Co-constructing a New, Digital School Environment with Parents

Principal/CEO of Cambridge International School, Abu Dhabi and GEMS Cluster Lead, Kelvin Hornsby explains the importance of bring parents along for the remote-learning journey

We are in a period in the educational landscape that none of us could have predicted when the academic year started; to change everything that we know and love so dearly. We brought our community stakeholders together and co-constructed a new school environment that had only previously discussed in ‘blue-sky think tank sessions’.

More importantly was how we would influence and change the behaviours of our most valued partners – our parents – to bring them with us. The first week of remote learning got underway and there was inevitably the questions of what works for parents, learners, and teachers – normal school timetables, extreme screen time, and remote vs. bricks and mortar questions. It has been our responsibility to listen to the feedback and take actions that influence the school community.

In a normal school setting there are tens of thousands of pieces of work and tasks that are completed per week in every single school. There is an enormous amount of effort and progress made, and there really are millions of moments of genius that need to be captured. Our most valued partners – our parents, are now capturing these wonderful experiences for us daily in our current learning environment. The moments of genius are uploaded, sometimes unknowingly, and that is where we as educators can exert real influence.

Now, here comes the ‘Immersion Strategy’ bit… You may be familiar with Hattie’s ‘Visible Learning’ research and his ranking of influencing factors that improve student performance and his assertion that the most influential is teacher efficacy – the belief that a combined collective teacher input has the biggest impact. The teacher efficacy is that all teachers have to provide work that can be celebrated. All teachers have to be innovative and creative, coming up with ideas and challenges that are exciting and bring our community together.

Social media is also managed risk because opinion leaders come to the fore, but not always when we are celebrating children. Social media has proven to be a connection to the school community and beyond, and especially if you maximise the use of all platforms. The GEMS Jewels of Kindness and Respect Awards, virtual concerts, the Earth Day challenges, international weeks, online art galleries, live PE sessions and family fitness challenges, weekly well-being activities, science experiments, poem recitals, the secondary ambassadors reading to their primary, the most access and usage of GCSE POD resources by secondary students globally, the Model United Nations debates, the student and staff GEMS of the Week, assemblies, teddy bears’ picnics, pyjama days, HPL and Student Leadership events, virtual parent meetings, the immediate feedback for learners – they are all being celebrated in this virtual environment.

The big question is – does it work? Quite simply, yes it does. There is a 98% average attendance in remote learning, 97% parent satisfaction with communication in ADEK surveys, and 95% parent satisfaction in GEMS parent surveys. The real evidence is in the 1.75 million views and impressions on our school’s social media platforms during the first five weeks of remote learning. The key is to create something so special that everyone wants to be part of and no one wants to leave. Our provision will change in the future, but the constant factor is that there is nothing more special than celebrating children, their families, and their educators too!