Remote Education

Is it really possible to deliver a wholesome Steiner Waldorf education online?

I think that we can all agree that we would never have hoped for our children’s education to have to be learnt through a screen. And I am certain that I am not alone in having to struggle with the conflicting thoughts of wanting our children to continue their education but not wanting it to be online. I do, however, find so much comfort in knowing that our dedicated teachers have managed to find this great balance between both worlds at a time that we do not have another option.

It has been wonderful to see all our families at home getting stuck into the class activities and tasks that have been set. I think I can confidently speak for everyone here that we have been blown away by the support and commitment from parents getting involved and plunging themselves into their teacher modes. We understand that juggling this along with work and everything else that goes on in our busy lives is not easy one bit! I would like to take a moment to celebrate every family who has been learning from home for making this work in whichever way you have found fit.

When we entered our first lockdown due to the Covid pandemic back in March 2020, none of us really had any idea how we could make our education work online. Being a Steiner Waldorf School, we could not have ever anticipated that we would someday be going virtual. Online learning is something that we would never have encouraged, and this is a belief that we share with many if not all our families at the school. However, we knew we had a commitment to uphold our community and whether it would be in a classroom or on a screen we needed to continue providing an education for our children.

We are now six months into a new school year. We have just been notified of our return to school for all our children on the 8th of March 2021. We had wanted to share with you what we had been doing during our time in distance learning. We checked in with our teachers, below is what they shared, their thoughts on how things were going before we got the notification to return to school.

Kindergarten

With Rachel Middleton

Over the last 10 months there have been many surprises and unprecedented situations as a result of the pandemic. We have all had to make compromises and alterations to our everyday life. A year ago I would never have thought it possible to deliver an online Kindergarten education, especially as the use of digital technology for the young child is something that is actively discouraged in a Steiner school. However, the need to maintain a rhythm and to provide the opportunity for children who are learning from home to socialise with each other has become apparent during this time. So, with some trepidation I set up daily online meetings for the children to all come together, with me and their families, to enjoy ring time songs and verses. I expected to be singing in my living room by myself and seeing lots of empty spaces on the screen but the children have been amazing! I look and see eager faces joining in songs and copying my actions. The sessions have evolved so that they not only include the same ring time that would be taking place at school at that very time but also a variety of games, stories, sharing news and, most importantly, the opportunity to see and say hello to friends.

Feedback from parents has been good. They like the routine of knowing that the online session is at the same time every day. The children like to see each other and their teacher and the sense of continuity helps the children to keep Kindergarten in their thoughts. The families also feel supported at home with recorded stories and puppet plays which they can listen to or watch in a quiet moment. We have also provided activity packs which include an activity or craft for every day of the week including those that would be going on at Kindergarten. These include baking, painting, outdoor activities, seasonal crafts, sewing and movement. The older children are also working on a longer project to embroider a baby blanket.

We look forward to being back into school with all of the children as soon as we can.

Class 1 /2 

with Susanne Buergstein

It is definitely a beautiful day in our Class 1 /2 sessions online.

We begin each day talking to each other, saying good morning, and checking to make sure we can hear each other before leaping into the day. We start with movement activities, recorder playing, songs and rhythmic activities. After we are warmed up, we settle into focusing on our sounds, counting, reading, and writing!

The children raise their hand enthusiastically, share their thoughts and are really engaged in all the activities. In our second session we hold up our books, share things we have produced and talk about themes like friendship or what it means to be kind.

We laugh, giggle, and express our support to our classmates throughout the week. While this certainly isn’t the way I had envisioned teaching Class 1 /2, it has been a great surprise to discover what fun we can have online and that the children and myself enjoy seeing everyone.

The first concern members of the school community had regarding online learning for Class 1/ 2 were whether the children would become a cohesive group, remain engaged within the google classroom or would acquire new skills. Happily, I can share that the children have made connections in their cohorts, gained quite a few skills since the year began, and are eager to learn. They are loving and kind to one another, curious, joyful, hard-working, and insightful.

We are longing for a day when we can play more closely together, sing, and hear each other’s voices in person, and dance with our partners. However, we are grateful for this opportunity to connect and learn together during this unusual time. Any day spent together in class 1/2 (even online) is a beautiful day in the neighbourhood.

