NEMESIS in Covid Times – Staying social and innovating – Interview with Jane Fearnley, Willow Tree Academy CEO

Interviews

Viewing posts from the Interviews category

NEMESIS in Covid Times – Staying social and innovating – Interview with Jane Fearnley, Willow Tree Academy CEO

Schools involved in NEMESIS have found themselves in extraordinary times. Given the situation and pressure they are experiencing, how and why are schools continuing the NEMESIS project? Last month we heard from Willow Tree Academy Head of School, Louise Greenwood, who described how NEMESIS activities were going online. Now Jane Fearnley, CEO and Executive Head Teacher of the academy, explains what life has been like at school and why it has been important to take NEMESIS online. 

Q: Could you paint a bit of a picture of what school life has been like since the lockdown? 

Although society has been in lockdown, schools have been open to the children of NHS staff and keyworkers and vulnerable children. After the lockdown announcement we had a couple of days to prepare and got plans in place very quickly, for home working for staff and children, and also for onsite provision. A main concern at the beginning, and through these recent weeks, was about how we maintain the health of those colleagues who are working in schools, and the children they are working with, and also the parents coming in and out of school. Then there were other practical issues to deal with such as working out how to support children who receive free school meals, and providing food parcels to families.  It’s been very difficult but staff have been amazing. We’ve been very conscious about the mental health of staff, and the pressures they might have at home, and we keep doing check-ins and meetings, as well as more social elements such as staff quiz and bingo, so they still feel part of the team and get to socialise even though we’re working at a distance. That has just helped to lighten the mood, and keep people connected. 

Now we’re moving into a new phase as more children return to school. There’s been a lot of work around how to make sure children are safe and social distancing can be observed as everyone moves around the building. You really feel that these are life and death decisions, it’s been quite a journey. Premises are really important because we have to clean a lot more and how to manage staggered lunches and breaks. Everyone has really risen to the challenge and though we started with returning Year 1 and Year 6, now we’re extending to foundation and Year 5. 

Throughout all this time, we’ve tried to hold on to what Willow Tree would have been doing, so we’ve had a Willow Tree virtual sports day, we’re having a Willow Tree film festival, a parents evening,; giving those opportunities for children and families to be connected. The way we’ve organised ourselves has been really important; we’ve had three teams – strategic, coordination and operational – so each team has had tasks to do, for example, the operational has audited all the home learning and then made recommendations to all teachers. We’ve moved to virtual governance meetings, and for the first time ever had 100% attendance, so we might keep that! The important thing has been to have structure, for staff, children and parents, and to support everyone in the best way we can. 

Q: Given all of those other priorities, why have you felt that continuing and developing NEMESIS has been important?  

What I’ve really noticed, is that when the world has been going out of control, the thing I’ve seen is staff, children and their families using the social innovation competencies that we talk about. We’ve all been using, and focussing on empathy, resilience, responsibility. We’ve all been helping each, whether it’s to be organised at home or work, or if we know of people who are vulnerable and shielding, providing a lifeline, providing that contact for them. In terms of the children, in terms of their skills, we want them to connect, and stay connected. Some children, perhaps because parents have needed to shield themselves, have not gone out at all, maybe not even for a walk, because of the health risks, so we still wanted them to feel like they were part of something, and able to participate, to contribute, to make change happen at home.  

The turning point about how we do this was when we had a project video call, with the NEMESIS consortium, and I just came off that and felt like, instead of talking about the things that weren’t possible, we could be talking about the things that were possible. We are committed to making NEMESIS work, and I want to feel that this wouldn’t stop us, and not stop us achieving developing the skills in staff and children and parents and bringing people together to work on things that are really important to them.  So, then we started asking ‘why can’t we do virtual meetings? and ‘why can’t we engage with parents?’ and ‘why can’t we invite community members or social innovators or experts to join us?’ At that point there was almost so many people working from home it almost got easier!  

Q: What kinds of NEMESIS related things have you been doing?

