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A brave new virtual world

by Mark Bocker

I have just turned 60 years old and, over the past five or six months have been introduced to a virtual world. I need to demonstrate skill and expertise in order to deliver our, usually live, content through a medium which feels, at times, a little alien. The learning curve has been a steep one to say the least. One small step for man, one giant leap for me.

It has been important to keep things in perspective as the world adjusts to Covid-19. Online learning was already growing at a rapid pace; UNESCO has created distance learning solutions for more than 1.5 billion students. What happens now and in the future is, in part, dependent on our ability right now to make the best use of this opportunity to address the efficacy of blended learning. So, we are doing just that.

It’s for this reason that I have become significantly more optimistic about the blended learning model as our team has grasped, not only the concept, but the requisite skills and understanding of the virtual classroom environment in particular. We have practised, rehearsed and received genuine and robust feedback – alongside some serious micky-taking from each other which has enhanced our professional and personal relationships and hugely improved our performance.

Feedback so far has been strong and complimentary but we need to keep improving and attempting to balance future programmes to the benefit of all our participants. The frustrating reality is that we will never be able to accommodate 100% of participants because ways of working and learning come down to an individual’s preference.

Meet & Greet

In our advice to schools, we reiterate the need to get to know our young people as best we can. As trainers, we now, rather ironically, face the same challenge in a virtual context. Therefore, the preparation, meet and greet and opening gambit require a robust and sincere review. It is difficult to feel one is an active participant when only seeing a few faces along with many videos and microphones muted and we must address this human need considerately.

In normal circumstances we would arrive early, meet and greet hosts, guests and staff. Get the space prepared so a warm, welcoming atmosphere is created in preparation for a whirlwind of presentation, anecdotes, dialogue alongside intellectual and philosophical challenge. All amid sharing best practice in creating a culture in schools of high expectations, optimism, and commitment to building respectful communities.

We seek to support colleagues to develop and sustain a consistency of adult behaviour that is fundamentally based on a relational approach. Relationships are key. The children and staff with whom we have built strong relationships may forget some of what was said, or what we did but, they will always remember how we made them feel – that’s what makes live training so special. A relational approach to training which places high value on professional regard and accumulated expertise.

Blended approach

Reality dictates however, that live training, is not an option for some time due to the risks of increasing the spread of Coronavirus. Nevertheless, we can and have been making this blended approach more and more accessible, interactive and personal.

It’s a tough task to engage professionals in interactive discourse when you cannot see a face – those subtle reactions, body language, smiles, nods, laughter and quizzical expressions. So much nuance is lost but, interestingly, I believe our listening skills are heightened in seeking those tonal changes which tell us we have reached agreement or, at least have a clearer understanding.

We are making it work and we are learning so much that we can put to good effect in future programmes.

In terms of the steep learning curve for those of us delivering, and I include teaching staff delivering lessons, if I can do it aged 60, anybody can.

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