To support our parent community through the extended Sydney lockdown, Glenaeon recently launched a series of talks on the theme "Wellbeing During Difficult Times". Evan Sanders, our IT Integrator, hosted the first in the series last week. His talk 'Digital Wellbeing’ addressed the Elephant in the Zoom Room …. how do we, as a school that has long championed an 'unplugged' childhood reconcile the paradox of online delivery?
Dr Steiner and his contemporaries could scarcely have imagined the devices used in many modern classrooms. However, his indications were clear; children thrive when they experience connection with nature, play, home and self. Now reinforced by current research, Glenaeon's approach to (at school) education, particularly in the Primary Years, is natural, home-like, playful and unplugged! At Glenaeon, although we have embraced tools such as iPads, laptops and digital submission of tasks in secondary school, we remain resolute in our view that in the physical Primary classroom, the benefits of using these items during childhood can never offset the costs.
So how did we come to the view that online learning is not only acceptable but in some ways necessary during remote learning? The answer comes down to one of the very reasons we decry technology in the classroom – connection.
When children are in a classroom with their friends and their teacher, they are engaged and learning in a space of warm, meaningful, social interaction. They are learning skills, to be sure, but the environment in which those skills are taught holds one of the keys to true, healthy development. During a period where we must work and learn from home to safeguard our physical health, the classroom's rich environment disappears and with it the chance to experience a myriad of learning opportunities each day. Some of these lost learning opportunities are skills-based. For example, direct and time-sensitive feedback, is much more quickly given during an in-person lesson. However, the other type of learning children miss at home is our connective tissue at Glenaeon - connection! It's the learning found in the 'in-between' moments; a smile, words of affirmation, praise or correction from your teacher; a game in the playground with friends that you haven't played before; a teacher or friend noticing that you look a little sad today and trying to cheer you up. These are the things that can be lost when we are not physically together.
If we stay with the traditional model and don't use the technology available to us when learning from home, connection can become the opportunity cost of staying safe and well. Our Primary Faculty decided early in the pandemic that this was a cost too great to bear. And so we wondered, what if there were a way to stay connected, engaged and educated during long periods at home? What if we could maintain healthy routines and have a healthy relationship with technology? And so the zoom room was born. It's not perfect, it's not what we would wish for or what we long to return to, but it is what we have. And for us, right now, the balance hangs in favour of connection.
Our Early Childhood and Primary staff are using GLO and Zoom in innovative and creative ways and for appropriate amounts of time for each age group. From Little Kindy to Class 6, children and their teachers are connecting and learning over the internet. Catherine Pilko, our Senior Teacher at Castlecrag Campus, told her Little Kindergarten class the story of "The Little Gnome Who Had to Stay Home" on a zoom session last week. Written by Susan Perrow in the early days of the pandemic, Catherine has now added her own special touch - a magical 'glowing window' where our friend the gnome, can find his friends even though he has to stay home. I commend the story to you as a soul-filling reminder of the warmth and connection that lives (with the elephant) in our zoom rooms.
Deputy Head of School (K-6)