The first thing we did came about because of the stories we were hearing about older people in care homes. It was in the news about how care home residents were not seeing anyone, they were not able to have family visitors, they were absolutely quarantined. So we started asking, ‘how can we help?’ ‘how can we connect?’ and children we were having the empathy to connect with that issue. So, ideas were discussed about what we could do to make a difference, lessen that social isolation somehow. All four schools got involved in a writing project where we were connected with a care home and starting writing cards to residents. The postcards children made had kind messages of support, and telling something about their lockdown. We got feedback about how valued these messages have been, including from relatives of residents, who have got in touch to say how much it has meant to them that someone is thinking of their loved one. Then we’ve thought about how residents might get some exercise if they’re not able to leave the care home, and children made some gentle keep fit sequences, and seated exercise for people who are not mobile.

After this initial project, others have also started to develop. So there was concern about what was happening to homeless people now many services have been impacted, and we connected with the Safe at Last charity to learn about what the challenges were and co-created fundraising ideas to help raise funds for the charity, who are trying to provide their support. Some other children are doing some growing for a soup kitchen, staff sent seeds, pots and compost and children have been getting involved in that. And we are at the beginning of a fundraising drive for the LEAF centre, which was one of our first projects that came out of a NEMESIS co-creation lab. We’re re-developing an old caretaker’s house at Rockingham to be a nurture base which will help children who have social or emotional needs, and support inclusion. We’ve got a co-creation lab coming up with Kat Cooper from Hubbub, who kindly offered her time to help us think through rewards-based crowdfunding ideas. 

Q: Children recently had an online meeting with pupils in Spain – what was that like? 

A really positive and enjoyable part of NEMESIS for us has been connecting with partners, schools and children across Europe. Continuing to collaborate, share ideas and keep in touch is important to us. We had an online session with our partners in Spain, and their experience has been quite different, because their lockdown was total, schools were completely closed. It was really important for children to share their experiences and what their experience of being and learning at home has been. Some children were saying how much they miss their friends and the structure of school, some children have quite enjoyed being in charge of their own time. Our next step is to connect again and share how we’re developing NEMESIS. The skills and the values that children are developing through this kind of interaction, they’re very important – very human – skills. That’s why, not just despite of everything, but because of everything that’s been going on, that’s why NEMESIS is so important.

NEMESIS in times of COVID: Interview with Louise Greenwood, Head of School at Willow Tree Academy

Most schools around the world have closed in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. According to UNESCO, almost 70% of the world’s student population is affected by the closures. Due to this situation, allPilot 2 NEMESIS schools are also closed. Some of the schools will start with their projects again in September, other schools, as the Willow Tree Academy’ s schools, are continuing with their projects online. In this interview, Louise Greenwood, Head of School at Willow Tree Academy reflects on what school life has been like since lockdown, and the steps she and colleagues are making to take NEMESIS online.  It will be the first in a series of blogs which look at how the school is adapting NEMESIS under COVID. 

What’s school life been like since COVID? 

LG: It has been a lot harder working from home than I initially thought because everyone needs a lot of support and direction as we’ve transitioned from teaching in the school, face to face, to moving to a different way of working. In terms of communicating with staff, I’m doing a lot more of that. In school on a day to day basis you might speak to someone in the corridor and say a quick hello and solve a problem, but now there might be calls using google hangouts as a team, wellbeing phone calls to individual members of staff or messages/emails to respond to daily. From the children’s perspective, we’re providing a structure exactly like they would have in school for example they would have guided reading, literacy and numeracy in the morning and a topic related experience in the afternoon. We have been using Google classroom and Class Dojo, and 90% of the school community has access to that, and for those who don’t have the technology, we’ve been printing off packs and parents have collected them. I do feel pressure because you want to do right by everyone, you want to help the children maintain their learning, you want to support the parents and your colleagues, you’re worried about people’s well-being and mental health and this can be quite demanding on my time, I often complete my work in the evenings to ensure I keep up. It’s a lot to manage. The main success has been the engagement with parents and carers, that connection is somehow stronger now, like we’re all humans going through this same experience. Perhaps it’s because they’re off work too, and so when they’ve needed something, we’ve been able to communicate via Google Classroom or Class Dojo and help them. I think they’ve really valued the amount of support we’re giving now, and how hard we work for the children, and they’re really appreciating that. We do have a number of parents who think that we expecting too much from children however this is a minority. 

