Isolation increases innovation and community connection for Morwell Central Primary School

For Morwell Central Primary School, a stronger sense of community connection has sprung from a time of unprecedented isolation.

Towards the end of Term 1 2020, as it became clear that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic would affect schooling in Victoria, Morwell Central Primary School recognised the need to prepare.

With a high number of vulnerable students, the school had already developed a strong wellbeing team and family support network, and this formed the core of the school's initial response.

By the time Victorian schools broke up a week early at the end of Term 1, teachers and staff had formed smaller teams to create and deliver specific remote and flexible learning solutions and platforms.

A key first step was ensuring all families had access to essential IT hardware.

One team developed and delivered IT readiness surveys, then rolled out upwards of 75 laptops and tablets to families without suitable hardware. Another group started building a new online portal with a simple 'one-button' interface.

A member of the school's office staff became a full-time IT help desk. Many younger teachers and staff rose to the challenge and brought their 'native' IT knowledge to the task, with stellar results.

However, once families had equipment in place at home, many lacked knowledge or confidence with digital tools.

Principal Justine Smyth said avoiding heavy, educational language from the outset was important in countering this anxiety, and offering simple words of encouragement around small, achievable tasks.

Consistent and clear communication was critical with parents, so updates were timed and structured, and heavily scripted for uniformity of language and terminology.

Teachers were allocated a set of families and issued with pre-paid 'hotline' mobile phones for Term 2, quickly becoming a 'one-stop-shop' for their families for everything from curriculum and classwork to IT and wellbeing.

For day-to-day teaching and learning from home, this approach established a single 'voice' from the school.

It created a much deeper sense of connection between Morwell Central Primary School and its community more broadly, Ms Smyth said, a challenge since it was established from a three-school merger in 2017.

Ms Smyth said the school's online portal has already become a trusted channel to the wider school community and is likely to remain in place after face-to-face teaching resumes.

Teachers across the school have gained proficiency in the digital classroom and are networking with peers to develop new online resources, as a result of skills gained to support teaching from home.

The Department of Education and Training is working with students, teachers, principals and families to ensure lessons from remote and flexible learning are being captured and shared. Access resources on the Learning from Home web page, and find out the latest advice on the staged return to on-site schooling on the Staged return to on-site schooling web page.