Ben Brennan, Assistant Principal, and head of Sixth Form, at The Hart School

“O Brave New World…hang on, I can’t get my camera to work!” 

Thoughts on remote learning by Ben Brennan, Assistant Principal, and head of Sixth Form, at @TheHartSchool, a Creative Education Trust secondary school in Rugeley, Staffordshire:

It’s fair to say that we have all moved (in some cases reluctantly) into a new way of teaching.

I think we all have a shared recollection of the moments that brought the majority of us to working from home – a time when we didn’t really have much of an idea how the educating of young people was going to look.

I must admit, working from home had always been something I strived for in a profession. However, with the rituals of classroom-based teaching being unchanged for centuries, I knew this was going to be unlikely. Like a lottery win, I could imagine what it would be like and I would fantasise at how I could spend my time (rather than money) more effectively. Alas, the chance of me ever getting to know the luxury of completing a piece of strategic planning, with daytime television in the background, was going to be as impossible as predicting those 6 numbers. As long as there were children in a classroom – that is where I would be.

Friends and relatives who had already discovered the utopia of working from home were looked at with envy as they seemed to have everything. They spent more time with their kids, seemed more relaxed and (horror of horrors) were even more productive!

But now, the realities of working from home have sunk in. And boy, do I miss going to work!

Once this dreaded virus is gone, my teaching and the systems in place within the school will never be the same. Though I wrestled at first with making sure my background was tidy, talking whilst I was still on mute, forgetting to charge my laptop sufficiently – you know, the rookie errors – things changed rapidly.

The “new tricks” this “old dog” has learned would put me as a finalist on Britain’s Got Talent. I’m conducting meetings with Microsoft Teams – 20 colleagues from as many different schools sharing documents and information to build an exciting new curriculum. I’m recording lessons with programmes like Bandicam and even adding narration to Powerpoints, so that students can follow the schemes of learning that we would have been covering in school. The use of software such as Class Charts means that, as a school, we can set work, give students announcements, and reward the hard work they are all doing under these incredibly difficult conditions. Programmes like Educake and Seneca reinforce our work and give students instant feedback, as well as teachers the ability to monitor and assess remotely. I know it’s a cliché, but I am working just as hard as I would be in school.

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So, why do I miss work when I’m clearly living my dream, with me writing this in the middle of a Wednesday, as Jeremy Vine exquisitely drones in the background?

I suppose, the thing that separates me from my aforementioned friends and family is that I work with young people. The buzz of a classroom, the unpredictability that comes from the mixes of students, is undeniably part of what makes school special. As an educator, and from my memories of school, the classroom was often a joyous and social place to be. This technology is incredible, and some of the products are game-changers – but they can’t replace the humanity that is so crucial to the art of teaching.

Ben Brennan, Assistant Principal, and head of Sixth Form, at The Hart School

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