We really want to keep the children on board because it has been such a brilliant experience for them. The projects are their projects, so now they really want to know what’s happening.

Why did you want to maintain NEMESIS?

LG: Because I’m running NEMESIS across our school it is easier for me to liaise with teachers and link projects to the topic they are teaching. I’m trying to see how we can maintain the engagement and links that have been built up through the project. We really want to keep the children on board because it has been such a brilliant experience for them. The projects are their projects, so now they really want to know what’s happening. Parental engagement in co-creation labs has not always been strong because parents have been at work, but in the virtual lab parental engagement was very high. Every child who took part had a parent or carer there, listening to everything that was happening, being part of the conversation, that makes a massive difference in terms of them knowing about and understanding what the children and the project are trying to do. We have had positive responses from parents on Twitter regarding our projects and we haven’t had this before. We are now planning our next online meeting for Year 4 and looking where we can go with projects while socially distancing.  

What did you decide to do?

LG: Jane (Fearnley, Willow Tree Academy Executive Head Teacher), had the initial call with the NEMESIS partnership and came away with wanting to think about how to maintain social innovation and social interaction whilst the country is social distancing. We’ve noticed how the country has come together to support each other and so we wanted to keep this very socially focussed project going, because it is something that brings different people together. We’re using a zoom as a method to communicate with people outside of Willow Tree and for safeguarding purposes it doesn’t give our email addresses to parents/children, so thought we could use this as a method to communicate with children and parents at home, but link in with our NEMESIS community partner, Cllr Rob Elliot, and also John Capper from Oakworth Homes, who is part of the LEAF project which was evolving through earlier co-creation labs. We decided to run a virtual co-creation lab, based around what learning could come out of the LEAF project, and what children thought they could learn about, through listening and asking questions in the lab. 

How did you organise it? 

LG: I set up a zoom call on my own zoom account and copied the link to everyone in the meeting. The main concern there was about security and providing a link that could only be accessed once by everyone. I had some meetings with Y5 colleagues and planned an agenda for the meeting, which was pretty straightforward and then to keep things simple I targeted some children and parents to take part. In future labs, we are going to ask for volunteers, and compare what the experience is like.  In total there was myself, Jane and 3 Y5 class teachers, Cllr Rob Elliot, local councillor and John Cappa, who owns Oakworth Homes, and then we had two children and two parent or carers from every class (6 children and 6 parents in total). 

We had an agenda, everyone introduced themselves, from the left to the right on the zoom screen. Then Jane gave an update in terms of the LEAF project and what’s happening on site and where we’re up to with the project. Then John talked about what his company does, all the different job roles in the company and how the children can get involved and what they can learn. John’s company is doing the timber frame, but there is so much that goes with that, the frame itself, how it’s constructed, how its treated so it doesn’t rot, the type of wood that is imported and how its transported from Scandinavia, how the business works and the different roles such as the estimating team, the designers and the site construction and that they hire 16-18-year-olds as apprentices. The children were fascinated because when you think of a building company you think about what is happening on a building site, but not about everything behind the scenes. 

What would you advise if a teacher was going to try this? 

LG: We sent every child/parent who was participating some questions so that they wouldn’t get flustered when it came to the open discussion and could have something to ask, even if they couldn’t think of something on the spot. That kept the conversation flowing and meant everyone had a question they could ask. If we were going to do it again, we’d use an activity out of the NEMESIS resource bank as an icebreaker and send that by email before so people were prepared. We did do introductions, but it would have been nice to just add something silly like your favourite colour or your favourite food or whatever, to get to know each other a bit more and make it more personal. 

