From the Head Master

As we come to the close of our first week of remote learning for more than a year, the overwhelming impression is that the School has transitioned to this mode very smoothly indeed.

During the course of the week, I have been seeking feedback from boys, from staff and from parents, as have many of the senior staff of the School, and the feedback has been very encouraging. The messaging to the staff community at the start of the week was that there are two overarching priorities: high-quality remote learning for students, and high-quality support for staff. The indications that we are achieving these goals are positive at this point.

Obviously, there is a great deal of uncertainty as to how long the School will be required to operate under Level 4 restrictions. The School is receiving advice from NSW Health, NESA and the AISNSW as the implications of the public health situation for schools are resolved, and the School will communicate with families as and when it is able to do so. For what it is worth, my observation is that the advice being provided to schools is more consistent, calm and thorough than it was when NSW went through its first wave back in Term 1 and 2 of 2020.

Earlier this week I addressed the boys of the Middle and Senior Schools regarding the need to have their cameras on when taking part in the video-conferencing element of their lessons. During remote learning in 2020, the practice developed across the secondary years whereby the boys would have their cameras turned off. The School has formed the view that it will be better for everyone if the standard practice is to have the cameras on.

As I explained it to the boys, there are a number of reasons that we should hold this view. The first is a simple one of online manners. An activated camera is the equivalent of looking at someone. We would not accept a student turning his back to a teacher in the middle of a face-to-face interaction.

The second reason is accountability. Teachers have an obligation to monitor the engagement and participation of students. The protocols that we have developed identify a number of ways in which this happens, and one of those ways is the student’s participation in the video-conferencing element of learning.

The third reason has to do with the reminder to students and teachers that we are part of a learning community. The isolation of remote learning presents challenges of loneliness and social disconnection. Seeing the faces of other people on the screen is a poor substitute for seeing them face-to-face, but it is vastly better than simply seeing a tile with their name on it.

The fourth reason is that the camera prompts some basic self-care actions that are good for the boys’ mental health. Knowing that they will be visible will (hopefully) be a small nudge to them to make the effort to get out of bed, to get out of sleepwear, to do hair and perhaps even to shower! We know that routine helps in an isolation situation and the camera may play a small role in helping maintain some of these basic habits.

The teachers will be requesting the boys to switch their cameras on. Parental support is appreciated. Obviously blurring or changing the background is a good idea, and inappropriate behaviour or clothing is a bad idea!

We know that Level 4 restrictions will be in play until at least the end of Week 3. It is reasonable to expect that schools will spend a period of time under Level 3 restrictions once Level 4 is wound back, but we have not yet been informed as to the extent of the Level 3 restrictions. In the meantime, I encourage all members of the School community to act according to the public health advice, to minimise movement around the community, and to seek vaccination at the earliest opportunity.

Detur Gloria Soli Deo.

Tim Bowden | Head Master


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