entire way of working to keep kids going throughout these tough times. SoGlos caught up with one of the teachers from Cheltenham Ladies’ College to find out more about his lessons during lockdown – and the lessons the teachers have learnt themselves.
About the expert – Ben Forward-Davies, Head of Religious Studies and Philosophy at Cheltenham Ladies’ College
Ben Forward-Davies is Cheltenham Ladies’ College’s Head of Religious Studies and Philosophy, helping to give pupils a more nuanced understanding of the world around them and the different beliefs people hold.
Cheltenham Ladies’ College welcomes girls aged 11 to 18-years-old to its inclusive school, with day and boarding options. It is holding a Virtual Coffee Morning on Friday 23 April 2021 for prospective day girls to find out more about life at CLC.
What does a typical day at Cheltenham Ladies’ College involve for you?
It is a cliché to say that a teacher’s work day is never the same as the last or next, but I love my job at CLC because it is so varied. I am Head of Religious Studies and Philosophy, so the first thing I would normally do is say hello to my team and make sure they are ok.
One of my favourite – and much missed at the moment – times of the day is Prayers (our name for assembly) when the CLC community gathers together in the morning. There is something quite wonderful in being able to congregate in the beautiful Princess Hall and to make so many precious shared memories.
Most of the rest of my day is taken up by teaching. I love teaching – the opportunity to share knowledge with young people is a privilege and the opportunity to learn from them is priceless.
What’s the main difference between a regular school day and a lockdown school day?
In many ways they are incomparable. The noise and bustle of a school, particularly during lesson changes or break time, is not something I could recreate in my home – thank goodness! But I did miss the incidental chats with colleagues or students, as I couldn’t run into too many people on the journey between the kettle and the box room in which I teach! The collegiate atmosphere of a school is difficult to replicate during lockdown.
That said, CLC worked hard to ensure students had opportunities for shared experiences; I really appreciated messages from the Principal and the Chaplain and hearing updates of what the students have been getting up to. I know that Houseparents also worked so hard to keep the atmosphere of boarding and day houses going virtually during lockdown too.
What did your lockdown morning routine look like?
I have a 3-year-old son and a 4-month-old daughter so the mornings have been pretty busy and it could be hectic making sure I was ready for online teaching; lesson 1 was often taught with a hidden piece of cold toast off-camera!
What was the remote learning experience like for you?
Teachers at CLC are collaborative and so much good practice has been shared between us, this has really been evident during lockdown. I am far more comfortable teaching in a classroom than online, but I have gained some new skills which enabled me to make online learning better for everyone.
The software has improved too (we have been using Microsoft Teams); it has become easier to facilitate discussion, manage group work and connect meaningfully with the students, who could be in several different countries in any one class.
How easy was it to stay connected to students and other teachers while remote learning?
Nothing is easy about teaching at the moment, but I think both students and teachers have become more comfortable with online learning, and more professional too. In the early days it was odd to see someone else’s dining room or their pets. I think online interactions have become far more normal and effective; as a head of department, I have been amazed by the collaboration of my colleagues and the easy sharing of resources via our department chat.
As for my students, I have appreciated their commitment and their willingness to ask for help if they are struggling with their work. We are an international school with students in different time zones; CLC has adapted to create more bespoke timetables for students in places like Mexico where ‘live’ learning in a GMT time zone would be impossible.
Lockdown has had a huge impact on both teachers and pupils – what’s been the biggest challenge for you as a teacher?
For me, and I’m sure for many others, it has been balancing my professional life with my personal life, often at home teaching whilst my family are trying to maintain their own routine. At first, I think teaching online felt quite invasive; you were letting students and colleagues into your homes (and homes which, owing to the situation, were often quite chaotic). Teaching in the first lockdown whilst my son was at home potty training involved some interesting moments, and not ones that would have been had in a classroom environment!
For students I think the toll on their wellbeing has been enormous. We are social creatures and need the interaction and physical contact of our friends; I feel sorry for so many teenagers who have had the final years of their schooling stolen. CLC leavers would normally enjoy so many memory-making moments at the end of their academic year; these have had to be postponed, very sadly. I think we have worked hard to ensure our students are looked after, but I can’t pretend the situation isn’t challenging.
What has been the biggest opportunity for you?
A real positive is that I have been at home for the first months of my new daughter’s life, that has been a privilege.
What has been your biggest lesson from teaching during lockdown?
I think lockdown teaching at CLC has been very successful; the quality of teaching and learning has been sustained and, whilst obviously we have all looked forward to being back in school together, the students have been well-prepared for their futures.
The cancellation of exams has also given me a chance to pause and reflect about the value of knowledge for knowledge’s sake, with the hopes of instilling in our young people the values of integrity, curiosity and ambition.