The next step is that the class teacher is going to open up a discussion in Google classroom and the participating children are going to feedback what happened and then other ideas will come from the rest of the class.

What’s next?

LG: Through this co-lab that we just ran, children’s ideas showed that they were keen to look at every aspect of John’s company so that through the project they learn about jobs and employment. The next step is that the class teacher is going to open up a discussion in Google classroom and the participating children are going to feedback what happened and then other ideas will come from the rest of the class. For other classes, before lockdown different year groups had chosen different a focus, for example there was a class wanting to take some social action around homelessness, and what’s interesting is that many homeless have been taken off the street, I imagine the children will be asking, if that happened now, why wasn’t it possible before? The main idea of these virtual labs is to maintain children’s connection to the projects, and to keep them thinking, in this changed world, how can we be working together, and what can we be doing to make things better. Each year group has a focus project and we are looking at ways to continue engagement as this has dropped after the Easter Holiday. We are hoping that this is due to the weather and parents are going outside into their garden or taking daily walks. Through our tight safeguarding policy and plan we contact every parent who hasn’t engaged, so through an exciting opportunity like NEMESIS we are hoping we can increase involvement. 

Most schools around the world have closed in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the UNESCO, almost 70% of the world’s student population is affected by the closures. Due to this situation, all NEMESIS schools of Pilot 2 are also closed. Some of the schools will start with their projects again in September, other schools, as the Willow Tree Academy’ s schools, are continuing with their projects via online. 

In this interview, Louise Greenwood, Head of School at Willow Tree Academy reflects on what school life has been like since lockdown, and the steps she and colleagues are making to take NEMESIS online.  It will be the first in a series of blogs which look at how the school is adapting NEMESIS under COVID. 

What’s school life been like since COVID? 

LG: It has been a lot harder working from home than I initially thought because everyone needs a lot of support and direction as we’ve transitioned from teaching in the school, face to face, to moving to a different way of working. In terms of communicating with staff, I’m doing a lot more of that. In school on a day to day basis you might speak to someone in the corridor and say a quick hello and solve a problem, but now there might be calls using google hangouts as a team, wellbeing phone calls to individual members of staff or messages/emails to respond to daily. From the children’s perspective, we’re providing a structure exactly like they would have in school for example they would have guided reading, literacy and numeracy in the morning and a topic related experience in the afternoon. We have been using Google classroom and Class Dojo, and 90% of the school community has access to that, and for those who don’t have the technology, we’ve been printing off packs and parents have collected them. I do feel pressure because you want to do right by everyone, you want to help the children maintain their learning, you want to support the parents and your colleagues, you’re worried about people’s well-being and mental health and this can be quite demanding on my time, I often complete my work in the evenings to ensure I keep up. It’s a lot to manage. The main success has been the engagement with parents and carers, that connection is somehow stronger now, like we’re all humans going through this same experience. Perhaps it’s because they’re off work too, and so when they’ve needed something, we’ve been able to communicate via Google Classroom or Class Dojo and help them. I think they’ve really valued the amount of support we’re giving now, and how hard we work for the children, and they’re really appreciating that. We do have a number of parents who think that we expecting too much from children however this is a minority. 

We really want to keep the children on board because it has been such a brilliant experience for them. The projects are their projects, so now they really want to know what’s happening.

Why did you want to maintain NEMESIS?

LG: Because I’m running NEMESIS across our school it is easier for me to liaise with teachers and link projects to the topic they are teaching. I’m trying to see how we can maintain the engagement and links that have been built up through the project. We really want to keep the children on board because it has been such a brilliant experience for them. The projects are their projects, so now they really want to know what’s happening. Parental engagement in co-creation labs has not always been strong because parents have been at work, but in the virtual lab parental engagement was very high. Every child who took part had a parent or carer there, listening to everything that was happening, being part of the conversation, that makes a massive difference in terms of them knowing about and understanding what the children and the project are trying to do. We have had positive responses from parents on Twitter regarding our projects and we haven’t had this before. We are now planning our next online meeting for Year 4 and looking where we can go with projects while socially distancing.  

