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Cromwell Primary School

Building a resilient school

In this spotlight, former Cromwell Primary School principal Wendy Brooks (2004-2021), describes a ten-year journey designed to make learning visible to ākonga. This learning environment and shared pedagogy where “teachers see learning through the eyes of their students and students see themselves as their own teachers’”, ensured that the school had built the resilience required to successfully deliver a positive home/hybrid learning experience for their community when the global pandemic struck. 

Cromwell Primary School is a contributing school for New Entrants to Year 6 students. The changing demographics of the school due to recent roll growth is linked to the significant population growth this regional town is experiencing. Many parents travel away from Cromwell for work, but they enjoy the strong sense of community that Cromwell provides for their families. They have fully embraced our “visible learning” philosophy with learner agency, assessment of capable learners, digital leverage and collaboration “Making a Difference”. Foundations of local curriculum design, deep learning, leadership development and opportunities, EnviroSchool and collaborative approaches to teaching and learning, are supporting an emerging and sustainable hybrid learning model.

What we did

The way in which our school responded was closely aligned to our school’s culture, vision, values, goals and beliefs. These underpin our competencies-based curriculum, designed and embedded over a number of years. These competencies (known as the 6Cs) are at the heart of the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning Framework – character, creativity, citizenship, communication, collaboration and critical thinking. These provided the strong foundations, capacity and capability necessary for us to respond effectively during our time of greatest need. Māori concepts of manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, ako and mahi tahi guided our response and ensured a collaborative and resilient approach when we were required to step up and lead in our community. This approach was equitable, inclusive and responsive to all ākonga.

Foundations that made a difference

  • Strategic planning for wellbeing – Annual Wellbeing Goals, Lead Teacher Wellbeing, Student Wellbeing Warriors, wellbeing initiatives, TAC (Team Around Child), Wellbeing Mentor Teacher, Kāhui Ako Achievement Challenge, CromWellbeing Review Model. 
  • Empowered learners – learner agency, voice, choice, learning to learn (growth mindset, learning pit), flexible, responsive.
  • Strategic and targeted Professional Learning Development (PLD) – Visible Learning Plus (John Hattie), Growth Mindset, ICT and DTC contracts spanning 10 years, New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL) Global Research Project.
  • ILE development of collaborative and digital learning environments.
  • Innovations Funding Project (Otago Community Trust) provided significant funding to increase the number of digital devices and tools in our school. Students were familiar with a range of tools and applications which ensured a more confident approach when learning was moved online.

Learning from Past Experience – what did we change after 2020?

  • Know thy community – an up-to-date School Register of whānau internet or email connectivity and home learning environment details. We knew who was in our community and they knew how to connect with or contact us. 
  • Community voice – School stakeholder survey informed the improvements we made to 2021 home/hybrid learning platforms and the home learning experience for everyone.
  • Engaged with ERO’s “Learning from Lockdown 2020” review – this included surveys, interviews, feedback, reference groups, reflection and response processes which ensured an enhanced experience for ākonga who were able to continue to learn and teach regardless of where they were in 2021.
  • Being well prepared – hard packs were compiled at the beginning of the 2021 school year to ensure they were ready for distribution at very short notice. A range of options for receiving hard packs ensured equity for all – packs could be picked up from school, dropped off by a staff member or collected from a special table located in the foyer of our local supermarkets. 
  • Keep it simple – a “one stop shop” Home Hybrid Learning Page was created on our school website home page with teaching teams linking all home learning material to this. This improvement supported families who had children in multiple classes across the school, as access to home learning was all from the one place. (Home Learning Link 2020)

