Waldorf Academy teachers rose to the challenge presented by the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, pivoting their very in-person pedagogy to a smooth, engaging remote learning model.
As we prepare to return to school in-person this fall, in very different ways than we are used to, our faculty reflect on what worked and best practices for remote learning, should we need to pursue this again. Here are their insights.
Learning is a Whole Family Pursuit
When children are learning from home, and parents are working from home, school becomes a whole-family pursuit. We’ve been reflecting on how this might be beneficial regardless of extenuating circumstances like the pandemic. Have we forgotten how integrated a family should be, interconnected and concerned with one another’s daily challenges and successes?
For younger children doing remote learning, parents must be present just to make the learning happen. We saw an increase in parent meetings among our early childhood families, and teachers remarked that the remote learning scenario led to deeper relationships with parents than ever before!
Parents also appreciated special activities that our faculty created, like lunchtime concerts and parent enrichment study groups over Zoom. They expressed an interest in more community events like this going forward.
Parent discussions online were fruitful and heartfelt. Many parents requested continued online meetings because it works with scheduling – it’s easier to pop online to connect with fellow parents and teachers than it is to leave work physically, drive to school, and spend time in person. And, remotely, more people show up!
Finally, many, many parents expressed a deeper understanding of and appreciation for their child’s challenges and gifts during this time. This framed conversations from a place of mutual understanding, bonding teacher to parent in unique and lovely ways.
Rhythm & Routine
Waldorf pedagogy focuses on building rhythm and routine in the day, whether at home with family or at school. Remote learning was most successful when a rhythm could be established thanks to a scheduled routine.
Parents appreciated having the same lessons at the same time every day. Like children, they were reassured by knowing what to expect.
They also requested breaks throughout the day, a step that helps students integrate learning and take a break from the intensity of the screen. In the classroom, we take breaks by going outside, embarking on creative projects and in other ways. So, too, we recommend breaks throughout the remote learning day.
Involve the Arts in Remote Learning
Just because education moves online does not mean it has to be bereft of creativity!
Waldorf pedagogy prizes creative pursuits throughout the curriculum, and remote learning is no different. We were pleasantly surprised by the success of knitting and art in a remote learning setting.
We did a grade 4 and grade 7 radio play, a remote May Pole for the kindergarten, and remote knitting demonstrations that were a parent favourite. It inspired parents to dust off the sewing machines and pull out the knitting needles to join their children in the practical arts.
Some teachers enjoyed modeling writing strategies through screen sharing. Others engaged in music lessons, played the recorder, led painting and crafts workshops online.
When take-home packages of art supplies, books and other tools can be prepared and offered to families for pick-up, we can guarantee that students have the tools they need for creative projects.
Focus on Remote Learning Equity, Accessibility & Inclusion
A big question in remote learning is whether every family has the access they need to participate. This is certainly a concern, and something our faculty is focused on addressing, should we need to pivot to remote learning again.
We are especially aware of varying financial capabilities of Toronto families, and we are committed to helping families gain access to technology to level the remote learning playing field.
We are also concerned with how children with learning challenges fare during remote learning. As we are committed to guiding all children through equitable learning experiences, we wish provincial governments could provide all Canadian families with the technology and Internet access needed to participate in remote learning!
On a more positive note, some students who exhibited executive functioning challenges in the classroom succeeded online because Google classroom helped them to be organized! That was a lovely outcome.
As well, students who tend toward shyness felt more comfortable speaking up during remote learning. How beautiful!
Set Different Metrics for Remote Learning
In a different learning environment, we must assess success differently. The classroom setting promotes one kind of learning, while remote learning prompts another.
Waldorf Academy faculty found that maintaining relationships with parents and students allowed them to stay connected, which led to positive learning outcomes. The relationships served as the foundation for learning success.
Remote learning led to collaboration opportunities in new ways. Some students who, in class, may have slipped through the cracks, did not do so in the remote learning scenario. There was almost a laser-sharp focus on every engagement during this time.
While we are returning to in-person learning this fall, our faculty are dedicated to immersing in professional development to increase their remote learning skills and tools for future use. Communication remains key to understanding the challenges and successes of this new educational vehicle.
Google classroom private conversation allowed for immediate feedback on workload and technology. Students appreciated having access to all work documents, in an effort to organize their homework. The kindergarten website helped faculty share the pedagogy in positive ways.
Going forward, faculty desire a common vision for deliverables. Should we have to revert to remote learning, they are contemplating using the school as a studio space for filming or live-streaming, and they are requesting more professional development about synchronous and asynchronous learning to provide the most up-to-date, compelling curriculum possible.
And in this brave new world of remote learning, we are entertaining the endless opportunities for co-creating curriculum and connection with Waldorf schools around the world. After all, with a virtual platform, we can connect with anyone, anywhere – expanding the educational possibilities profoundly!!