This year has been full of technological and pedagogical challenges, not least the speed with which teachers have had to transition to providing remote learning for their pupils. When schools closed in March 2020 it was all so new to us – online learning was a really daunting prospect and we frantically worked out how to use Teams and how to get students to be motivated enough to work from home.
As we enter winter and the revolving door of self-isolation, bubble closures and track and trace begin to bite, a return to remote learning has once again become a reality for many schools. Schools have found themselves having to implement their new remote learning plans involving blended approaches including live and asynchronous teaching. And into this mix we have placed beginning teachers who, unlike those caught up in the first lockdown, are at the very start of their teacher training journey and need to gain classroom-based experience. Mentors and tutors are therefore faced with an additional challenge: how can we secure for our students the teaching experience they need in a virtual space which is unfamiliar to many of us and where we feel less than confident about meeting the pedagogical, let alone technical, challenges ourselves? Isn’t this yet another ‘bridge too far’?
Mentoring a beginning teacher in a lockdown or self-isolation situation
During the first lockdown UoN’s History PGCE Associate Tutor, Sally Burnham, who also mentors on the programme as part of her school teaching role, worked with one of our PGCE students as she began to develop online lessons for her A Level group. Recently we have begun reflecting upon what we learnt during this time about mentoring a beginning teacher to move from classroom to computer, and how this experience actually allowed us to approach the winter with greater confidence.
“I (Sally) was extremely lucky to have a PGCE student with me as we went into lockdown and so I had a ‘partner in crime’ as I began to learn how to deliver online lessons. It was great to have someone who I could practice sharing my screen with, work out how to invite students to lessons and of course to have a co-pilot in those early days when I was never sure if my internet connection would hold out. I was so grateful to have another ‘teacher’ in the lesson who would manage the chat for me and suggest activities that she had used during online university sessions for future lessons. By the time she finished her PGCE my trainee had had the opportunity to go from starter activities on Teams to running seminars with my Year 12 students.
Now in November 2020, my trainees are at a very different stage in their journey to becoming a teacher but there are so many ways that they are working with us in this ‘half online half in the class room’ world. Obviously when they are in school, they are planning and teaching whole lessons now. However, when they are self-isolating or school is forced to close year groups, there are still lots of ways they contribute to the department as well as continuing to progress in their own development as beginning teachers. And the benefits of having them involved are significant – my current trainees have spent their university-based days learning on teams, they meet weekly on teams for their subject knowledge meetings and they use teams to communicate with each other and the tutor team. They are more expert than me, so I haven’t hesitated in getting them involved!”
Top Tips for involving your trainee in online lessons
So, for those feeling a little more uncertain about how this might work, we thought we’d share some of the approaches that have been really beneficial for the pupils and teachers of the host schools and for the beginning teachers themselves as they endeavour to progress towards the Teacher Standards in this most unusual of times:
- Creating asynchronous lessons (Power Point with teacher voice over) for the lessons they were going to teach or independent remote learning activity worksheets. These lessons can then be uploaded onto the virtual learning platform for our self-isolating students to use from home, creating a virtual resource bank of bespoke lessons which mirror YOUR OWN curriculum.
- Planning and resourcing lessons that they would be teaching which the classroom teacher can deliver to the class while the trainee observes on teams and undertakes an observation of a more experienced colleague enacting their plan. If the virtual observation isn’t possible, then emailing feedback to the trainee or letting them review the outcome activity can also be really helpful for their reflection process.
- When we have 2 or more students self-isolating in a class, the trainee can ‘live’ teach a lesson on the virtual learning platform to students at home. These are recorded for safeguarding reasons and so the mentor can is also able to watch the lesson back to give feedback.
- Teaching ‘live’ in the classroom from the virtual learning platform (being beamed onto the whiteboard) – this is team teaching in COVID-19! The mentor and trainee plan the lesson together. The trainee teaches their bit online from their isolation whilst the mentor manages behaviour and logistics.
- The trainee joins the lesson from home via the virtual platform and watches the mentor teach their lesson live in the classroom. They don’t get to see the students, but they do get to observe teacher instructions/questioning/timing which can be useful if they are targets. It also helps to keep the trainee feeling involved in the department.
- Getting students to upload their homework to the virtual learning platform also means that the trainees can mark work (both lessons they would have been teaching and some of my other lessons that they have been observing) which helps out the department at this pressured time and allows the trainee to get the crucial experience they need in assessment for learning, marking and assessment.
We’re sure there are many other ways in which mentors are embracing the challenges of training beginning teachers to move from classroom to computer and back again in this ‘time of COVID-19’. For mentors who are a little anxious about what training teachers in this environment might look like in reality, we hope this will spur you on to embrace the expertise and insight these beginning teachers bring as virtual learners and teachers. As we are constantly discovering, they can be incredibly useful allies when facing a class down the barrel of a webcam for the first time.