  • Passwords and logins – passwords and logins required by both parents and students were set up and tested early in 2021, as part of class induction programmes at the beginning of the year. This significantly reduced stress when learning moved online, as parents and students were confident and familiar with processes required to access home/hybrid learning platforms.
  • Communication – the sudden nature of lockdowns created high stress levels for families which sometimes resulted in poor reading comprehension and panic with key information from school being missed or not taken on board. We therefore kept messaging to parents short and simple. Video messaging by key staff members also helped to reassure parents and ensure key messages were being understood. A familiar and calm face often made a huge difference. 
  • Use of learning platforms familiar to students and parents – Using platforms that were already familiar to parents (Seesaw, Google Sites, Google Classroom) ensured the school was able to remain fully functioning in the face of COVID-19 challenges. Teachers could teach and students could learn regardless of their location and parents confidently supported children due to familiarity of platforms which were an integral part of in-school learning.
  • Access to devices – We reduced the digital divide by ensuring all senior students had their own/school device to use during the 2021 lockdown after checking on insurance cover. Our deep knowledge of our community also enabled us to provide devices for our most at risk families. 
  • Parent ICT workshop – in response to our 2020 post lockdown survey which indicated that some parents had struggled with Seesaw and Google Suite, our Digital Technologies Curriculum PLD facilitator delivered two after school parent workshops to help parents improve their confidence, skills and overall technical capacity. It also covered other technical issues parents encountered when working from home.
  • Parent wellbeing – the capacity of parents to facilitate home learning varied. The provision of busy work/reinforcement of known material had an important part to play in maintaining parent sanity during lockdown, especially those working from home. Hardpacks contained materials that could be completed independently. Messaging from school about parents lowering expectations of themselves and their children, not sweating the small stuff, confirmation that anything they were doing to support their children was OK, provided licence for doing things differently during these unprecedented times. 

The most successful home learning did not replicate school learning and was not always online. Instead, it maximised new learning opportunities and experiences at home e.g., gardening, building huts, creating artworks, fitness challenges, growing potatoes. 

  • PLD for learning assistants – targeted ICT training for support staff to increase their confidence and capacity to provide learning support online for students they were working with – Quick 60, ESOL, MST, communication, posting feedback, delivering Zoom sessions. 
  • Online learning opportunities – PLD for staff who used “lockdown” as an opportunity to enrol in courses of interest included – Children, Anxiety & Mental Health Webinars, Te Rito Toi Website & Webinars (Dr Peter O’Connor approaches to Wellbeing), Te Reo, and Google Accreditation Training.

Reflections, observations, and learnings

Reflections about what really mattered

  • Our community looked to the school for leadership during this time of unprecedented uncertainty.
  • Focussing on wellbeing and ensuring families’ needs were being addressed were the most important aspects of our work.
  • Strong home/school partnerships supported engagement. Using innovative ways to stay connected with vulnerable students and families was part of this.
  • Zoom was most valuable as a social connection tool – time to chat, socialise, and participate in competitions. We know that the students really missed being with their friends.
  • Whole school day themes encouraged a sense of “school community” and families loved these. There was a high family engagement in a variety of creative challenges set by teachers.

Reimagining the school experience - Possibilities thinking

The process outlined below is one possibility available to the newly appointed principal and his leadership team, as they undertake further reflection about how to move towards a fully hybrid approach for seamless delivery of learning:

  1. Our world reflection and reality - Reflecting on how to lead staff towards a major shift from thinking that face to face/onsite learning as the dominant way that learning is delivered, to one where learning is designed from the outset to be delivered seamlessly in three ways (onsite, online and paper based).
  2. Defining the purpose of education – Unpacking where schools fit in today’s world? What is the purpose of education and what does this mean for our school?
  3. Power (agentic learning) – Exploring where the power base lies in the school. Students learn in many different ways; how does our school enable learning to occur?
  4. Change starting with nature and emergence – Reflecting on the reality of our world today, can we afford not to start this work with a sense of urgency?
  5. Benefits for ākonga – System resilience, equity and inclusion, learner centred, deeper learning and sustainable transformation will be the desired outcomes for this school community.

Wenmoth, D. (2022). Getting Started with Hybrid Learning. Wellington, Futuremakers Ltd.