The End of Snow Day

Naima Charlier, Director of Teaching and Learning at Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong

The End of Snow Days Naima Charlier, Director of Teaching and Learning at Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong

At NAISHK we were delighted to win an award for our approach to online learning. We called this our Virtual School Experience (VSE) and it has irrevocably changed a multitude of aspects of our school. One of these is the end to ‘Snow Days’.

In fact, being in Hong Kong, it’s not so much snow as Typhoons that have previously resulted in days out of school due to bad weather. Now, with our VSE we can seamlessly swing into virtual learning with minimal notice, ensuring the day is filled with all the elements so important to engaging teaching and successful learning. No matter what is happening in our city all our learners from 3-18 can continue to attend a vibrant, exciting school day.

Our journey towards being in this position started back in the Autumn of 2019 when due to some social unrest in Hong Kong, we were one of the first schools to face virtual schooling. In these pre-covid months we experienced situations where we had to close the school early and so were already looking at digital solutions to support teaching and learning if the students could not be in the physical building.  The advent of school closure due to Covid was early in 2020 and we rapidly iterated through complex changes as the ‘new normal’ unfolded and we all sought ways to mitigate not being able to fully open the school.

Being one of the first schools to go through closure meant that we were required to work out what processes and systems would be effective. We likened this to ‘fixing the wings of the plane while in flight, without a map or a clear destination’. It was a highly stressful yet creative experience. Colleagues at all levels approached this with a strong culture of collaboration, innovation and support, working iteratively, with our community stakeholders, and across our sites and phases to quickly share ideas and outcomes to make the VSE work. Over 20 separate surveys were used to gain data for our VSE so that we could constantly adjust what was working and make it right for all ages, stages and subjects. The result was a highly personalised and adaptive VSE.

We started our journey by creating a framework to give us a better understanding and common language to explain what we meant by ‘blended’ learning. Explaining and identifying the elements that would comprise a virtual school, alongside timetable and guidance for pupils, staff and parents were all important ingredients in our VSE. Defining balanced, blended learning enabled flexibility and innovation in our approaches to teaching and learning.

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We utilised Microsoft Teams so that all students and teachers had a ‘virtual’ classroom. We quickly deployed software like ‘Seesaw’ to support assessment, feedback and record keeping so that we could continually track learning and ensure we identified gaps in understanding and introduced stretch and challenge to keep the pace of learning rapid. We experimented and invested in AI software such as Century Tech to deliver as personalised and highly adaptive response to individual needs.

One of our earliest concerns around the VSE was safeguarding and privacy. Developing rigorous guidelines and processes alongside pastoral and well-being procedures ensured both staff and pupils were mentally and physically cared for.

Teams of colleagues developed and shared innovative approaches to pedagogy, celebrating successes, solving issues and breaking barriers. We rolled out a series of e-solutions across the whole school; delivering greater agency to students and supporting parents at home.  This resulted in a balanced delivery of synchronous and asynchronous lessons. We wrote and delivered our own COVID curriculum and introduced an expansive programme for well-being. We created ‘PODs Time’ (Pause or Directed Study) as our solution to the demands of online learning and to give students greater autonomy over their learning.

As well as reducing screen time PODs helped support well-being as students choose to hike, bake cookies, learn languages or in the case of one girl sing, as part of their virtual school day.

Development of the VSE has achieved overwhelmingly positive feedback about the quality and standard of teaching with a 95% parent satisfaction rate in the quality of our VSE.

Our engagement in live lessons is close to 100% and access to asynchronous lessons is between 95 and 100% based on platform statistics.

“The school and teachers have adapted to the virtual school work amazingly well. The teachers inspire me with their enthusiasm and resilience in this tough environment.” Parent via Parent Satisfaction Survey 2021

The unique demands of subjects like music, drama, art and PE alongside the needs of learners in each phase from EYFS to IB, have all contributed to a comprehensive framework supporting learning in the VSE. From Science experiments to PE Podcasts on Spotify; from phonics progression to EAL, all areas of the curriculum have been supported. From classroom management techniques to celebrating portfolios of work, all areas of new pedagogies have been explored. Our new systems have become embedded and virtual school best practice has become standard practice. Our students have become more independent and more IT literate, our teachers now have both virtual and actual classrooms, textbooks and exercise books. Building on this blended approach is part of our future planning. We used to lose teaching days to bad weather and social unrest, now we can continue our schooling seamlessly using our VSE.

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