Class 3/4

With Rob Strafford

 If you would have asked me 12 months ago whether we could deliver Waldorf Education via media platforms such as Zoom or Google classrooms I would have said “No Way!”.

However here we are negotiating our second lockdown and adapting and evolving our online provision.  This time around we have increased our online interaction and, although this is not how I want to be relating to my students, it is clear to see that there are some benefits.

The children themselves have relayed back to me how they are enjoying seeing their classmates every day and having a chance to interact.  They’re also appreciating the coming together, repeating the ritual we perform at school, the verses, the songs etc.  I’m surprised by how much one can still do via this medium.

The way we have set things up with two sessions per day, the first to set up the tasks for the day and the second to show our work and prepare for the afternoon, provides a structure which I know supports the parents in their role of helping the children.

I am learning as much as the children are.  There are technical difficulties to deal with, family members, pets etc., however there is a great deal of willingness to make this work and derive the best out of this approach.

Learning is continuing!

Class 5/6

With Dan Early

When I moved away from teaching in mainstream education, I thought I had left behind the necessity of using digital technology to teach children. As a parent and teacher, one of the main pulls towards Iona School was the confirmation that learning can take place effectively without the use of digital mediums. The children thrive from being in nature and learning through using all the wonderful natural materials available to them in school. Overall, our community embraces the ethos that digital technology is not necessary for children to learn, grow and thrive.

When we had our previous whole school meeting before Christmas it was to share the message behind screen-free week. As a school we discourage screen time at home, especially during the week. We uphold strong rhythms within the classroom, the school day and the school week and are conscious that excess screen use can disrupt these rhythms. The irony was not lost when the next whole school meeting was to inform the community of our intention to move to distance learning and that most of our education would need to be shared through the screen.

The first lock down in March now appears to have been a trial run for what was to come. A website was created for class 5/6 where the daily lessons were shared so parents could support their children to complete their lessons at home, in line with the curriculum. We trialled a weekly Zoom session so we could come together as a class, in some form, with the intention of achieving a compromise between being together without spending too long online. But it was far from ideal, everybody tried hard but the level of disconnect was palpable.

Roll on 2021 and we find ourselves yet again relying on technology to work together as a class. The amount of Zoom contact time has increased to two 45 min sessions per day with the children completing their work independently outside of these sessions. Whilst none of us wanted this scenario, and some children are more comfortable than others, I must say that I have been thoroughly impressed with the adaptability and can-do attitude that my class are displaying. Of course, lots of the small elements that happen daily in the classroom are missing; moving between desks, supporting children in the moment, singing and co-operative games have been significant losses for us.  But we have found fun and creative ways to redesign some of the games and activities that we would usually do. Having regular contact with the class has been imperative in keeping motivation high, and to maintain our sense of community by enabling the children to feel that they are still together, even if we are not in a shared environment. Most importantly my jokes are received as well as ever…!

We have all had to get used to these new ways of working, with technology and apps we never thought we would have to use, but the children and their parents have been very supportive as we try and make the best of this challenging situation. We all know it’s not the same, and we don’t want to pretend it is. Class 5/6 are a sociable bunch who love working, playing and exploring together, most of them have been a part of this group for years. They have all expressed sadness at not being able to be in school at the moment. I support them as best I can, acknowledging that the isolation is real and that learning and growth is compromised when delivered through a screen.

I look forward to the day we can all be back together again in class.

Handwork and Spanish

With Raquel Ezcurra

Not surprisingly, online teaching would never have been my method of choice. Because my subjects are not being taught face to face, I really miss that instant feedback from children that tell me how the lesson is going if it is too difficult for some or too easy for others and adapt as we go along. That is why the thing I am really enjoying is to see children’s work, big or small, and read about their progress.

Some families have sent photos, videos or audios of children practicing Spanish, handwork or woodwork, and that brought a big smile to my face. I know how hard it is for everyone to keep going in these difficult times, I would like everybody to know that the feedback I am getting is gratefully received.

Education manager Emma Stacey

We return to school on Monday the 8th March. The staff have worked tirelessly in supporting all children, be this in school or on screen via Google classroom.

This has not been easy but the staff at Iona have embraced this new way of working for a second time. They have learnt new technology quickly and adapted the curriculum delivery to suit the situation.

I am pleased that the children are returning to school and hope this is the final time we have to move to remote learning.