Interview on Remote Learning

11 May 2020

Interview with Tahmer Mahmoud, Deputy Head Academic on the Remote Learning experience so far.

As Forest School’s Remote Learning programme has become the ‘new normal’ during lockdown, we asked Mr Mahmoud for his observations on what the experience has been like for both pupils and staff.

Q: What would you say have been the successes of our Remote Learning provision? 

Students have adapted so quickly given the circumstances. They’ve really demonstrated all those Forest qualities we look for in our students.  They’ve been engaged, positive and patient. I’ve received lots of feedback from teachers about how impressed they’ve been with our students during this time – it has been a very ‘Forest’ response to this crisis.

Q.  What has the experience been like for staff?

On the flipside, teachers have rapidly adapted their practice. They are fully up to speed on the technology required having received their training remotely. They are continuing to learn new technologies all the time and live lessons have been fully embraced and teachers and students alike who have really enjoyed ‘seeing’ or at least hearing each other again.

The range of new technologies being used to teach has been impressive with the use of Flipgrid, Quizlet and Planet e-Stream to name but a few. But the quality of teaching itself remains paramount – our teachers have risen to the challenge of adapting their practice to these new ways of working.

Q.  Did you have to do much groundwork before implementing Remote Learning?

In terms of preparedness, there is no doubt we are been blessed that we are already a ‘Bring Your Own Device School’. It gave us the confidence from the start that all our pupils had their own devices at home and that they were effectively ‘ready to go’ with Remote Learning from the moment we had to close the School.

Q.  Are you happy with how it’s going now Remote Learning has been running for several weeks?

Overall, our remote provision has been very successful as I believe we have maintained our Forest ethos. Pastoral Care has been replicated online through online Tutor check-ins, House meetings and virtual assemblies and individual contact where needed. Equally, we have made provision for a wide range of co-curricular activities through a whole programme of online resources.

We are also confident that we are achieving effective teaching and learning in the School day. After 4pm we’d like pupils (and teachers) to recharge, refresh and get ready for the next day. If pupils want to engage in something more formal, then they can access our remote co-curricular programme which offers a wide range of creative academic material for them to explore.

Q: What have the main challenges been?

Initially, we thought lockdown would only last for a few weeks based on the government advice we were receiving at the time. But it quickly became apparent that Remote Learning was going to have to continue for weeks to come. 

This means that we had a slightly different model in week one where we relied on set work with teacher support which we then had to adapt. We listened to feedback from parents, pupils and staff and worked over the Easter Holidays to adapt our provision and added regular live lessons to the timetable, allowing for exposition and discussion and much needed human contact. With this hybrid model of live lessons and set work, pupils are able to cover more material and are also able to produce better quality work.

Q: Is there anything you know now that you had known from the beginning?

I perhaps would have planned remote learning differently from the start if I’d known lockdown was going to be this long, but the first week proved to be a useful ‘pilot.’

I’d also say I understand the challenges of technology problems better now than I ever have; things like internet connectivity and staff accessibility to devices is something we’ve had to grapple with, but we have been ironing out these issues as we go along.

If I am honest, I don’t think I fully appreciated from the outset the emotional dimension in a crisis like this.  We have been acutely aware of the need to look after the wellbeing of pupils and staff, but it’s easy to default to the procedural when there are so many changes to be implemented so quickly.

Q: Have there been any positive outcomes of having to teach and learn in this way?

Absolutely!

We’ve advanced our transition to better online learning by about four months.  We’ve transitioned teaching staff to new ways of working we were already planning to introduce across the school incredibly quickly as a result.

I’ve also seen greater levels of collaboration amongst teachers as they’ve reached out to other departments and fostered really positive cross-departmental relationships in order to better respond to this new way of working.

Q. Do you think the successes of Remote Learning means we will do much more teaching online in future?

I think it is fair to say that it’s been confirmed to me that real-life teaching is crucial! Technology has its place but it’s not a replacement for live teaching and the future of teaching and learning definitely isn’t a wholesale move online. Students appreciate real school life too and we are all realising how important the experience of being part of a school community is when it’s suddenly taken away.

I believe that students have learned the value of learning in a classroom and I hope they will appreciate it more when they come back. I think our pupils now understand more about what good teaching means and why you need discussion in class and why group work is so important.

Lastly, I believe that pupils have seen how our hard our teachers have worked to deliver the best quality teaching through this unusual time and genuinely appreciate their efforts – as do I.