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A message from James Smith

Posted: February 7, 2020

“There is no education like adversity.”

It is so often the case that the hardest challenges also bring out the greatest strengths in a school community. For a College like ours, which is built on relationships, the challenge of continuing to operate effectively while not being able to draw our people together to interact in person was always going to be a significant one. We have all felt the disappointment of not being able to experience a normal period of time in the life of the school, with all the richness of events, activities and celebrations this would ordinarily entail.

However, what I have seen in the space of this last week has been a group of extraordinary people rising to this challenge. The response from the community has been so heartening; we have seen students committed to their learning, ensuring that they join Google Meets, get stuck in to their studies, and communicate with their teachers and each other to ensure their learning continues. Parents have played a huge part in this, and I have been so aware throughout that particularly for our youngest children many parents have had to go above and beyond to help us support the continuation of learning. A group of parents have also helped me this week by taking phone calls in the evenings to offer ongoing dialogue and feedback on the implementation of home learning, and I am very grateful for this.

Further feedback is so important as we look to refine our practices and learn how best to deliver high quality learning in a very changed environment. To this end, parents, and where relevant students, in both sectors will be asked shortly to offer their thoughts via a series of surveys. Chris Barr and Mark Poulsum’s messages to parents in Primary and Secondary respectively are featured in this edition of The Explorer, including links to parent surveys. Please take time to read these messages and make use of the opportunity to feed back your thoughts – every response helps us to get better, as has been reflected in the way parent feedback has already shaped some course corrections we have made during this first week.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the incredible work Discovery College staff have done this week. My senior colleagues and I have had the privilege of seeing a group of committed, creative people do remarkable things in the last few days, making ingenious use of every resource and opportunity to provide learning for students and support the College’s continued operations. We have seen teachers go from teaching in person to teaching online at a rapid pace, learning new platforms and techniques virtually overnight. Some examples of what we’ve seen:

  • A music teacher creating an example rap video for his classes, as an engaging and fun introduction to a rap-based activity
  • A math teacher making his own instructional videos and being available during the entire block to answer questions and give explanations
  • An English teacher guiding 18 different students through 18 different written assignments, with all of them at a different point in the journey, through an incredibly organised class approach to tracking and feedback
  • A learning team advisor having her class share screens and introducing their pets. A feel good moment, to be sure. Some even drawing fake pets!

Our support staff have also done stellar work to support the IT resourcing necessary to make it all happen, and to keep the College going with all other aspects of our work. I know how gratefully the work of the College staff as a whole has been appreciated by all parts of the community over these last few days.

We all look forward to that point where the College can recommence its classes on campus once again; that morning on which we welcome back our young people, waiting eagerly by the rope barriers at 8am, itching to get into school, be together, and pursue learning supported in person by our staff. However, the response of the whole community to this week’s events has meant that we are in a good position to continue learning remotely during this period. It has been a testament to the strength of the relationships that we develop while together on campus that when we come to rely on them while working at a distance from each other, they remain just as strong.

James Smith