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New opportunities for distance learning

Rob Clarke

Rob is the co-founder and CEO of Learning Architects. He supports leaders and organisations to thrive in the future through coaching, development, technology and learning design. He is a Ministry of Education accredited PLD facilitator. He is also a Dad and volunteers as Special Officer - Education for the United Nations Association of NZ.

For more information please visit: or get in touch via +64 21 590 572

Online Music Concert

While Learning Architects was born out of my experience as a principal, teacher, technology geek and leadership coach, sometimes the ideas for this support come from much closer to home. I have two daughters and both are currently learning at home due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

This has made for a busier time at our place, on top of a whirlwind couple of weeks on the work front as our team prepares to help schools across NZ get ready for new opportunities for distance learning. We understand it’s a mammoth task for principals, teachers and students to get to grips with this at such break neck speed, and fully appreciate some of the challenges – and opportunities – ahead.

Having the girls at home is already proving to be an excellent opportunity to observe and reflect on the whole experience both as a parent and as an educator, and consider how this situation might translate on the ground for all the people in the schools we work with… teachers, students and parents!

Wearing my Dad hat...

So here’s my first insight. Given what I do for a living – supporting leaders and teachers, it was a surprise to me how strongly my parental instincts kicked in when one of my girls was struggling a bit with the whole ‘learning at home’ scenario. And it was almost inevitable that I was going to end up being the ‘slightly curious’ parent who kind of knows a bit too much! 

My 13 year old, Isabella who’s at high school, had a full on week as Google Classroom was somewhat ‘filled up’ by her teachers. Given that it was the first week of this type of working, she was feeling the pressure, but responded admirably. As a parent, I could see how she is becoming responsible and self-managing, and as a parent, I was proud to see how she is balancing her workload from multiple teachers. 

I’m also feeling proud of my 9 year old Amelia who has had a number of notable experiences this week which have caused me to reflect on the potential this situation has for learning, as well as bringing me and my wife, Angela, great joy.

Amelia is involved in the music programme at her school where she is a member of the Junior Chamber Choir, and last week they were performing a virtual concert. Having rehearsed and auditioned for the choir twice before getting in, this was a really big deal for Amelia and she was really looking forward to singing with two other girls – sisters – who are of course also in lockdown in their home. 

However, not long before the event, she encountered a bit of a two-part challenge. The original plan was that all three girls would be singing at the same time, however shortly before they were due to perform, the teacher realised that limitations with the Google Meeting audio meant this was not possible. Effectively because the girls were in two different locations, depending on how the microphone picked up the sound, they could potentially mute one another out.

After a quick derailment and a tiny bit of drama due to disappointment, and some misunderstandings about what was going on due to the nature of online communication, the girls came up with a workable solution. Rather than doing separate performances and singing three completely different songs, they opted, by themselves, that they would instead, each sing different parts of the song. This worked beautifully and I was amazed at how well they synced their parts up so quickly, without a hitch.

Distance Learning Online Concert For Students

Another surprise as the ‘tech support’ Dad at our end, was that I found it somewhat stressful (there were over 40 students all presenting different musical items in this virtual meeting) but we were pleased that we managed to sync the backing music up and adjust the volume so that it didn’t drown Amelia out! 

And while this online performance experience might not seem like a huge achievement from a distance, for a young girl, riding the excitement, the disappointment and then successfully rising to the occasion was a big deal for her.  And for those of you who are parents, if you have ever had one of those moments that brought tears to your eyes – for me and Angela, this was one of those moments.

Wearing my professional hat...

Some professional observations based on this personal experience.

Workload: As everyone gets used to scheduling activities in Google Classroom (or whatever other tool you might use such as Hāpara, for example) rather than a traditional timetable, teachers will need to be careful/mindful not to plan too much into the day. 

Enabling learner agency: When teachers give students agency over their learning, they can solve their own problems in creative ways. This is an amazing opportunity for students to take increased control over their learning. These girls would never had had the opportunity to problem solve and come to a creative solution that included everyone had they not been thrown into this situation. I wonder what other opportunities this will present as the weeks go by?

Digital citizenship: Managing side conversations between students that give rise to misunderstandings and conflict is something to think about when considering the social/emotional aspects of the programme. Solving problems via digital means isn’t always a good way to overcome challenges that students will inevitably encounter.

For instance, if one child sends another via a chat message, this can very easily be misinterpreted. With the absence of gesture, tone and body language, how might we create opportunities to ensure the social emotional aspects of learning can continue? The way it happened in this case was for parents and teacher and children to come together to talk it through using a video conference, which resulted in the girls coming up with a creative, inclusive solution to their problem.

So to summarise, there are many opportunities in distance learning, if we apply what we know about best practices for learning to this new situation, I am confident we’ll find innovative and workable ways through it that result in great outcomes for our young people.

Distance learning; putting theory into practice
1. How to prepare your organisation to work remotely
2. Develop student engagement with Clifton StrengthsExplorer
3. Maintaining relationships when working remotely
4. New opportunities for distance learning
5. Using daily check-ins for distance learning
6. Adaptive leadership is critical at this time
7. Creating an ecosystem of care; the power of communication
8. Learner agency and community building – lockdown lessons

Our QuickTips email bulletin is focussed on supporting educators, students,
businesses and communities to work from home successfully

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