Blog: How do you maintain school spirit during lockdown?

Published: 21 Jul 2020

Author: Michael Jones
Blog: How do you maintain school spirit during lockdown?

This year's lockdown has created many challenges for teachers like me. My school, Northfleet Technology College, faced a monumental task in March 2020. Because of the pandemic, we knew that our school would close and remain that way for some time. Watching the domino effect, as the virus swept across Europe, gave us a precious few days to get immediate steps in place. But what should we do longer term?

"Running our student blog showcase has helped to maintain aspiration, provide a window into what education can do and encourage parental engagement." - Michael Jones, Fellow 

Moving teaching and learning online presented a range of logistical and resource headaches to all of us. At a management level, this included reviewing safeguarding policy, particularly around delivering online lessons using microphones and webcams.

Very early in the process it became clear that schools are very good at close contact communication, which has now been disrupted by social distancing. Virtual communication should not just focus on the delivery of lesson content, but also the more subtle ‘soft skills’ element. There is a subtlety in the way that staff in schools support students, it’s not just the delivery and marking. As well as the glancing acknowledgement that a piece of work is good, it is important to consider the effort put into to it that is worthy of praise. This ‘glancing’ moment is not usually a full blown, front of the class declaration, but a fleeting reassurance to pupils. Most students take this as a cue to keep going.

If you take that out of teaching , we lose something powerful that underpins successful teaching and learning. While they may not want to readily admit it, students do welcome praise. Try ignoring a student’s efforts for any length of time and you’ll see a rapid downturn in progress.

Technology has helped us greatly. It’s humbling to remember that 20 years ago it would not have been possible to arrange a virtual group conference and many of the online platforms we use today were not invented. To help maintain school spirit amongst pupils, we set up an online blogging platform so that children can publish and share their work.

A 'digital hug' created by one of Michael's younger students which was posted on their blogging platform 

Just as many students feel uncomfortable about having a full-blown mention in class, so they still retain that self-effacing approach to achievement remotely. Early in the lockdown, we surveyed students, parents and carers to monitor how they were adapting. One of the questions we asked was “Northfleet Technology College want to celebrate your success at this challenging time. Would you be willing for the school to showcase your work online?” A majority answered “yes” to this, but some did not want their details shared.

The blog we have created is proving highly effective, with examples of good work from KS3-KS5. Although many students stated their preference to not have identifying details published, we have made individual acknowledgments from the headteacher in the form of a congratulatory letter for effort and commitment under strained circumstances.

So, who benefits from our approach? Pre-eminent is the student body. When we post ‘good work’ we use a simple benchmark: has the student made effort? Parents appreciate the continued interaction between staff and students. This has been ratified in surveys carried out throughout the past three months, and ratings of the school by parents is at an all-time high. Staff also benefit from this approach, as they can witness the effort and progress made by their students.

The student showcase is more than a window into what students are doing. Teachers care about what their students do and a showcase such as this maintains the link. Of course, maintaining the link will make it easier to return to normal, come September. 

There have been a number of reports on how little students have engaged with work during lockdown. I do wonder how robust the data gathering is and whether ad-hoc ruminations have turned themselves into statistically sound surveys. I can only credibly speak of my own school. Our most recent survey reports that approaching 90% of parents believe that children are coping well with the work set and that the amount of work set is appropriate. When asked the same question, 95% of our students say they are completing all their schoolwork. Similarly, over 85% say that they are coping well with the amount of work.

Running our student blog showcase has helped to maintain aspiration, provide a window into what education can do and encourage parental engagement.

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