What did you decide to do?

LG: Jane (Fearnley, Willow Tree Academy Executive Head Teacher), had the initial call with the NEMESIS partnership and came away with wanting to think about how to maintain social innovation and social interaction whilst the country is social distancing. We’ve noticed how the country has come together to support each other and so we wanted to keep this very socially focussed project going, because it is something that brings different people together. We’re using a zoom as a method to communicate with people outside of Willow Tree and for safeguarding purposes it doesn’t give our email addresses to parents/children, so thought we could use this as a method to communicate with children and parents at home, but link in with our NEMESIS community partner, Cllr Rob Elliot, and also John Capper from Oakworth Homes, who is part of the LEAF project which was evolving through earlier co-creation labs. We decided to run a virtual co-creation lab, based around what learning could come out of the LEAF project, and what children thought they could learn about, through listening and asking questions in the lab. 

How did you organise it? 

LG: I set up a zoom call on my own zoom account and copied the link to everyone in the meeting. The main concern there was about security and providing a link that could only be accessed once by everyone. I had some meetings with Y5 colleagues and planned an agenda for the meeting, which was pretty straightforward and then to keep things simple I targeted some children and parents to take part. In future labs, we are going to ask for volunteers, and compare what the experience is like.  In total there was myself, Jane and 3 Y5 class teachers, Cllr Rob Elliot, local councillor and John Cappa, who owns Oakworth Homes, and then we had two children and two parent or carers from every class (6 children and 6 parents in total). 

We had an agenda, everyone introduced themselves, from the left to the right on the zoom screen. Then Jane gave an update in terms of the LEAF project and what’s happening on site and where we’re up to with the project. Then John talked about what his company does, all the different job roles in the company and how the children can get involved and what they can learn. John’s company is doing the timber frame, but there is so much that goes with that, the frame itself, how it’s constructed, how its treated so it doesn’t rot, the type of wood that is imported and how its transported from Scandinavia, how the business works and the different roles such as the estimating team, the designers and the site construction and that they hire 16-18-year-olds as apprentices. The children were fascinated because when you think of a building company you think about what is happening on a building site, but not about everything behind the scenes. 

What would you advise if a teacher was going to try this? 

LG: We sent every child/parent who was participating some questions so that they wouldn’t get flustered when it came to the open discussion and could have something to ask, even if they couldn’t think of something on the spot. That kept the conversation flowing and meant everyone had a question they could ask. If we were going to do it again, we’d use an activity out of the NEMESIS resource bank as an icebreaker and send that by email before so people were prepared. We did do introductions, but it would have been nice to just add something silly like your favourite colour or your favourite food or whatever, to get to know each other a bit more and make it more personal. 

The next step is that the class teacher is going to open up a discussion in Google classroom and the participating children are going to feedback what happened and then other ideas will come from the rest of the class.

What’s next?

LG: Through this co-lab that we just ran, children’s ideas showed that they were keen to look at every aspect of John’s company so that through the project they learn about jobs and employment. The next step is that the class teacher is going to open up a discussion in Google classroom and the participating children are going to feedback what happened and then other ideas will come from the rest of the class. For other classes, before lockdown different year groups had chosen different a focus, for example there was a class wanting to take some social action around homelessness, and what’s interesting is that many homeless have been taken off the street, I imagine the children will be asking, if that happened now, why wasn’t it possible before? The main idea of these virtual labs is to maintain children’s connection to the projects, and to keep them thinking, in this changed world, how can we be working together, and what can we be doing to make things better. Each year group has a focus project and we are looking at ways to continue engagement as this has dropped after the Easter Holiday. We are hoping that this is due to the weather and parents are going outside into their garden or taking daily walks. Through our tight safeguarding policy and plan we contact every parent who hasn’t engaged, so through an exciting opportunity like NEMESIS we are hoping we can increase involvement.