With remote learning returning for Sydney schools for the first week of Term 3 due to COVID-19, a Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta school leader has shared his reflections on how the changes to learning during last year’s extended lockdown will serve us well this time around.
Michael Pate, principal of Xavier Catholic College Llandilo says his school “hasn’t reverted back to a pre-COVID world” and still utilises many of the processes, concepts and education delivery methods piloted and honed in 2020.
“We moved to blended learning, we changed to staggered lunchtimes, we had Zoom briefings, we had Zoom assemblies, we had Zoom parent-teacher interviews, we used our PL (professional learning) in different groups, we worked in very strong, powerful teams, and all of those things we’re still doing now and will continue to do,” Pate told The Educator.
For Pate, the direction his school took last year, and the way he led his community through the crisis, came down to eight connected key areas:
Safe and supported: “Making sure that our staff, our students, our parents felt safe and supported. Our HSC results were very good last year for Xavier, they were outstanding. And our Year 12s didn’t suffer any sort of stress because we put things in place to make them feel safe and secure.”
Emotional connection and relationships: “Needing to make sure the relationships between teachers and parents, teachers and students, myself and teachers were solid, affirming, direct and safe because they were moving to something they hadn’t seen before, this was uncharted waters.”
Respect: “Respect for staff and what they were doing was so key. People were suffering at different levels so building respect, especially for those people finding it difficult to engage in what was going to be a long drawn out process.”
Attention and appreciation: “Appreciating the work that the staff do and giving attention to that. The small things they were doing, the big things they were doing, coming in, working after hours, the feedback they were giving via our blended learning environment, and celebrating that.”
Valuing team: “Then it was valuing my team, and I’ve got several teams in the school, and it was giving the teams ownership, direction, and control and the ability to make their own decisions within the context of improving the learning.”
Autonomy: “In an environment where they were feeling restricted, you’ve got some autonomy about how you can deliver lessons, what you’re going to put into it, how you’re going to reflect back and what sort of feedback you’re going to do.”
Innovation and creativity: “We ran a number of sessions throughout the early days of COVID teaching teachers about the correct use of Zoom, making videos, uploading videos, all the little tricks of the trade you can have in terms of using digital technologies so they could blend their learning, working in teams so that they could use a variety of sources.”
Self care: “And then it came back to the last part, which was all about me, which is my own support and self care. And for me to actually make the first seven happen, I needed to make sure I was OK.”
Pate said the main thing he learned about being a leader of a community during a time of crisis like a global pandemic is the need to be strong and steadfast in your mission.
“It’s about the strategic intent. It’s the best outcomes for students and it’s making a rewarding career for teachers. That’s my mantra,” he said. “I suppose my learning is: safety and security, good solid learning and boundaries.”