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No Assembly Fridays and other adventures in remote learning at Namadgi School

22 May 2020

The Principal Gareth Richards is sitting at his desk

As students begin returning to ACT public schools, we spoke to Principal at Namadgi School Gareth Richards to find out more about remote learning, the return to school and of course, No Assembly Fridays.

On Monday you had students in years P-2 and year 7 return to school. How has it been to have the first of the students back?

Having the first of the students back was fantastic! There’s been a void recently, not having the kids here, so going back to face to face has been exhilarating for our staff. We’ve received a lot of positive comments through the Facebook feed of families saying they can’t wait for schools to go back. Our kids have been missing the teachers, missing the staff and just missing each other.

Can you tell us a little bit about what it took to run the schools remotely over the past few weeks?

There was a little uncertainty when we began trialling the pupil free periods back in week 8 of term 1. It was trying to begin with, but teachers in the ACT have been working in the online space with teacher resources such as Google Apps for Education and Seesaw for some time, our staff were already competent with navigating them. The greatest challenge was altering the way we interact with students when teaching; with face to face contact you can see the child learning, you see the “aha” moment on their face, or the wrinkled brow when they don’t understand, you can pick up on the nuance straight away in the classroom but online, it’s a little different. While it has been a challenge, the end of term 1 really set us up to start well for term 2. Our online attendance has increased to almost face to face levels, so we’re confident that the kids are engaged with online learning. This experience has shown us that we’ve got a golden opportunity to create something new, that wasn’t there before, a chance to change the way we deliver education and use that online platform in a more productive way than we ever have before . We’ve grown our staff capability and capacity, using Chromebooks, internet dongles and to make this new model of learning possible. I think it’s a really exciting time for education.

What changes have been made to on-campus learning for Term 2?  

By and large, there’s been a really positive approach to rolling back into that face to face learning. We are balancing the needs of our students who can come back for face to face learning, with our students who still require online support. Our staff are creating a skeleton framework for online tasks, so that we’re planning one lesson, implementing it face to face and then being able to provide that in an online format too, the staff are thinking differently and planning differently to enable that function to happen. I have a few staff members that fall into the vulnerable category, so we’re supporting them and making sure they’re still able to contribute. We’re balancing the students who are onsite, and offsite, staff who are onsite, and working offsite! A lot of our staff members see the benefit of  continuing with the online side of things, which means we’ve got this fantastic new offering in addition to what we traditionally provide. This approach has inspired a lot of changes, which I think is going to have a positive impact on schools.

The Principal Gareth Richards is standing in the school

What has this experience taught you about your staff and school community?

Principals across ACT schools will agree that the comradery between our staff has been one of the most amazing things to experience; everyone has supported one another. While it hasn’t been without its challenges, the situation has shone a light on the incredible skills that our teachers possess. We have a number of staff who are more tech savvy, who were happy to step up and support their colleagues in that space. As we move back into the face to face teaching, we’ll have a broader skill set than before. The staff have been creating all these amazing videos and podcasts and the effort and energy they put into online learning mirrors that which they deliver in the classroom. The professional learning that has taken place is something we’re going to reap the rewards of for years to come, it’s just amazing.

You’ve become well known for your engaging “No Assembly Fridays” Facebook videos. Can you tell us a little more about them?

As we moved into the pupil free period around week 8 in term 1, parents wanted to know how we were going to stay in touch. Assemblies have always been a big community event for Namadgi School and one way of staying in touch. We wanted to translate our assemblies into an online format and we wanted something inclusive and light-hearted.  We, wanted to intersperse important information with a comedic style of delivery so students of all ages could engage and enjoy. So, it was decided that we would do ‘No Assembly Friday’ videos.

We used No Assembly Fridays to verbally reach out to our families. It actually reached a broader target than we ever expected, with people commenting on that feed saying, “I don’t even send my child to your school, but I always watch your No Assembly Fridays!” The information was so important from the COVID side of things that we had people watching from other schools in the ACT, from NSW and Queensland.  We even had people tuning in from overseas! I think they started watching for a bit of light-hearted fun and then began tuning in weekly for updates.

Do you have any advice or a message for your students and their families as they begin to move back into the classrooms in the coming weeks?

Stay positive, keep talking to each other. I think during these times, it’s important to talk to the students about what’s going on. We’ve released some material through the school psychologist network about keeping children informed and how to answer their questions, which will ease a lot of that anxiety about coming back. We need to build that confidence in our kids that school is a safe place, we’ve got sanitiser, we’ve got PPE equipment, there’s new hygiene regulations in place. Just keep a positive mindset and reach out if you need support. Together we will get through it.