Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning (CCGL) has helped teachers from schools across Northern Ireland transition to virtual teaching during the COVID-19 crisis.
St Mary’s Primary School in Mullaghbawn, Co Armagh leads a cluster of ten schools in a partnership with schools in Nepal through CCGL. A group of the Northern Ireland teachers had just returned from a study visit to Nepal when travel restrictions were introduced.
The Northern Ireland schools in the cluster are Holy Rosary Primary School Belfast, Assumption Grammar Ballynahinch, St Patrick’s Primary School Crossmaglen, Lowwood Primary School Belfast, St Mary’s High School Newry, St Patrick’s Primary School Enniskillen, St Teresa’s Primary School Belfast, St Joseph's High School Crossmaglen and St Oliver Plunkett Nursery and Primary School Beragh.
Training in Digital Literacy and Google Suites gained through CCGL before COVID-19 hit meant that the teachers were able to use their experience of collaborating across different time zones with Google Classroom and Teams to switch to online teaching - quickly setting up timetables and virtual classes. For the pupils, their experience of using Google Classroom to share work with their counterparts in Nepal meant that remote learning wasn’t totally unfamiliar.
Now the Northern Ireland schools are keeping the partnership moving forward through video conferences with their Nepalese colleagues - sharing their experiences of virtual lesson planning and assessment, discussing the infrastructure required to accommodate remote learning, and talking about e-safety best practice. Next they plan to pair individual Nepalese and NI teachers to work together on a project using Google Drive and Google Classroom to share photos, messages, and seasonal greetings – working towards teaching and learning about UN Sustainable Development Goals together.
Jonathan Stewart, Director, British Council Northern Ireland, said: “I have been really impressed by the hard work and innovation shown by our teachers in the face of COVID-19 and the disruption it has brought. Collaboration across different cultures, societies and countries is more important now than ever and it is great to see the valuable international connections created by these schools not just continue, but develop even further using digital tools and platforms that enable us to learn together and stay socially connected when we are physically apart.”
The CCGL cluster has also become a support network for the teachers – they use it to share useful websites and free resources and to compare notes on what has worked well for them teaching through the lockdown. Examples include St Mary’s in Mullaghbawn who have set up a weekly virtual assembly where the school Principal shares songs, prayers and updates on excellent work children are doing.
Ciara Crawley, the school’s International Co-ordinator said: “Thanks to the Erasmus+ programme, plus support received from the British Council and DFID through Connecting Classrooms, staff in St Mary's have been able to attend training in the use of innovative IT practices. This has been so important for staff at this time in their transition to remote learning.”
While teaching remotely can be a challenge, Ciara thinks that some of the ideas introduced might continue to be useful when everyone returns to the classroom – from pupils being able to use their Google accounts to submit work, to moving towards paperless learning and children bringing their own devices to school.
Her top tips for teachers new to tech are:
- Take time to explore the apps and platforms you want to use and what will work for your pupils
- Drop a level in work at first so that pupils and staff can concentrate on getting to grips with technology
- Grab pupils’ attention early on by setting work which appeals to them and which they are familiar with
- Provide teaching points and working out to accompany answers for parents
- Start video conferencing with small groups to establish rules and etiquette i.e. video off, mic off, conference is supervised with an adult in communal area
- Try it and see what works for you! Rome wasn’t built in a day
Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning is a British Council partnership with the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). As part of the programme, training to equip teachers in Northern Ireland with the skills to integrate global learning into the curriculum is provided by the Centre for Global Education who also promote international schools partnerships.